01/17/2013 10:38 am ET Updated Mar 19, 2013

Eddie Eagle Is an Endangered Species, I Fear

This clergyman has a confession to make. I love occasional target shooting. When I was a kid, I got into riflery because the outdoorsy summer I camp I attended offered it as an elective. I became so good that I was awarded "Distingushed Marksman" by the Junior NRA. Over the years, I have occasionally gone plinking (usually with a pellet gun at my father-in-law's property in upstate New York). In fact, my father-in-law had a pretty large collection of long guns himself that he used to keep in his den (somewhat disconcertingly placed over the guest bed upon which his daughters's boyfriends were expected to sleep during overnight visits). I still like to shoot now and then and I think learning the responsible use of firearms is a worthwhile endeavor.

Eddie Eagle is the cute mascot created by the NRA to teach kids gun safety and shooting. Back in the day, that seemed to be the mission of the NRA: to promote safe and responsible gun ownership. Eddie Eagle is a friendly cuddly figure that helps kids and adults avoid getting hurt around firearms. Kind of like a Smokey the Bear -- but with loaded guns instead of lit matches.

Now, however, the NRA has been thoroughly co-opted by the gun manufacturers who figured out that the NRA could become a lobbying tool to promote the purchase of their products. Marketing heavily to middle-class men, gun makers use the NRA to promote the latest attachments and modifications to the expensive AR-15 style rifles that represent a huge profit margin for these companies. Several gun makers will advertise that they will "contribute" to the NRA for each purchase that you make. There is big, big money being made. These enthusiastic AR owners buy more "chochkes" for their guns than little girls buy for their American Girl Dolls.

Now, the NRA has come out with an ad that features the Obama daughters. The add states that the president "protects" his daughters with armed guards but "doesn't allow us to protect our children." Leaving aside the questionable taste of using the president's young daughters in an attack ad, the campaign by the NRA is boneheaded in every way.

The majority of Americans understand the need for gun safety measures. Gun ownership and the shooting sports, which seem to be concentrated mostly in the middle class, and are pursued by law-abiding citizens, should be an issue that most Americans of good will can support. The NRA had a chance to achieve some significant victories and improve their "brand"; they chose to represent only the most extreme elements and the gun manufacturers. They have chosen to play hardball using the Obama children. Eddie the Eagle is no more.