ROSEBURG, Ore. — 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.
On Jan. 12, 2011, Mr. Obama spoke about the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, and 17 others four days earlier and said that it was time “for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”
In July 2012, two days after a gunman walked into a movie theater near Denver and killed 12, Mr. Obama said his “main task was to serve as a representative of the entire country and let them know that we are thinking about them at this moment.”
And two days after the shooting of 26 people, mostly children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Obama said, “These tragedies must end, and to end them, we must change.”
Just hours after the shooting in Roseburg, Mr. Obama quickly set grief aside. “This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America,” he said in an unusually abrupt and often angry speech.
But last week’s rampage has actually tightened the embrace of guns for many here.
Some prominent residents, including the publisher of a local weekly newspaper, said Mr. Obama was not welcome. The language got so angry that on Tuesday, the mayor and other city officials put out a statement saying they welcomed Mr. Obama and “will extend him every courtesy.”
That was evident when the governor, Ms. Brown, greeted Mr. Obama at the airport. As his motorcade sped through town, an unusual number of people along the side of the road waved pleasantly.
Then Mr. Obama met with the victims’ families in the arts building of Roseburg High School, where flowers had been placed beside trees in a school courtyard.
After nearly an hour with the families, Mr. Obama offered federal assistance to help the community “heal from this loss.”
In barely audible remarks he then said something had to be done, before quickly turning back to expressions of grief and support.
“But today, it’s about the families and their grief, and the love we feel for them,” he said. “And they surely do appreciate all the support that they’ve received.”
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