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Protests as Obama meets relatives of Oregon shooting victims

Published 10/10/2015

Gun-toting protester Michael Johnson waits outside Roseburg Municipal Airport for Barack Obama's arrival to meet families of the college shooting victims (AP)
Gun-toting protester Michael Johnson waits outside Roseburg Municipal Airport for Barack Obama's arrival to meet families of the college shooting victims (AP)
President Obama with Oregon governor Kate Brown and Roseburg mayor Larry Rich after his meeting with families (AP)

Barack Obama, faced with pro-gun protests over his meeting with victims of the Oregon college shooting, has repeated his view that something must be done about shootings.

But given the freshness of the week-old tragedy, the US president said: "Today, it's about the families."

A gunman killed eight students and a teacher a t Umpqua Community College in Roseburg before using the weapon to take his own life.

Meanwhile, fatal shootings took place at colleges in Arizona and Texas on Friday.

"We're going to have to come together as a country to see how we can prevent these issues from taking place" so regularly, Mr Obama said after the hour-long, private meeting with grieving relatives of those who killed and injured.

"But today, it's about the families, their grief and the love we feel for them."

Immediately after the Oregon shooting, a visibly angry Mr Obama appeared at the White House to declare that thoughts and prayers were no longer enough in the aftermath of such incidents and that the nation's gun laws needed to be changed. He said the issue was one "we should politicise".

But his message did not sit well in Roseburg, where gun ownership is popular and some people began mobilising 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 Mr Obama arrived by helicopter, and signs welcoming the president were mixed with other signs advocating for gun rights.

Mr 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 bristling 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 the Garden Valley Church.

Referring to potential protesters, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said no one should fear Mr 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," he said.

Some of the most poignant moments of Mr Obama's presidency have occurred in his role as consoler in chief.

Just a few months ago, he led the grieving after nine worshippers were gunned down inside a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, singing Amazing Grace at a funeral service. In 2012, he read the first names of the 20 primary school pupils who were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, and asked how the nation could honestly say it was doing enough to keep its children safe.

Mr Obama was already due to travel to the West Coast, mostly for weekend fund-raising events in Seattle and across California, when the 26-year-old British-born gunman Christopher Harper-Mercer opened fire last week at the community college. The White House adjusted his schedule to add the Roseburg stop.

The shooting has sparked new talk about gun violence, though history suggests the prospects for enacting laws are highly unlikely.

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