Marion P. Hammer was working late one night in Tallahassee when a carload of thugs followed her into a parking garage and threatened her. "I reached into my purse, pulled out my gun, brought it up through the headlights, and aimed right at the driver," she recalls. "He put it in reverse, the tires started smoking, and they were gone."
That was a decade ago, when Hammer was lobbying the Florida legislature to relax restrictions on handguns. Her success there helped kick off a 28-state movement to ease restrictions on carrying concealed weapons. In December, her record as a winning lobbyist and hard-line opponent of gun control helped her become the first female president of the 3.3 million-member National Rifle Assn. after her predecessor, Thomas L. Washington, died of a heart attack. Hammer, who had been vice-president, is expected to run unopposed in April for a one-year term of her own.
Now, the 56-year-old Hammer has her adversaries firmly in her sights. She wants Congress to overturn the federal assault weapons ban. "Restrictions on gun ownership are just a form of harassment," she says. Next up is the defeat of pro-gun-control politicians--starting with the President. "The one thing we definitely plan to do is to work to beat Bill Clinton," says Hammer.
Hammer's confrontational style may be just right for today's embattled NRA, which has image and money problems, has recently lost 200,000 members, and is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service for allegedly commingling funds. To boost membership again, Hammer plans to step up the NRA's appeal to women and families using two time-honored NRA programs: the "Refuse to be a Victim" educational campaign for women, emphasizing crime prevention and self-defense while promoting gun ownership; and the "Eddie Eagle" gun-safety campaign for children, which is Hammer's personal creation.
"WILDLY SUCCESSFUL." Under Hammer, the NRA won't neglect politics at the statehouse either. She spent 20 years lobbying in Florida on behalf of gun owners and proudly points to Florida's first concealed-weapons permit, which allows her to pack her .38 caliber Colt Detective Special or her 9-mm Beretta semiautomatic. "During the past three years, the NRA has been wildly successful in the states, and Hammer is the poster child for the conceal-and-carry issue," laments Josh Sugarmann, director of the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control group.
Hammer, a grandmother of three, likes to unwind at the target range after a day of hard lobbying. On the range or at the office, her opponents say, she seldom misses her mark.