(CNN) — The president of the National Rifle Association is standing by the group’s new controversial ad that has drawn fire for referencing the president’s children, a rare move in a political attack. [BONUS: Obama seeks assault weapons ban, background checks on all gun sales]
David Keene told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that the ad is “not about them specifically,” arguing the television commercial was more than just about President Barack Obama’s children.
Attacking the president as an “elitist hypocrite,” the commercial asks why he opposes the idea of placing armed guards in every school–a proposal pushed by the NRA–yet his own children attend a school with similar security.
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” a narrator says in the 30-second ad. “Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools, when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school.”
The White House blasted the commercial, which runs on the Sportsman Channel, as “repugnant and cowardly” and charged the NRA of using the president’s two daughters as “pawns in a political fight.”
Keene, the group’s president, said the ad was not referring to the girls’ Secret Service protection but the “elitists’ kids” who attend schools with private security.
“What we’re talking about is folks who have protection for their own children…and then pooh-pooh the idea that the average American’s children shouldn’t have the same sort of protection,” he said on “The Situation Room.”
When Blitzer argued that the NRA could have made the same point without mentioning the president’s children, Keene said, “That’s fair, you can make the point in a lot of different ways.”
Earlier Wednesday the president announced his proposals to curb gun violence, an agenda that included a call to reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban, a ten-round limit for ammunition magazines, increasing access to mental health, and requiring a criminal background check on every gun sale.
Of the proposals, Keene said he approved of policies that seek to prevent mentally-ill individuals from obtaining guns.
“The kinds of people who do this, particularly the mentally imbalanced…shouldn’t have any magazine,” Keene said. “They shouldn’t have any guns. Let’s find them to the extent that we can, let’s make sure they don’t get their hands on firearms and then let’s provide security because someone’s going to fall through the cracks.”
When pressed, he also said he agrees that the president should appoint a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a position that’s been open for six years.
With Obama’s calls for Congress to act, a fierce debate on Capitol Hill is expected to take place as lawmakers battle over gun control, one of the most emotional and partisan issues. And a new CNN/Time Magazine/ORC International Poll indicates that a majority of Americans support stricter gun control laws in the wake of last month’s shooting rampage at an elementary school in Connecticut.
According to the survey, 56% support a ban on semi-automatic guns, though that’s down from 62% in a CNN poll taken in the days after the shooting at Sandy Hook. The same is true for a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips – 62% in December, down to 58% now.
Keene, however, tried to downplay the polls, saying they “aren’t going to mean a lot” in a fight with Congress and the president.
“I think that as this debate goes on–we’ve had this debate before–as people begin to look at, as the public engages, I think we’re going to be fine,” he said.
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