ROSEBURG, Ore. — President Barack Obama, in a ritual that has become both familiar and frustrating to him, traveled to Oregon on Friday to console families of the victims of a community college shooting that once again sparked a push for U.S. gun reform.
The president, a Democrat who tried but failed to tighten firearms laws after previous mass shootings, arrived in a community where support for gun rights remains strong despite the massacre in which nine victims died in the deadliest massacre on U.S. soil in two years.
As his motorcade drove into town, supporters and protesters lined the streets with signs such as “Not giving up our rights,” “Please leave us in Peace” and “Gun-free zones are for sitting ducks.”
Obama met privately for about an hour with the families at a local high school.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, he said he had “strong feelings” about the issue of gun control and said the country needed to come together to prevent such shootings from happening in the future. But he did not show the same anger he has previously, saying the day was about the families.
Last week the president furiously denounced the killings as a symptom of a political choice by U.S. lawmakers to bow to pressure from the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group instead of reforming gun laws.
“I will politicize it, because our inaction is a political decision that we are making,” he said at a White House news conference.
Obama has made regular trips to funerals and memorial services for victims of mass shootings during the past seven years as president. He has said the December 2012 shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut was his toughest day as president.
About 250 people gathered in Roseburg, some driving for hours, to protest his visit.
“The way things played out with Sandy Hook and the president parading those families across the country to take away my gun rights – that is why I’m here,” said Jason Harju, 40, who was wearing a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun on his belt and a sweatshirt that said “OREGUN.”
“He’s using us to politicize this shooting. He’s trying to get guns taken away,” said Willie Windon, 56, a retired U.S. Army veteran.
Obama has tasked White House lawyers and advisers to look for new ways he could use his executive powers to enforce existing gun regulations.
One of those options is a regulatory change to require more dealers to get a license to sell guns, which would lead to more background checks on buyers – an action that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she would take if elected in November 2016.
The White House had drafted a proposal on that issue in 2013, but was concerned it could be challenged in court and would be hard to enforce.
But officials are now hopeful that they can find a way to advance the plan, a White House official said on Friday.