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Politicians and guns: Why it's important that Obama shoots skeet

The White House has released a photo of President Obama firing a shotgun. In the US today, it seems important that politicians – especially men – know their way around guns. Why is that?

By Staff writer / February 2, 2013

President Barack Obama shoots clay targets on the range at Camp David, Md., in August. The White House released a photo of Obama firing a gun, two days before he heads to Minnesota to discuss gun control.

Pete Souza/The White House/AP

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What is it about politicians and guns?

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Once describing himself as a “lifelong hunter,” Mitt Romney had to backtrack, acknowledging that “lifelong hunter” meant shooting at “small varmints” now and then.

Rick Perry let it be known that he once went mano a mano with a coyote he said was threatening his dog, killing the beast with the handgun he carried while jogging. (Just where did he tuck that .380 Ruger on his morning run through the cactus and tumbleweeds, by the way?)

As a presidential candidate, John Kerry once borrowed a double-barreled shotgun and camo outfit to bag geese and an important photo op. (Wasn’t it enough that he’d pursued and killed an enemy soldier armed with a rocket-propelled grenade in Vietnam, where he’d been awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts?)

How much do you know about the Second Amendment? A quiz.

Sarah Palin made sure her now-defunct “reality” show included the scene of her shooting a caribou, although hunting experts questioned some of the details and wondered why it took five shots to bring down the animal. Ms. Palin dismissed such criticisms, telling a Kansas City crowd, “I have caribou blood under my fingernails still."

And then there’s Dick Cheney, who accidentally (and infamously) winged a friend in the face with shotgun pellets when they were quail hunting on a Texas ranch.

The White House this weekend found it necessary to release a photo of President Obama firing a shotgun.

The President has never claimed to be a hunter or any kind of sport shooter. If he ever applied for membership in the National Rifle Association, NRA executive Wayne LaPierre would be truly gob-smacked.

But in a recent New Republic interview, Obama was asked if he’d ever fired a gun.

“Yes,” he said. “In fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time.”

“All the time” is open to interpretation, and “we” presumably includes guests and perhaps bored Secret Service agents.

But critics were quick to pounce. “Where are the photos?” they demanded.

"If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this? Why have we not seen photos?" Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) of Tennessee asked on CNN this week. "I think he should invite me to Camp David, and I'll go skeet shooting with him. And I bet I'll beat him."

Rep. Blackburn probably shouldn’t keep her appointment book open for that invitation. On the other hand, it might be fun to watch the President and congressional Republicans blasting away at clay pigeons rather than lobbing rhetorical grenades at each other.

Although Palin, Blackburn, and other women in politics are joining men in touting their love of firearms (and women can now be considered for combat positions in the US military), it’s mainly men – just as it is with the question of military service, especially those who might have served in Vietnam but didn’t, including Cheney and Romney. (There no doubt are darkly psychological issues here too, but we won’t go there.)

Obama didn’t serve either, although he was a school boy during the Vietnam War and never faced the draft.

His aim in showing that he knows his way around guns – at least the shotgun provided him for skeet shooting at Camp David – is to let conservatives and liberals alike know that he values and respects sport shooting, including hunting.

It’s an important point to make if he’s ever to get new gun safety laws.

How much do you know about the Second Amendment? A quiz.

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