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Obama hints at handgun restrictions too

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

The National Rifle Association, jumping on President Obama's new and firm support for a Clinton-style assault weapons ban, is stepping up its attack on the president in Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Wisconsin with a new "we told you so" theme.

David Keene, president of the NRA, told Secrets, "the president has ratified what we have been saying" in ads and mailings to pro-gun voters. "See, he peeked out and finally said what he wants," said Keene.

In his 2008 campaign and while president, Obama has distanced himself from gun issues, aware that it could hurt him politically in key battleground states. But when pressed about gun violence during the Tuesday town hall-style presidential debate, he fully embraced a Clinton-style assault weapons ban. Clinton's ban expired in 2004.

Suggesting a ban not just on semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 but maybe even handguns, the most popular rifle in America, the president said, "What I'm trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced. But part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence. Because frankly, in my hometown of Chicago, there's an awful lot of violence and they're not using AK-47s. They're using cheap handguns."

Keene said that Obama's statement was a "strategic error on his part" because it blew up the president's pro-Second Amendment rhetoric. "He knows it's politically dangerous to take on the Second Amendment," said Keene.

"We have credibility when we say that Barack Obama is a threat to your rights. But that credibility is obviously enhanced 10-fold when Barack Obama, in a moment of weakness, says, 'Yeah, as a matter of fact I am.' And that's what he did," said Keene. "This is going to help us."

The NRA is blanketing Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Wisconsin with advocacy mailings and ads, hopeful of persuading the vast majority of pro-gun, non-NRA members to vote for Romney. They made a similar effort during the recent Wisconsin gubernatorial recall effort and several analysts credited the NRA with helping to save Gov. Scott Walker.

"We can move the race a couple of points," said Keene.