Governor, congressional delegates thank first responders

By Mark Baker | Umpqua Community College Shootings | |

Kate Brown and state leaders say it’s too soon to start debating solutions

ROSEBURG — Gov. Kate Brown and members of Oregon’s congressional delegation stood in front of Roseburg Fire Department personnel, who were some of the first responders to Thursday’s massacre at Umpqua Community College, and thanked them for the job they did, but also said today is not the day for a debate about gun control and solutions.

“Oregon has worked continuously to prevent these kinds of tragedies, but they continue to happen here and across the nation,” Brown said in front of a horde of national and international media that have descended on this blue-collar town. “And it is going to keep happening until we decide we want it to stop.

“There’s no single solution that will prevent every shooting, but we must, and we will, do better to prevent these types of senseless violence,” Brown said. “This is a conversation we will have, but today is not the day.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley, who was born in the Douglas County town of Myrtle Creek and at age 2 moved with his family to Roseburg, where he attended the first grade, said the tragedy was deeply personal to him.

One of the dead is the great-granddaughter of his first cousin, Merkley said.

“So she is MY cousin,” he said amid the clicks of hundreds of cameras.

“No one could have envisioned that here in this wonderful place of Roseburg that this could happen,” he said, adding that it was the 45th mass shooting in America so far in 2015. “This is a small community. It’s a community where everyone knows someone who was hurt or killed yesterday.”

Sen. Ron Wyden said ending “the carnage” will take more than words.

“Ending these massacres is going to be about compromise” between gun rights advocates and those who want stricter gun control, Wyden said. “And Oregon is exactly the place to lead this conversation.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, the last to speak, also said the time for a continuing conversation would come in the days, weeks and months ahead.

“We’ll go through grief. We’ll have memorials. And then there will come a time when we’ll have all the facts from the investigation, which is ongoing.”

DeFazio was sure to mention that this was not his first time facing such a phalanx of media after a school shooting in Oregon.

“Thurston took place 2 miles from my home,” the Democrat from Springfield said. “And just like here, there was a tremendous demand for information and solutions, which we can’t even begin to think about without all the facts.

“This delegation will come together with solutions in unison,” DeFazio said, before reiterating Brown’s words: “But today is not the day.”

Democratic state Sen. Floyd Prozanski of Eugene issued a brief statement.

“This is the time for all of us to come together and to support each other as we enter into this period of mourning and healing,” Prozanski said. “Roseburg and other Douglas County communities clearly demonstrated their commitment to each other at last night’s candlelight vigil. Now, it is important to continue this commitment as we deal with this senseless tragedy. It is also time to honor our first responders and emergency personnel who acted so heroically in helping the victims, survivors and family members in their time of need.”

Prozanski played a large role in passing Senate Bill 941, which aims to expand background checks on all private gun sales and transfers, except between extended family members. Prozanski led the charge on the policy for several years.

Thursday’s violence renewed questions and concerns about gun laws in the United States.

According to The Associated Press, there hasn’t been a major congressional debate about gun laws since December 2012 when 20 children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Following the horrific incident, many believed Congress would have no choice but to approve legislation to tighten the nation’s gun laws, but that wasn’t the case. Weeks later, lawmakers failed to pass a bipartisan proposal to require background checks of firearms purchasers at gun shows and on the Internet. Democrats fell five votes short of the 60 needed to end a GOP procedural blockade that killed the measure, according to the news service, which said four Republicans supported the restrictions while four Democrats opposed them.

In a press conference Thursday, a visibly frustrated President Obama called for more gun control and asked Americans to take action.

“I would particularly ask America’s gun owners — who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families — to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you,” Obama said.

Obama added he’d continue to address the issue.

“And each time this happens I’m going to bring this up. Each time this happens I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws. And this is not something I can do by myself. I’ve got to have a Congress and I’ve got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this.”

The tragedy at Umpqua Community College hasn’t changed Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin’s strong support of gun rights.

Hanlin told CNN on Friday that his position on gun control had not shifted.

He spoke out against state and federal gun control legislation last year, telling a legislative committee that mandating background checks for private, person-to-person gun sales would not prevent criminals from getting firearms.

Hanlin also sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden in 2013, after the Newtown massacre. Hanlin said he and his deputies would refuse to enforce new gun control restrictions “offending the constitutional rights of my citizens.”

The community, where people like to hunt deer, elk and bear, echoes his push to protect gun rights.

Kevin Starrett, the executive director of the Oregon Firearms Federation, disagreed with Obama’s statements and argued that stricter gun laws would surely lead to more deaths.

“We’ve been implementing gun control for 40 years, and it solves nothing,” Starrett said. “And we use events like this as an excuse to do it again and again and again.”

Starrett called for legislators to forgo additional gun control and focus on the people behind the acts.

“When are we going to recognize that there are evil people in this world that will always find a way to do what they do?” Starrett said.

Starrett said he held Umpqua Community College accountable for Thursday’s deadly shooting.

“This happened because of a rule,” he said. “A rule against guns on campus that effectively disarmed all students on that campus, except for the killer.”

The school has a policy of no guns on campus and did not feel the need for an armed security presence, Umpqua Community College interim President Rita Cavin said.

“This is an anomaly and a tragedy,” she said of the shooting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.