NRA defends ad with Obama daughters. Right or wrong?

Washington has been roiled by an NRA ad that makes a point about President Obama's daughters. On Thursday, the organization's CEO argued the ad wasn't really about them.

Evan Vucci/AP/File
The National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, gestures during a news conference in response to the Connecticut school shooting, last December, in Washington. LaPierre defended his organization's controversial ad mentioning President Obama's daughters during an appearance Thursday on NBC’s 'Today.'

National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre defended his organization’s controversial ad mentioning President Obama’s daughters during an appearance Thursday on NBC’s “Today.”

“It wasn’t about the president’s daughters,” Mr. LaPierre said at the end of a segment otherwise devoted to the NRA’s views on the president’s gun-control proposals. “What it is about is how to keep children safe.”

Well, in a narrow sense that assertion might be a tough sell. As we discussed Wednesday, the 30-second, online ad that’s roiled Washington begins with the words, “Are the president’s kids more important yours?”

It goes on to charge that Mr. Obama is an “elitist hypocrite” because he’s skeptical of the NRA’s proposal for more armed guards at schools, yet Sasha and Malia are themselves protected by armed guards.

It ends with a graphic of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, and NBC’s David Gregory protected by two armed guys in SWAT gear.

“Protection for their kids and gun-free zones for ours,” it intones.

However, there is a longer cut of this ad that surrounds the presidential-children reference with more material, so maybe LaPierre was talking about that.

This 4-1/2-minute version starts by talking about how banks, the White House, and Capitol Hill are all protected by armed guards. Then it expends quite a bit of time on media folks decrying the NRA’s armed-guard-in-every-school proposal. At one point, somebody even charges the group is on “Planet Bizarro.”

Then it abruptly switches tone. “The media speaks for elites. America speaks for itself,” flashes on-screen. Then it begins referring to a number of state programs that finance and place school guards.

The daughters appear at about the three-minute mark. The ad references a story from the conservative website that asserts that Mr. Gregory’s children go to a school with armed guards. (Gregory has drawn the NRA’s ire for what it deems his antigun questioning.) Then the ad says the school that Obama’s daughters attend has 11 armed guards.

The word “HYPOCRITES” then appears on-screen.

We’ve got a couple of comments about all this, unsurprisingly. The first is that the NRA is trying to back away from the president’s daughters thing without having to actually appear to be retreating. The second is that the real ire they express is in the word “elites.” They have probably poll-tested and found that this word raises emotions among many gun owners and causes them to give the organization more money and political support.

Third, it looks like the presidential daughters part of the ad is based on wrong information.

It’s true that the Secret Service protects the president’s family. That’s US law, due to the fact that first families are the subject of constant, specific, credible death threats.

But the president’s daughters go to Sidwell Friends in upper northwest Washington, and there are not 11 armed guards there. Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler proves this pretty conclusively Thursday in his column.

The school has 11 people in its security department. None of them carry weapons, a top school official told Mr. Kessler.

However, by bringing as much attention as it can to the armed-guards-in-school issue, the NRA may be crazy like a fox. That is because polls show it is popular with the US public.

A recent Washington Post/ABC News survey found that 55 percent of respondents approved of the idea of placing an armed guard in every US school. Asked to identify the best way to combat armed violence in schools, 43 percent chose the option of more gun control, while 41 percent picked the armed-guard option.

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