ROSEBURG, Ore. – President Barack Obama, faced with protests over his meeting Friday with victims of an Oregon shooting, held to his view that something must be done about deadly gun crimes. But given the freshness of the week-old tragedy, he said, “Today, it’s about the families.”
“I’ve got some very strong feelings about this,” Obama said, adding that these occasions always remind him that anyone could be the victim.
At Umpqua Community College in Roseburg last week, a gunman killed eight students and a teacher before using the weapon to take his own life. On Friday, fatal shootings were reported at colleges in Arizona and Texas.
“We’re going to have to come together as a country to see how we can prevent these issues from taking place” so regularly, Obama told reporters following the hourlong, private meeting with grieving relatives of those who were killed and injured. “But today, it’s about the families, their grief and the love we feel for them.” The White House did not say how many people Obama met with.
Immediately after the Oregon shooting, a visibly angry Obama appeared at the White House to declare that thoughts and prayers are no longer enough in the aftermath of such incidents and that the nation’s gun laws needed to be changed. He said the issue is one “we should politicize.”
But his message didn’t sit well in Roseburg, where gun ownership is popular and some residents began mobilizing against his visit almost as soon as the White House announced he was coming. Hundreds of supporters and protesters gathered near the local airport where he arrived by helicopter, and signs welcoming the president were mixed with other signs advocating gun rights.
Obama said the families wanted him to know how much they appreciated the outpouring of support from around the country.
Staunchly conservative Douglas County is populated with gun owners who use their firearms for hunting, target shooting and self-protection. A commonly held opinion in the area is that the solution to mass killings is more people carrying guns, not fewer.
“The fact that the college didn’t permit guards to carry guns, there was no one there to stop this man,” said Craig Schlesinger, pastor at Garden Valley Church in Roseburg.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said no one should fear Obama’s visit.
“The fact is the president has made clear that the goal of his visit is to spend time with the families of those who are so deeply affected by this terrible tragedy,” Earnest said.
Obama was already scheduled to travel to the West Coast, mostly for weekend fundraising events in Seattle and across California, when the 26-year-old gunman opened fire last week at the community college. The White House adjusted his schedule to add the Roseburg stop.
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