How Roseburg, Ore., responded to Obama's visit

For President Obama's visit, more than 200 gun-rights activists gathered outside Roseburg airport — some carrying holstered handguns.

(AP Photo/Ryan Kang)
Demonstrators wait outside of Roseburg Regional Airport for President Barack Obama's arrival, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, in Roseburg, Ore. Angry with Obama for calling for tighter gun restrictions in the wake of last week's deadly shootings at Umpqua Community College, gun-rights activists gathered to protest the president's visit to meet with victims' families.

Gun-rights activists and others gave voice to strong emotions when President Barack Obama came to meet privately with grieving families whose loved ones were killed on a college campus in Roseburg, Ore.

During Obama's brief visit on Friday, many residents showed anger over the call he made soon after last week's shootings for more gun restrictions.

However, there were also Obama supporters among the people waiting behind a security fence near the airport to catch a glimpse of the president.

They included two men on bicycles — Phil Benedetti and John Poole.

"I want to support our president," said Benedetti, a Roseburg physician. "This isn't about gun control, it's about caring about the welfare of the small town and every small town when tragedy happens."

He said he owns several guns for hunting and chasing deer from his garden, but he believes assault weapons shouldn't be available to the general public.

More than 200 gun-rights activists also gathered outside Roseburg airport — some carrying holstered handguns.

"I'm here to tell Obama he is not welcome in our county. He is exploiting the local tragedy with his gun control agenda," said Bruce Rester, a retired truck driver who was wearing a handgun in a holster over his chest. "Everybody should carry a gun. An armed society is a polite society."

As Roseburg buries its dead, it's also trying to heal. The complexities of residents' emotions were reflected in the signs that are everywhere around the community — at fast-food places, cafes and churches.

Some have messages like "Pray for UCC" and "UCC Strong."

The signs refer to Umpqua Community College, where Christopher Harper-Mercer killed eight students and a teacher before turning the gun on himself after a shootout with police.

Billie McMillian, a business owner from Eagle Point who attended the protest with her husband, said they came to support the families of the victims and because they didn't agree with the president.

"We support the Second Amendment. It's our God-given right to protect ourselves," she said.

Protesters also carried signs voicing support for Sheriff John Hanlin, who has been highly visible during press conferences about the college shooting.

Three years ago, after 20 children and six adults were shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Hanlin sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden saying he would not enforce any new gun legislation he deemed to be unconstitutional.

Poole, a retired property developer from Klamath Falls, said he too believes in the Second Amendment right to carry arms, but he also supports "rational, common sense gun laws."

Funerals for the nine victims of Harper-Mercer have been held throughout the week, and more were scheduled in the days ahead.

The college reopened Monday, and counselors have been on campus to help students, faculty and staff deal with the trauma that all of Roseburg is feeling. Grief counselors are also available at nonprofit organizations.

During his visit to Roseburg, the president met with leaders of the community college to express his thanks and condolences.

Obama made no public appearances during his visit to the city. It is not known what Obama told the families of those killed in the campus killings.

Just before leaving Roseburg, Obama said: "I've got some very strong feelings about this," he said adding that these occasions always remind him that anyone could be the victim.

"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 approximately hour-long, 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.

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.

Later Friday, Obama tackled the issue more aggressively during a Seattle fundraiser for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Bemoaning the many shooting sprees the nation has experienced in recent years, the president said: "It is not normal. It is not inevitable. It does not have to happen. There are ways to protect our children and protect our rights."

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