Over the protests of local residents asking him to “leave us in peace”, President Obama flew to Oregon to meet families of the victims of the mass shooting at Umpqua community college one week ago.
As the president carried out his visit, news emerged of two additional campus shootings on Friday, in Arizona and Texas.
In brief public remarks following an hour-long meeting with the families at Roseburg high school, Obama said the US had to figure out a way to stop mass shootings from happening.
“I’ve obviously got very strong feelings about this,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to come together as a country, but today is about the families.”
The president was greeted upon his arrival in Roseburg by protesters holding signs reading “gun free zones = kill zones”, “Obama is wrong” and “Please leave us in peace”. Others held signs welcoming the president.
The protesters said they opposed the timing of the president’s visit amid reports that he would seek to impose new – if limited – restrictions on gun sales in the wake of the Oregon shooting.
The White House signaled on Thursday that Obama may take executive action to require private dealers who sell a significant number of firearms to conduct background checks on buyers. Currently only dealers officially certified as “engaged in business” of firearms sales need conduct such checks.
No such measure would have provided a safeguard in the Oregon shooting, in which a gunman killed nine people on campus on 1 October and injured nine others before taking his own life.
The gunman, Chris Harper Mercer, had no criminal record and had passed background checks to amass an arsenal of 13 weapons.
After meeting with families in Roseburg, Obama was scheduled to fly to Seattle for a fundraiser.
Hunting is popular in Oregon, a state with relatively liberal gun laws. Permits are required to carry a handgun (but not rifles or shotguns), and firearms may be carried in restaurants, according to the National Rifle Association.
On Friday one protester, Jason Harju, bristled when speaking of the press conference Obama held shortly after the Umpqua community college shootings.
The community had been reeling in shock, he said. The bodies had not been buried. But the president was already pushing his agenda.
Obama did not speak address the protesters in Roseburg, but Harju took the day off from work, strapped his .40-caliber pistol to his belt buckle, hopped in a rig with the sticker “Oregunian” on the back window and joined hundreds of other protesters.
“He’s not welcome to politicize our tragedy for his agenda,” Harju said. “We all know what that agenda is: gun control.”
Like many of those who peacefully protested outside the tiny airport where the president’s helicopter touched down, Harju said stricter gun control laws would only hurt law-abiding citizens.
“Spend more money on mental health,” Harju said. “That guy [the gunman] was obviously a nutcase.”
Jan Cuddy, whose three daughters graduated from the community college, said she would like to believe Obama visited Roseburg because he was compassionate.
“But I’m not sure if that’s the case,” said the 64-year-old. “The minute it happened, he was on the news, he made it political. The families don’t need it.”
Cuddy held a sign that said: “I”m a Christian. Why didn’t God stop the shooting? How could he? He is not allowed in school anymore.”
Heather Sherman, who overheard Cuddy, quietly disagreed. The 34-year-old said the shooting in her hometown prompted her to apply for a concealed weapons permit.
“The president is here for the families,” she said. “I may not agree, about gun control, but he’s here to support Roseburg.”
Counter-protesters, meanwhile, argued that the town should welcome the president, whatever the politics of his message.
As the president was flying to Oregon, news broke of a shooting at Texas Southern University in Houston, with one dead. It appeared to be the third shooting – and first fatal shooting – on that campus since 27 August.
Earlier on Friday, an 18-year-old student killed one person and wounded three others when he opened fire during a confrontation on the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
This article titled “‘Leave us in peace’: Anti-gun control protesters greet Obama during Oregon visit” was written by Tom McCarthy in New York and Lauren Dake in Roseburg, Oregon, for theguardian.com on Friday 9th October 2015 22.37 UTC