EVEN before President Barack Obama made his announcement that he would pursue bans on semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, the debate had turned ugly. The National Rifle Association trotted out an advertisement that mentioned the President's own children before labelling him an elitist hypocrite.
''Are the President's kids more important than yours?'' the ad asks. ''Then why is he sceptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he is just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.''
Soon after the ad began airing on Wednesday, a White House spokesman described it as ''repugnant and cowardly''.
While the advertisement might help energise those who mistrust the President's motives for seeking to ban assault rifles, it could backfire, costing the organisation support among Democrats, such as long-time supporter and Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
The NRA has already attracted criticism for its response to the Sandy Hook shootings that prompted Wednesday's action from the White House.
In a sometimes bizarre and rambling December press conference, the group's chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, blamed media and Hollywood for violence. ''The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters - people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day,'' he said, adding that the only way to protect children was to prevent the government creating what he called ''dangerous gun-free zones'' in schools.
After that press conference, a Public Policy Polling survey found support for the group dropped from 48 per cent to 41 per cent.
The NRA is even copping criticism from normally sympathetic venues, such as pundits in Fox News (who also condemned the President for including children in his press conference).
David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush - and regular critic of the far right of the Republican Party - was scathing in a piece he wrote for The Daily Beast website. He wrote: ''As the makers of the NRA ad should know, and probably do know, the first family has come under years of racially coded attack for their 'uppityism', as Rush Limbaugh phrased it. This latest attack ad looks to many like only one more attempt to inflame an ancient American wound.''
In a statement, the NRA said the ad was not about the President's children. ''The main aim of the ad is to make sure that we all act to keep our children safe. It's not aimed at anyone's child in particular,'' it said. ''Anyone who claims otherwise is intentionally trying to change the topic or missing the point completely.''