By Zachary A. Goldfarb and Howard Schneider
Published: February 2, 2013

On his 51st birthday last August, President Obama hit the links with a group of buddies and then flew by helicopter to Camp David. There, he changed into jeans and picked up a shotgun. And then, before it got too dark, he started a round of clay target shooting.

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t think this was headline-worthy news. But on Saturday morning, the White House released and promoted a photograph of Obama shooting skeet at the presidential retreat in Maryland.

White House aides were trying to end a growing distraction just as the president plans to make a fresh push to rally public support behind his ambitious agenda to tighten gun laws, traveling to Minnesota on Monday.

The photo, taken by White House photographer Pete Souza, depicts a sunglasses-wearing Obama firing what appears to be a Browning Citori 725, the shotgun wedged against his left shoulder, a pillow of white smoke emerging from the barrel.

The photo was published a week after Obama claimed in an interview with the New Republic that he routinely shoots skeet at Camp David. The surprising assertion — Obama’s golfing and basketball hobbies are far better known — instantly stirred the political zeitgeist.

Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, was asked for evidence in the White House briefing room. “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart poked fun at the president’s apparent hobby. Gun-rights activists dismissed it, and some were skeptical that Obama was a routine skeet shooter.

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