Two days before President Barack Obama’s first trip outside Washington to promote his gun-control proposals, the White House tried to settle a brewing mystery when it released a photo to back his claim to be a skeet shooter.
Obama had set inquiring minds spinning when, in an interview with The New Republic magazine, he answered “yes” when asked if he had ever fired a gun. The admission came as a surprise to many.
“Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” Obama said in the interview released last weekend, referring to the official presidential retreat in rural Maryland, which he last visited in October while campaigning for re-election. Asked whether the entire family participates, the president said: “Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there.”
Few could recall Obama ever talking about firing a gun or going skeet shooting “all the time.”
The official White House photo released Saturday is dated August 4, last year. The caption says Obama is shooting clay targets on the range at Camp David. Obama is seen holding a gun against his left shoulder, his left index finger on the trigger and smoke coming from the barrel. He is wearing jeans, a dark blue, short-sleeved polo shirt, sunglasses and ear defenders.
The National Rifle Association, which has rejected Obama’s proposals, scoffed at the photo.
“One picture does not erase a lifetime of supporting every gun ban and every gun-control scheme imaginable,” said Andrew Arulanandam, the influential gun rights lobbying group’s spokesman.
The NRA opposes Obama’s call for Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and says requiring background checks for all gun purchases would be ineffective because the administration isn’t doing enough to enforce existing gun laws.
Asked at Monday’s press briefing how frequently Obama shoots skeet and whether photos existed, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he didn’t know how often. Pictures may exist, he said, but he hadn’t seen any.
“Why haven’t we heard about it before?” Carney was asked.
“Because when he goes to Camp David, he goes to spend time with his family and friends and relax, not to produce photographs,” Carney said.
Obama is accompanied almost everywhere by at least one White House photographer.
Carney declined to comment on the decision to release the photo, which he had announced on Twitter. The release appeared to be part of a strategy to portray Obama as sympathetic to gun owners and opponents of his gun-control measures who argue the proposals would infringe on an individual’s right to bear arms which is guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.
A top official with the National Skeet Shooting Association said the photo suggests Obama is a novice shooter.
“This isn’t something he’s done very often because of how he’s standing, how he has the gun mounted,” said Michael Hampton, executive director of the San Antonio-based association.
Hampton said Obama’s remark about “skeet shooting all the time” and the White House photo would have met less scepticism had the president’s spoken about his hobby months before this new debate over guns in the US
“Once it becomes controversial and there’s problems, to talk about it then, that’s where it becomes very debatable and is not being received as well as if he would have done this six months ago,” Hampton said.
In the interview, which appears in a February issue of The New Republic, Obama said gun-control advocates should be better listeners in this latest debate over firearms in the US. He also declared his deep res pect for the tradition of hunting in the US, which dates back generations.
“I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations,” Obama said. “And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake. Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas.”
His gun control measures, which include a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a firearm, have met some resistance on Capitol Hill and from opponents of tighter restrictions on access to guns, including the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun rights lobbying group.
In Minneapolis on Monday, Obama plans to make remarks and discuss his proposals with local and law enforcement officials during a stop at the police department’s special operations centre. He’s also expected to visit with community members to hear about their experiences with gun violence, the White House said.
Obama announced his proposals about a month after the December 14 shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.