How the NRA and Its Allies Helped Spread a Radical Gun Law Nationwide
THE FLORIDA LAW MADE INFAMOUS this spring by the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was conceived during the epic hurricane season of 2004. That November, 77-year-old James Workman moved his family into an RV outside Pensacola after Hurricane Ivan peeled back the roof of their house. One night a stranger tried to force his way into the trailer, and Workman killed him with two shots from a .38 revolver. The stranger turned out to be a disoriented temporary worker for the Federal Emergency Management Agency who was checking for looters and distressed homeowners. Workman was never arrested, but three months went by before authorities cleared him of wrongdoing.
More: the killing of Florida teenager Jordan Davis. And: racial discrimination and a spike in homicides linked to Stand Your Ground.
That was three months too long for Dennis Baxley, a veteran Republican representative in Florida’s state Legislature. Four hurricanes had hit the state that year, and there was fear about widespread looting (though little took place). In Baxley’s view, Floridians who defended themselves or their property with lethal force shouldn’t have had to worry about legal repercussions. Baxley, a National Rifle Association (NRA) member and owner of a prosperous funeral business, teamed up with then-GOP state Sen. Durell Peaden to propose what would become known as Stand Your Ground, the self-defense doctrine essentially permitting anyone feeling threatened in a confrontation to shoot their way out.
Or at least that’s the popular version of how the law was born. In fact, its genesis traces back to powerful NRA lobbyists and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing policy group. And the law’s rapid spread—it now exists in various forms in 25 states—reflects the success of a coordinated strategy, cultivated in Florida, to roll back gun control laws everywhere.
Baxley says he and Peaden lifted the law’s language from a proposal crafted by Marion Hammer, a former NRA president and founder of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, a local NRA affiliate. A 73-year-old dynamo who tops off her 4-foot-11 frame with a brown pageboy, Hammer has been a force in the state capital for more than three decades. “There is no more tenacious presence in Tallahassee,” Gov. Jeb Bush’s former chief of staff told CNN in April. “You want her on your side in a fight.”