Oregon shooting: Local gun lobby defiant in wake of massacre

Local gun lobby already defiant in aftermath of killing but many avoid subject for now

A candlelight vigil at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg: children as young as nine can enrol in youth hunting programmes in the town. Photograph: Steve Dipaola/Reuters.

A candlelight vigil at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg: children as young as nine can enrol in youth hunting programmes in the town. Photograph: Steve Dipaola/Reuters.

 

As the media descended on the site of the latest US mass shooting, residents of the small town of Roseburg, Oregon, were struggling to make sense of the loss of life and their new place at the centre of a national debate over gun control.

Local hunters and military veterans, including at least one man who was carrying a concealed gun in a classroom across campus when the shooting took place on Thursday morning at Umpqua Community College, have condemned president Barack Obama’s call for increased restrictions on weapons in the US.

“If they start patting people down for guns before campus, they can piss off,” said John Parker, a US Air Force veteran who is enrolled at the school as he prepares for a new career in drug and alcohol counselling.

Parker, who has a permit to carry concealed firearms, said he would drop out of the training programme before agreeing to leave his gun at home.

The sentiment seemed widespread in Roseburg, a town nestled between forested mountains. Children as young as nine can enroll in youth hunting programmes, where guides lead tourists on hunting expeditions, and many people there grow up around guns.

‘Hug your kids’

The local sheriff, historically a staunch opponent of government restrictions on gun ownership, avoided the issue, instead calling on the public to focus on the lives lost, the people injured, and the law-enforcement officers who exchanged fire with the gunman before his death.

“This is a time for understanding. Get everybody safe. Get families together. Go hug your kids,” said Cedric Hayden, a Republican who represents the community in Oregon’s state House of Representatives.

“Later, I will want to learn as much as I can so when we go back to the House of Representatives . . . we can look for solutions in the future to prevent these kinds of tragedies.”

Hayden, a part-time politician, was at his day job, working on heavy equipment used by the timber industry, when he heard of the shooting.

Timber, logging and wood processing have long dominated the economy of Roseburg and surrounding Douglas County.

The decline of that timber industry in the face of two decades of tighter environmental regulation in part explains the large role Umpqua Community College has come to play in local life. US community colleges act as junior universities, offering two-year professional degrees, credits towards bachelor degrees completed elsewhere, and job training for skilled blue-collar trades.

Candlelight vigil

Umpqua’s average student is 38, more than a decade older than the typical student on other such US campuses.

Lutheran pastor Jane Baker opened her church to parishioners seeking solace on Thursday afternoon.

“People are angry, people are sad, people are grieving, people are feeling hopeless,” she said. “This happened in Roseburg, for crying out loud. You think of things happening in cities, but this is a small community.”

With 3,000 full-time students and more than 10,000 enrolled part-time, the school has a connection, it seems, with nearly every Roseburg resident. Large billboards emblazoned with the words “I am UCC” line major roads through the town, showing students of every age, race and academic discipline smiling down on local drivers.

Those ties to the programme and the small-town links that come from living in geographic isolation in an economically struggling community, drew hundreds of residents to a candlelight vigil for victims on Thursday night.

In brief remarks, Oregon governor Kate Brown told community members that she stood with them. A tear-choked chant then arose from the crowd: “We are UCC. We are UCC.”

Umpqua Community College’s president, Dr Rita Cavin, in the position only since June, said the community’s dedication to the school had been repeatedly proven since the shooting.

‘Power that love can bring’

Less than 3km away, neighbours outside the home of the suspected shooter expressed similar sentiments.

“I was disappointed to find out he lived across the street,” said Jim Bright, an Umpqua graduate who knew one of the people injured in the shooting.

“We’re not going to let this A-hole win. Plain and simple. This is a great community.”