The public must "come together" to figure out how to keep deadly mass shootings from happening, President Barack Obama said Friday. But he emerged from a private meeting with family of the victims of last week's shooting in Oregon to declare: "Today is about the families."
Addressing reporters briefly after the approximately hourlong meeting, Obama said occasions like these always remind him that any child or parent or family member could suffer such a loss.
Immediately after a gunman killed eight students and a teacher at a community college last week, a visibly angry Obama said thoughts and prayers are no longer enough in the aftermath and that the nation's gun laws needed to be changed. He pledged to "politicize" the issue.
But that message didn't sit well in Roseburg, where gun ownership is popular. Hundreds of supporters and protesters gathered near the local airport for Obama's arrival, with signs welcoming him mixed with others advocating for gun rights.
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.
"I've obviously got very strong feeling about this," he said, saying that at some point the nation would have to unit to figure out how to prevent incidents like these from happening so regularly. On Friday, fatal school-related shootings were reported at colleges in Arizona and Texas.
"We're going to have to come together as a country, but today is about the families," Obama said before walking to his limo.
The stop in Roseburg was a last-minute addition to a previously scheduled weekend trip by Obama to Seattle and California.
Some of the most poignant moments of Obama's presidency have occurred in his role as consoler in chief. He led the grieving in Charleston, South Carolina, in singing "Amazing Grace." He read the first names of the 20 elementary school students killed in Newtown, Connecticut, and asked how the nation can honestly say it's doing enough to keep its children safe from harm.