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Jewellery, guitars, guns: Shooting-scarred Oregon’s way of life

Guns, jewellery and guitars are the most obvious items to sell together in one shop in Roseburg, Oregon, where a 26-year-old gunman killed nine people on Thursday at a community college in the latest armed massacre which has revived debate in the United States about stiffer gun controls

world Updated: Oct 03, 2015 17:57 IST
Oregon shooting,Umpqua Community College,US Arms Act
Women mourn during a vigil at a Walmart parking lot in Roseburg, Oregon on October 2, 2015. (AFP)

Guns, jewellery and guitars may not immediately seem the most obvious items to sell together in one shop.

But such is the way of life in Roseburg, Oregon, where a 26-year-old gunman killed nine people on Thursday at a community college in the latest armed massacre which has revived debate in the United States about stiffer gun controls.

A day later, the store was doing a brisk trade with men and women of all ages mooching about, some with revolvers visible on their belts.

“The state of Oregon and Douglas County (home to Roseburg) is a very high gun-concentrated area,” said Dave, the store boss, an imposing figure who declined to give his family name.

Asked what the norm was for gun-holders in this rural area, he told AFP that some people might have just the one weapon, while others might have as many as 50.

There are at least five other places in the town to buy guns, he said. Some people use them to hunt in the forests, others collect them and still others use them for target practise.

During a press conference on Friday, Douglas Sheriff John Hanlin appeared unsurprised that the Umpqua Community College killer possessed an arsenal of weapons -- officials said they had recovered 13 weapons belonging to the gunman, including six at the school.

“This is a hunting state and firearms are popular in most households,” he said.

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin speaks to media in Roseburg, Oregon on October 2, 2015. (AFP)

‘Gun control not the answer’

Since the shooting, Hanlin has come under the spotlight as a staunch opponent of gun control who bluntly made his views clear in a letter to Vice President Joe Biden in January 2013.

His letter was written just weeks after another mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut that left 20 children dead.

“Gun control is not the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings,” Hanlin wrote, reacting to efforts by President Barack Obama’s administration to pass gun control legislation.

Also read:‘Our prayers are not enough’: Obama condemns US Oregon shooting

Hanlin told the vice president that as sheriff, he and his deputies would not enforce any gun control laws adopted by Obama’s administration.

And he is not alone.

Clearly angry, the gun store boss denounced Obama’s attempts at gun control as “totally stupid”.

To his mind, the massacre could have been prevented if weapons had been allowed for security at the school or given to teachers who were properly trained to use them.

“You’re not allowed to have a gun at the school,” he told AFP, saying the killer “knew nobody at the school had a gun.

“Do you think all these guys since Obama became president would have gone to a school and shot everybody if they knew every teacher had (a gun)?”

Students and staff of Umpqua Community College arrive at the Douglas County Fairgrounds Complex where they were offered grief counseling and a bus ride back to campus to pick up their possessions and vehicles on October 2, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon. (AFP)

‘Mental health issue’

Many in Roseburg agree.

Seated in a café just minutes from the scene of Thursday’s attack, Rick Wilkinson agrees that if everyone carried a gun, the killings would never have happened.

And he has no time for government meddling.

“It’s a ploy to disarm us, that’s all that is,” he said.

“Obama doesn’t give a crap about what goes on out here, he’d like to see all the guns gone, then they’ve got total control.”

At a nearby table, Stephanie Longtin said stiffer gun control might not make much of a difference.

“I agree it may help some but I don’t see how you would stop it at this point,” she said.

“There are way too many guns out there that are not registered and I think people can get guns right now anywhere they want.”

Roseburg Mayor Larry Rich advocates a more holistic approach, including better treatment for those with mental health problems.

The pro-gun lobby often says it is the failure to help people who are mentally disturbed that is a large part of the problem, not the guns they wield.

“Let’s look at our gun control legislation, but also let’s look at the reality of those who need mental help. What are we doing to provide that?” he said.

Much of it was about people seeking attention, he said.

“They see what happens to the shooter, he gets his life story printed all over the newspaper so you have people thinking, ‘I need that attention,’ so they want to be copycats,” he told AFP.

“I think it’s time to put a stop to that.”

First Published: Oct 03, 2015 17:56 IST