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 by releasing 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.’
Then on Saturday morning, the White House released the photo of Obama shooting at clay pigeons at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland.
Former White House senior adviser David Plouffe couldn’t resist mocking those who might claim the photograph of President Obama shooting was fake and tweeted: ‘Attention skeet birthers. Make our day - let the photoshop conspiracies begin!’
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer also joined in the teasing and tweeted the picture of the President with a shout-out to the ‘skeeters’ - namely people who might claim the image is false. Both men received a large amount of online abuse for their attempts at humour.
The image of a US president holding a gun is certainly nothing new. A number of men who have held the highest office in America have been pictured holding guns, from Theodore Roosevelt to George W Bush.
The shooting range at Camp David was installed by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. The retired Army general enjoyed shooting and even brought visiting dignitaries, including Prince Charles, to join him.
Presidents John F Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush are among the former US leaders who have also been photographed packing heat.
Mr Obama’s predecessor, 43rd President George W Bush, is an avid hunter who enjoyed the sport at his ranch in Crawford, Texas - which was dubbed the ‘Western White House’ during his tenure.
His Vice-President, Dick Cheney, also enjoyed the practice but landed in a tight spot when he accidentally hit his shooting companion, Texas millionaire Harry Whittington, while quail hunting on a Texas ranch in February 2006. The image of President Obama shooting at clay targets was released at a time when he is pushing a package of gun-control measures in response to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
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 organization’s spokesman.
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 Second Amendment right to bear arms.
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 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 interview, appearing in The New Republic’s Feb 11 issue, Obama said gun-control advocates should be better listeners in the debate over firearms, which was sparked by the December killing of elementary school pupils in Connecticut. He also declared his deep respect for the long tradition of hunting in this country.
‘I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake,’ Obama said.
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 hear from community members about their experiences with gun violence.
Obama announced his proposals in mid-January, about a month after the Dec 14 shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.