Samuel P Jacobs
WASHINGTON: Hours before President Barack Obama revealed his plan to decrease gun-related violence, the nation’s leading gun rights group took its opposition to him to a personal level by releasing a video ad that refers to Obama’s two school-age daughters.
The ad released by the National Rifle Association, which advocated putting armed guards in schools after the December 14 massacre of 26 people in a Connecticut school, casts the president as elitist and hypocritical for wanting schools to be gun-free zones.
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” a narrator says in the 35-second TV and internet spot.
“Then why is he sceptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their schools? Mr Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”
Obama’s daughters, 14-year-old Malia and 11-year-old Sasha, attend private school in Washington and receive Secret Service protection.
The ad provoked widespread outrage, with a president’s children considered inappropriate targets in a political fight. Former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs called the spot “disgusting on so many levels”.
On Wednesday, the White House joined the condemnation.
“Most Americans agree that a president’s children should not be used as pawns in a political fight,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“But to go so far as to make the safety of the president’s children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly.”
The NRA in turn objected to the criticism.
“Whoever thinks the ad is about President Obama’s daughters are missing the point completely, or they’re trying to change the subject,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told NBC News on Wednesday. “This ad is about keeping our children safe.”
The ad’s tone and personal nature – striking even a capital city used to bitter political divisions – reflected the cultural gulf that divides the sides in the debate over the limits of the constitutional right to bear arms.
Since the killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Obama’s administration has put together a broad response that includes a call to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons and enhanced background checks for prospective gun buyers.
The White House itself put a spotlight on children on Wednesday by including four children on the stage where Obama spoke about his gun proposals.
Each child had written letters encouraging the president to act to end gun violence, and Obama quoted from two of the letters in his speech.
The new NRA ad is called Stand and Fight and promotes the guards-in-schools idea that has been at the centre of the group’s response to the shootings in Connecticut.
The ad is airing on the Sportsman Channel, a cable network, but is expected to have a much larger viewership on news stations and the internet.