President Obama on Friday flew into this mill town buffeted by the mass shooting at a community college to give solace to grieving families, but politics and two more deadly shootings on college campuses threatened to intrude.
“I’ve got some very strong feelings about this because when you talk to these families, you’re reminded that this could be happening to your child, or your mom, or your dad, or your relative, or your friend,” said Mr. Obama, standing next to Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon and Mayor Larry Rich of Roseburg. “And so we’re going to have to come together as a country to see how we can prevent these issues from taking place.”
Several hundred people stood outside the gates of the Roseburg airport. Some held signs and American flags, but most just held cellphones to record the passage of the presidential motorcade — rarely seen in this hilly, green area.
Many of the signs proclaimed, “Welcome Obama,” but others were more pointed, and referred to his desire for more gun control. “Gun-free Zones Are for Sitting Ducks,” said one. Another: “Nothing Trumps Our Liberty.” And one said simply, “Obama is Wrong.”
The Obama administration is reconsidering some administrative actions to tighten control over gun sales, including one that would define anyone who sells many guns at gun shows or online as a commercial seller, requiring that they perform background checks on potential buyers before completing any transaction. The measure would at least partly close what is widely known as the “gun-show loophole.”
Last week, Christopher Harper-Mercer brought six guns and spare ammunition to Umpqua Community College here and systematically shot and killed nine people and injured nine others. Hours after the attack, a visibly angry Mr. Obama stood at the White House and delivered a blistering lecture on the dangers of guns and the need for legislative limits on them. He said that thoughts and prayers — the usual expressions of grief — were not enough in the face of such a massacre, and he promised to politicize the issue for the rest of his presidency.
And on Friday, two more college shootings — one at Northern Arizona University and another at Texas Southern University that together left two dead and four injured — provided him the opportunity to hammer home his points.
But in addition to being the nation’s most powerful politician, Mr. Obama is also its chief official mourner, so he had to seek a balance in a rural town where guns are popular.
The trip to Roseburg was added to Mr. Obama’s schedule on Monday and, in an obvious nod to local sentiment, the White House said his meetings with grieving families would be private.
No speech. No politics. Just shared grief.
It was part of a long process of evolution for the president, who has gradually put action over grief.