Gun-rights activists gathered in Oregon on Friday to protest President Barack Obama's visit to meet with families of victims of last week's shooting at a community college that left nine people dead and nine others injured.
The president landed in Roseburg Friday afternoon and was met with anger from gun supporters and local residents — even resistance from some members of victims' families — at Obama's plans to use the visit to call for stronger restrictions on firearms.
As many as 200 people carried signs saying "Prayers not politics" and "Obama go home" — and at least one protester carried a sidearm.
"I'm here to tell Obama he is not welcome in our county," said Bruce Rester, a retired truck driver who was wearing a handgun in a holster over his chest. "He is exploiting the local tragedy with his gun-control agenda."
"Everybody should carry a gun," he added. "An armed society is a polite society."
That's an attitude shared by many in the conservative region where it is common for residents to own guns for hunting, target shooting and self-protection.
Eight students and a teacher were killed on Oct. 1 when Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, burst into a classroom and opened fire shortly after 10:30 a.m. at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, about 180 miles south of Portland.
A student at the college, Harper-Mercer had asked students to stand up and state their religion. If they identified themselves as Christians, he shot them.
Nine others were injured before Harper-Mercer killed himself after he was shot by police. He had used six guns, five pistols and a rifle, to carry out the attack, authorities said.
Harper-Mercer was discharged from the Army after one month of basic training in 2008 after trying to commit suicide, according to law-enforcement officials.
President Obama called for stronger gun controls within hours of the attack — "This is something we should politicize," he told reporters at the White House — and news reports circulated Thursday that he was considering the use of executive action
to impose new background-check requirements on people buying guns from high-volume dealers.
Also on Friday, campus shootings were reported in Arizona and Texas. A fight between two groups of students at Northern Arizona University escalated into gunfire early Friday, leaving one person dead and three others wounded.
In Houston, one person was shot dead in a residential complex near Texas Southern University. The campus was put on lockdown.
Two suspects were arrested in Houston, while one is in custody in Arizona, authorities said.
"By coming here, Obama is going to politicize a tragedy by saying that you have to have gun control," said Roseburg resident George Starr while holding a small American flag.
"It's not that we are bloodthirsty, it's that we want to protect ourselves and our families," he said.
Gary Schoeller, 26, of Roseburg, wore a holstered handgun on his hip.
He told The Wall Street Journal
that he was at the airport to "protest the exploitation of victims for a political agenda."
The president's goal is to "make it harder and harder for law-abiding citizens to acquire firearms or firearm permits," Schoeller added. "I believe had at least one person had a firearm in that classroom, that man would not have been able to kill as many people as he did."
At Roseburg High School, Obama met with families for about an hour, telling them that he has strong feelings about how to prevent another mass shooting, The Oregonian reported
in a blog post of the visit.
"We're going to have to come together as a country, but today is about the families," Obama said after leaving the meeting.
The White House had said that Obama was to meet privately with families of the victims but was not expected to make any statements about gun control.
But that wasn't enough for Michelle Finn, a Roseburg resident who attended the community college.
"My family, my friends, everybody down here is not happy about him coming," Finn told People magazine
before Obama's visit. "He already says he's going to politicize this."
"He's already going to push his agenda," she added. "And if he knew Roseburg and Douglas County, he'd know these are the wrong people to be doing that with."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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