Gun Control Debate: How Obama's Shooting Photo Keeps Focus On the Gun Debate


President Obama's recent claim during an interview with The New Republic that "up at Camp David, [he does] skeet shooting all the time" has overcome a lot of media scrutiny. In this interview he also asserts that he has "profound respect" for the traditions of hunting, notes the gap between urban gun usage and rural gun usage, and says that gun rights advocates need to do "a little more listening" in the debate that has sparked since the December Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Under fire for their unresponsiveness to Obama's comments, the White House released a photograph of Obama skeet shooting at Camp David in August. However, was this photograph released simply to respond to fact-checkers who wanted to confirm the validity of Obama's statement, or was it part of a broader publicity scheme in order to paint Obama pro-gun (or at least not anti-gun)?

While some have claimed that the White House is trying to use this photo as a publicity stunt to portray Obama as a sympathizer with gun rights advocates, the sneers from the NRA and the president's conservative critics show that it's not a very good publicity scheme. Moreover, I do not believe that Obama's advisers expected this photo to win the support of any more than a handful of gun rights advocates. Instead, the skeet-shooting photo was released in order to re-focus the gun control debate on the more important aspects of it, rather than on a wave of fact-checkers that threatened to overshadow Obama's gun control proposal.

Obama's advisors are not naïve; they know that the release of the photo as a trite publicity stunt is too glaringly obvious to the public for it to make anyone ignore Obama's well-known stance on gun control, or to convince more than a few people that Obama isn't the "gun-hater" he is oftentimes made out to be. The only thing the photo did for Obama's image was to show that he could see the other side of the debate, if not agree with it. However, using the photo to bring attention back to one of Obama's biggest priorities this term and away from the "did he or didn't he skeet shoot" controversy by effectively putting any doubts to rest was a much more subtle and intelligent move on the White House's part than using it just as an attempt to win the hearts of gun rights advocates.

The media scrutiny over the validity of Obama's statements was a distraction from the president's message; the release of the photo refocused the lens back on what is actually important: the president's stance on gun control.