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The House gave Marion Hammer the all-clear on allegations of failing to file lobbying compensation reports. Image via Colin Hackley.

Emails & Opinions

Joe Henderson: Marion Hammer lawsuit shows other side of 2nd Amendment debate

Judge: “Tolerating incivility, at least to some extent, is a price a nation pays for freedom.”

In Tallahassee, Marion Hammer is known as well as any state lawmaker, probably better than most of them. As a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, her ferocious take-no-prisoners advocacy for the expansion of Florida’s gun laws is renowned.

Her impact on this state is immense. She is, by any measure, a public figure.

Without question, the public has a right to know which elected representatives she speaks with and what she says to them. The Sunshine Law has that covered.

But when the public fights back in a way that a federal judge found disturbing, is that also protected? That’s the question now before a federal appeals court.

In the aftermath of the slaughter of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Hammer received unsolicited emails from Lawrence Sorensen, a California attorney and mediator. Those emails contained graphic photos of gunshot wounds.

Hammer sued, citing harassment and threats. Last November, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle dismissed the suit on First Amendment grounds, although he conceded the images were “inappropriate, indeed disgusting.”

He also said Sorenson didn’t threaten Hammer, adding, “Tolerating incivility, at least to some extent, is a price a nation pays for freedom.”

That dismissal itself now is under appeal.

In a brief filed with the 11th U.S. District Court of Appeals, Sorenson’s attorney argued, “The photographs are real, and, in this case, they were sent to induce a public figure (perhaps the most significant public figure on this issue) to change her position or at least consider the damage that can be done by the products she promotes.”

Hammer fiercely fought against the tepid gun restrictions passed by the Legislature in the aftermath of the Parkland killings. The law banned the possession of bump stocks. It also imposed a three-day waiting period on the purchase of most long guns, while making 21 the minimum age to buy those weapons.

She said lawmakers “caved to bullying and coercion” and referred to “turncoat Republicans.” And she had special criticism for then-Gov. Rick Scott, who pushed for and signed the bill.

“(Scott) put his hand on a Bible and took an oath to support, protect and defend the Constitution,” Hammer told The News Service of Florida. “So, Gov. Scott has a hard time keeping his word.”

But Scott is an elected official whose every move theoretically is an open book. Marion Hammer contends she is a private citizen, her public side notwithstanding. Hinkle obviously disagreed.

Hammer and the NRA have had more to do with the expanded availability of guns in Florida than anyone ever.

I am sure she is proud of that. She believes without hesitation that she is right under the U.S. Constitution. Hammer has used her clout to keep Republican lawmakers in line for years, which is her right.

But as difficult as it was for her to see photos of what gunshots can do, imagine how hard it was for parents in Parkland to hear their children were never coming home. And a good guy with a gun wouldn’t have saved them.

Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if more unyielding supporters of the Second Amendment saw what that can sometimes mean.

Judge Hinkle is right. I’m sure those photos were disgusting. So were the deaths of 17 people because a 19-year-old had a grudge and a gun.

There are (at least) two sides to every story.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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