By JACK HEALY and JULIE TURKEWITZ OCT. 7, 2015
ROSEBURG, Ore. — A week has passed since J. J. Vicari huddled underneath
a desk while gunshots exploded in the classroom next door. Now he is thinking
about guns. Not about tightening gun laws, as President Obama urged after
nine people were killed at the community college here. But about buying one
“It’s opened my eyes,” said Mr. Vicari, 19. “I want to have a gun in the
house to protect myself, to protect the people I’m with. I’m sure I’ll have a
normal life and never have to go through anything like this, but I want to be
Mr. Obama plans to visit Roseburg on Friday to meet the grieving families
of yet another gun rampage, but many people here are bristling at his renewed
call for stricter gun laws. In some ways, the rampage at the college by a 26
year-old student, Christopher Harper-Mercer, has actually tightened the
embrace of guns in a rural town where shots at rifle ranges echo off the hills
and hunters shoot deer and elk through the fall.
Some families touched by the violence and students who fled gunfire said
they now feared that the kind of bloodshed seen inside Classroom 15 of Snyder
Hall at Umpqua Community College could happen anywhere. Some said they
were planning to buy guns. Others said they would seek concealed-weapons
permits. Others, echoing gun advocates’ calls for more weapons on campus,
said the college should allow its security guards to carry guns. A few said they
thought that stricter gun control laws could have averted the massacre.
Even Mr. Obama’s visit has stirred fiercely polarized responses. Some
residents and the publisher of a local weekly conservative newspaper said he
was not welcome and accused him of using the town’s anguish to advance his
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.”
And while the mass shooting here has pushed some people toward
wanting to arm themselves, it has also pushed others in the opposite direction.
Students like Devon Paasch, 36, whose writing teacher, Lawrence Levine, was
among the victims, said the killings had intensified her belief that the country
needed stricter gun laws. Ms. Paasch was not on campus that morning because
she slept through her alarm; she has spent the past week tilting among grief,
guilt and a fear of returning to school.
“No kind of gun control is going to stop everything,” Ms. Paasch said. “But
in a situation like this, it could have saved 10 lives.”
The debate has rolled across a conservative, timber-producing region
where flags are at half-staff and roadside signs solicit prayers for the victims.
From a wooded gun range south of town, to City Hall, to KC’s Exchange, where
Carolyn Kellim sells handguns and ammunition out of her home, people
insisted that the actions of Mr. Harper-Mercer, who was armed with six guns
and spare ammunition magazines, would not displace guns from their place in
“That’s why we have guns: We don’t have the government dictating when
to get on our knees,” said Ms. Kellim, 86.
After the shooting, gun-control groups and national news media skewered
Sheriff John Hanlin of Douglas County, which includes Roseburg, for a letter
he wrote to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. after the Sandy Hook
Elementary School massacre in Connecticut. In it he said, “Gun control is NOT
the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings.” But in church
pews and coffee shops, many residents said they still believed he was right.
Online, some are using #supportforHanlin to back him.
A community college student has started a petition to allow concealed
weapons on all campuses, echoing hotly disputed arguments from national
gun groups that mass shootings could be stopped by more “good guys with
guns.” In 2011, an Oregon court said public colleges could not ban guns from
Umpqua Community College’s code of conduct banned guns “without
written authorization,” and students said some of their classmates were able to
carry guns on campus because they had concealed weapons permits. One of
them, John Parker Jr., an Air Force veteran, told MSNBC that he was armed
when the attack happened but did not intervene. He said SWAT officers might
have mistaken him for a killer.
“This just shows you, you have to have a way to protect yourself,” said
Makayla Thomas, 19, who raced into a student center when the attack started
and huddled there until the police arrived. “It’s happened once. Who knows
what can happen?”
Jamie Skinner, 34, a former girlfriend of Chris Mintz, the Army veteran
who blocked the door to a classroom at Umpqua Community College and was
shot by Mr. Harper-Mercer, said in an interview last week that the massacre in
Roseburg would not change her opinion that owning guns was important. Ms.
Skinner has worked as an armed security guard, and said she and Mr. Mintz
went to shooting ranges for recreation.
“We are a weapons family,” Ms. Skinner said. She and Mr. Mintz have a 6
year-old son, Tyrik, who has autism and who also influenced her attitude
toward guns. “I like to have the ability to protect myself and my child,” she
But Ashley Schmidt, 28, said the horror she heard through the walls of the
classrooms had nudged her toward supporting rules that would regulate guns
the way cars are. She was in Classroom 14 in Snyder Hall when the shooting
started and ran out amid a storm of gunfire, yelling “Gun! Gun! Gun!” at a girl
in the hallway whose earbuds had blocked out the noise.
Ms. Schmidt said she opposed “taking guns away,” and lamented that
there was no foolproof way to keep guns away from criminals or would-be
“I’ve always felt like there is nothing I can do,” she said, referring to
school shootings. “But I see this country falling apart.”
Laura M. Holson contributed reporting from San Francisco, and
Claire Cain Miller from Portland, Ore.
A version of this article appears in print on October 8, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition
with the headline: Common Response After Killings in Oregon: ‘I Want to Have a Gun’