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Exclusive: NRA senior lobbyist says attack ad was "ill-advised"

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One of the National Rifle Association's senior lobbyists said an ad by the nation's leading gun-rights group after a school shooting in Connecticut that refers to President Barack Obama's children was "ill-advised."

Jim Baker, head of the federal affairs division at the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said he had made his views known to others at the powerful gun-rights organization.

The ad, which cast Obama as hypocritical for having expressed skepticism about putting armed guards in schools, when "his kids are protected by armed guards at their schools," drew widespread criticism when it first became public on January 15.

Nationwide outrage over the shooting of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14 moved gun violence and gun control to the center of the U.S. political debate.

"I don't think it was particularly helpful, that ad," Baker told Reuters in a telephone interview. "I thought it ill-advised."

"I think the ad could have made a good point, if it talked about the need for increased school security, without making the point using the president's children," he said. The NRA has advocated putting armed guards in schools

Baker was the NRA's representative at a meeting with Vice President Joseph Biden on January 10 to discuss the administration's plans to reduce gun violence in the wake of the school shooting.

He said he was not involved in creating the ad, and once it appeared, he had let others at the NRA know what he thought. "I got to say my piece," he said.

Baker gave no details of the their response to him, but said, "Believe it or not, there are occasionally differences of opinion in this building."

In the ad, a narrator asks, "Are the president's kids more important than yours?" Obama's daughters, 14-year-old Malia and 11-year-old Sasha, attend private school in Washington and receive Secret Service protection, as is routine for children of presidents.

The White House has called the NRA ad "repugnant and cowardly," while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said it was "reprehensible" and undermined the NRA's credibility by bringing the president's children into the debate. Christie is considered a possible Republican presidential contender in 2016.

Susan Eisenhower, the daughter of the late President Dwight Eisenhower who had Secret Service protection as a child, wrote in the Washington Post that she was "disgusted" by the ad.

The NRA's president, David Keene, objected to the White House criticism earlier this month, saying "We didn't name the president's daughters ... What we said is that these are people who think that their families deserve protection that yours don't."

The president's critics also have noted that when Obama announced his plan to respond to the gun violence, he was flanked by four children. Obama proposed renewing a U.S. assault weapons ban, as well as banning high-capacity magazines and more stringent background checks for gun purchasers.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Jackie Frank)

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