WASHINGTON — Two days before President 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 whether 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 Aug. 4, 2012. The caption says Obama is shooting clay targets on the range at Camp David. He 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 headphones.
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.
Asked at Monday’s press briefing how frequently Obama shoots skeet and whether photos of the outings existed, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he didn’t know how often. Pictures might 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 did not immediately respond Saturday when asked to comment on the decision to release the photo.
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 skepticism had the president's spoken about his hobby months before this new debate over guns in the U.S.
"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 the Feb. 11 issue of The New Republic, Obama said gun control advocates should be better listeners in this latest debate over firearms.
“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. And if you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were 10, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family’s traditions, you can see why you’d be pretty protective of that.
“So it’s trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months. And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes,” Obama said.
His gun control measures, which include a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, along with 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.
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 center. He’s also expected to visit with community members to hear about their experiences with gun violence, the White House said.