The White House has released a photo of President Barack Obama skeet shooting in an apparent bid to allay concerns by gun owners that he opposes firearms following a school massacre in December.
The photo was made public as Obama prepares to hit the road Monday to push his plan to curb gun violence as he presses Congress to enact sweeping gun restrictions.
The effort to ban assault rifles and high capacity magazines has become a centerpiece of the president's second term agenda after a man gunned down 20 children and six adults on 14 December in Newtown, Connecticut.
But his measures — both proposed legislation and executive orders — face stiff opposition from the firearms lobby, as well as from politicians, critics and gun enthusiasts who contend they will infringe upon the constitutional right to bear arms.
In recent days, Obama has made efforts to show that he is no stranger to sports shooting despite his efforts to stem rampant firearms violence.
The president said last week that he had picked up skeet shooting as a hobby, telling The New Republic that he shot at clay pigeons "all the time."
But his newfound love for the shooting sport was met with skepticism from conservatives. Obama had not previously mentioned his skeet shooting habit in public.
The newly released photo, taken on 4 August at the president's Camp David retreat in Maryland and posted on the White House's Flickr page on Friday, shows Obama firing at clay targets, according to the caption.
The president, in jeans and a black polo shirt and wearing protective glasses and ear muffs, is seen looking down the barrel of a shotgun locked on his left shoulder moments after pulling the trigger, with smoke spewing out the barrel.
There was no confirmation, however, of when Obama — an avid basketball player — took up the hobby and how regularly he practices.
"It was a surprise to a lot of people in the industry when we saw that and heard that," National Skeet Shooting Association executive director Michael Hampton told The New York Times.
His group's 35 000 members do not include the president.
The National Rifle Association made light of the photo.
"One picture does not erase a lifetime of supporting every gun ban and every gun control scheme imaginable," National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told CNN.
The NRA, America's biggest gun lobby, has rejected Obama's proposal to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. It also dismisses plans to require background checks for all gun purchases, saying existing gun laws should be better enforced first.
The release triggered mockery online. Twitter users circulating montages of Obama shooting at the Constitution or at Disney's Bambi, ignoring a stern White House warning that the photograph "may not be manipulated in any way."
"Attn skeet birthers. Make our day - let the photoshop conspiracies begin!," former White House senior adviser David Plouffe tweeted earlier.
He then posted: "Day made. The skeet birthers are out in full force in response to POTUS pic. Makes for most excellent, delusional reading."
In his interview with The New Republic, Obama expressed respect for US hunting traditions and urged gun control advocates to listen more to the other side.
"I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake," he said.
Pointing to how differently guns are handled in urban and rural areas, Obama added: "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."