Barack Obama in the line of fire as sceptics target his shooting claims
BARACK Obama's claims that he goes "skeet shooting all the time" have been met with a mixture of quiet mirth and outright disbelief as the gun debate continues.
Barack Obama has a well-documented history of shooting, but until now his target list has been confined to election night "hoops" with his basketball buddies, the odd frame of eight-ball pool, and a record number of rounds of golf at Andrews Air Force base.
When Mr Obama added clay-pigeon shooting to that list in a bid to reassure American gun owners he would not interfere with their hunting, however, there were those who wondered if the President might be trying just a little too hard.
"Up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," Mr Obama breezed to The New Republic magazine, adding he had "a profound respect for the traditions of hunting".
Coming from a president who once mocked small town Americans for their attachment to "God and guns", the remarks were met with a mixture of quiet mirth and outright disbelief as the debate continued to rage over new gun controls in the wake of the Dec 14 Sandy Hook school shootings.
Marsha Blackburn, a Republican congresswoman from Tennessee, wondered why, if Mr Obama was such a keen shot, it had never been made public - until now.
"We had this debate that is ongoing," she said on CNN. "You would have thought it would have been a point of reference."
She then challenged the president to a shoot-off at the Camp David clay-pigeon range, which was installed by Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s and where a young Prince Charles put on a "dazzling display" in July, 1970, according to press reports of the time.
"If he is a skeet shooter, why have we not heard of this? Why have we not seen photos? Why hasn't he referenced this at any point in time?" Mrs Blackburn continued. "I'll go skeet shooting with him and I bet I'll beat him."
The White House press corps were soon firing the same questions at Jay Carney, the Obama administration press secretary. "Are there photographs?" the reporters probed, forcing Mr Carney to admit there were none - visibly scrambling to add: "Because when he goes to Camp David, he goes to spend time with his family and friends and relax, not to produce photographs."
Seasoned correspondents could not help observing that the White House photographer, Pete Souza, has taken pictures of Mr Obama engaged in most other known leisure activities – golfing, basketball, ten-pin bowling in the White House alley, even shooting a water-pistol with his girls at Camp David – but not, it seemed, shooting.
If Mr Obama had been over-stating his credentials as a member of the shooting set, he would not be the first American politician to cross that line.
In the 2004 election campaign John Kerry, a long-time supporter of gun control, tried to scare up a few extra votes in the Iowa caucuses by being photographed shooting pheasants, and giving interviews referencing "my trusty 12-gauge". No-one was remotely fooled.
Mitt Romney, derided as a "Massachusetts moderate" by the rural, gun-loving members of his own party, was forced to swing wildly across the line of plausibility with his claims to be a lifelong hunter of rabbits and other "small, small varmints".
Peter Foster, Telegraph.co.uk