From George Washington’s flintlock pistols to John F. Kennedy’s M1 rifle, presidents have shared a long tradition of proud gun ownership.
That heritage would be far more likely to continue under a President Donald Trump than it would under a President Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, has a concealed carry permit in New York, owns at least two handguns and professes a “tremendous passion” for hunting with his sons. He laments that his schedule rarely affords him time to hunt.
In an interview with The Washington Times in 2012, Mr. Trump said he owns a Hechler & Koch .45 pistol and a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson.
“I own a couple of different guns, but I don’t talk about it,” he said at the time.
When Mrs. Clinton tries to relate to gun owners, she usually harks back to the time she went duck hunting in Arkansas decades ago. What the Democratic nominee remembers most was the cold weather.
“Once was enough,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton told her duck hunting story most prominently during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, when she was trying to exploit rival Barack Obama’s comment about Pennsylvania’s “bitter” voters who “cling” to guns and religion.
“I was with a bunch of my friends, all men,” she recalled. “They wanted to embarrass me. The pressure was on. So I shot, and I shot a banded duck, and they were surprised as I was.”
Her appeal to rural gun owners irritated Mr. Obama, who accused her of playing politics and mocked her for posing unconvincingly as frontier woman Annie Oakley.
In 2013, as President Obama was pushing for more gun regulations, the White House released a photograph of him skeet shooting at Camp David to back up his claim that he did it “all the time.” There is no evidence he shot skeet before becoming president or that he has done so regularly during his infrequent trips to the presidential retreat.
When presidential candidates try too hard to showcase familiarity with guns, hunters can sense the inauthenticity. Democrat John F. Kerry went hunting for geese with a .12-gauge shotgun in Ohio as a photo-op during the 2004 presidential campaign, but he was careful not to be photographed holding any of the dead geese brought back by his hunting party, apparently not wanting to offend part of his liberal base.
During the 2012 campaign, Republican Mitt Romney was ridiculed for claiming he was a lifelong hunter of “small varmints” such as rodents and rabbits.
“I’m not a serious hunter,” Mr. Romney acknowledged.
During her primary campaign against Sen. Bernard Sanders late last year, Mrs. Clinton again professed her appreciation for the nation’s culture of gun ownership.
“I’m not against guns,” she told voters in New Hampshire. “My dad taught me to shoot when I was a little girl.” She said she has shot at targets, tin cans and skeet.
It’s unlikely that Mrs. Clinton will win over many gun owners in November. An online poll conducted in July by the KeepAndBearArms.com website found an overwhelming preference among gun owners for Mr. Trump over Mrs. Clinton, 86 percent to 3 percent.
Some gun rights advocates say a candidate’s personal experience with firearms is no sure indicator of Second Amendment policies in office.
“Whether or not the candidates own firearms is of minor consequence,” said John Josselyn, legislative vice president of the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore Inc. “The Second Amendment is not about duck hunting. The issues that matter are the candidates’ understanding of the reason the Second Amendment was written, respect for the rule of law and the rights of the citizens of the United States to keep and bear arms for self-defense.”
The National Rifle Association has launched a $15 million TV ad campaign warning voters in battleground states that Mrs. Clinton could take away the right to self-defense. The ad features a woman home alone when an intruder breaks in.
“Don’t let Hillary leave you protected with nothing but a phone,” the narrator says.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said the ad features “classic NRA fear-mongering.”
“The NRA continues to promote the myth that a gun in the home makes you safer,” said Dan Gross, the Brady Campaign’s president. “The fact is, a gun in the home is far more likely to cause the injury or death of a family member when accidentally discharged, or to be used in a suicide, than it is to be used in self-defense.”
Mrs. Clinton has said she is “not here to take away your guns” and doesn’t intend to repeal the Second Amendment. She does favor a ban on assault weapons and expanded background checks on gun purchases.
At the Democratic National Convention, Mrs. Clinton said she wants to work “with responsible gun owners to pass common-sense reforms and keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and all others who would do us harm.”
She wants “no fly, no buy” policies to prohibit people on terrorist watch lists from gaining access to guns. Mrs. Clinton also wants to close the “Charleston loophole,” which allows a gun sale to proceed without a finished background check if that check is not completed within three days.
Mr. Trump, endorsed by the NRA, has pledged to rescind President Obama’s executive orders establishing gun regulations. He doesn’t favor expanding the national background check system but supports “fixing” the system to prevent more people with criminal and mental health histories from buying guns.
His campaign website says he would “enforce the laws on the books” and wants to appoint Supreme Court justices who will uphold the Second Amendment.
The Republican has said he is open to a “no fly, no buy” policy to prevent people on terrorist watch lists from buying firearms. He also wants to create a “national right to carry” law that would make such permits valid in all 50 states.
He says he would get rid of “gun-free zones” and would emphasize enforcement of existing gun laws.