TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s influential Tallahassee lobbyist, filed federal and state lawsuits Friday seeking more than $2 million in damages from five men she says have targeted her over her Second Amendment advocacy following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Describing Hammer as “a 79-year-old grandmother and nationally renowned civil rights advocate,” the federal lawsuit filed in U.S. district court in Tallahassee contends four men have made her the focal point of “hate and vitriol” through phone calls, emails and other communications.
The federal lawsuit said the conduct of the defendants --- Lawrence “Lol” Sorensen of California, Christopher Risica of Connecticut and Howard Weiss, and Patrick Sullivan, whose places of residence are unknown --- has caused emotional distress, humiliation, shame, and embarrassment and raises concerns the attacks “can quickly escalate into actual violence.”
“There is a marked difference between speech and harassment, and there are clearly delineated bounds of human decency that no person can cross by using fear, intimidation, and threats of violence to lash out at and try to silence those with whom they disagree,” the 31-page federal lawsuit said.
“The defendants have transcended mere criticism and employed threats, harassment, and personal abuse to try to humiliate and intimidate Hammer in a manner that is utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” the lawsuit added.
The second lawsuit was filed later in the day in Leon County circuit court against Brian Fitzgerald, who is identified as a 66-year-old resident of Miami-Dade County. Each lawsuit seeks “in excess” of $1 million in damages.
The NRA has come under heavy criticism from gun-control advocates since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and faculty members dead. The Second Amendment group also filed a federal lawsuit against the state in March, hours after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a school-safety measure that included new age-related gun restrictions.
Both lawsuits filed Friday included graphic examples of emails Hammer received, with many including obscenities and other words that are not typically published by news organizations.
The federal lawsuit lists Risica as a 38-year-old man from New London, Conn., and Sorensen as a 67-year-old man from Camarillo, Calif.
Sorensen acknowledge in a phone call Friday that he sent Hammer two emails on March 24 that included photos of gunshot wounds, including one said to be of President John Kennedy.
“This photo documents the effect of an outdated military rifle on JFK,” the email said. “Today’s assault rifles are far more destructive.”
Sorensen said he sent the emails after viewing a documentary on assault-style rifles. But he otherwise denied he made threats to Hammer or made comments to encourage others to do so.
“There’s certainly nothing threatening,” Sorensen said. “I certainly didn’t communicate with anybody about her. It was a one-off deal.”
Sorensen, calling himself “an apolitical person,” also denied knowledge of the other defendants.
Sorensen’s emails are noted in the federal lawsuit, but it doesn’t include him when alleging that Risica, Weiss, and Sullivan sent e-mails containing indirect or direct threats accompanied by personal attacks.
“I can’t wait till the day I flip on the news to see you mourning a gunshot victim,” Riscia is alleged to have said in an email. “You’re disgusting and exactly what’s wrong with people today. I seriously hope karma comes around for you soon.”
According to the lawsuit, Weiss emailed, “I pray every day that one of these ‘good’ people puts 100 bullets between your eyes so we can celebrate.”
The federal lawsuit said Hammer, a former national president of the NRA, has been confronted and verbally attacked in grocery stores, including once when she was told, “I hope somebody blows your … head off and your family too.”
Hammer, the lawsuit said, is taking legal action to “put a stop to the assault upon her personal life and constitutional rights, to end her harassment and the threats of violence and personal attacks she is enduring, and to confirm that such misconduct will not be tolerated or allowed to continue.”
In the lawsuits, Hammer is seeking injunctive relief and damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and “intrusion upon seclusion.”
News Service of Florida