Roseburg residents’ message to Obama: “Don’t bother” visiting us

Oct. 7, 2015

ROSEBURG — Two friends, two coffees, two different opinions.

As Lula Foley and Kimberly Roberts met outside a Starbucks in Roseburg on Tuesday morning, the topic of President Obama’s visit on Friday came up between friends.

People in the community are wary of a visit from the president as the investigation continues into the shooting at Umpqua Community College last week. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard)

“I think it’s a good idea that he comes,” Foley said.

“You do?” Roberts responded. “I don’t know, I just don’t.”

Foley, originally from Colombia in South America, has lived in Roseburg for 25 years. The youngest of her three sons is enrolled at Umpqua Community College, but attends class only three days a week — Thursday, when a shooter killed nine people and wounded 10 others on campus, was one of his days off.

Foley said she is experiencing survivor’s guilt, and wants to believe that the president’s visit can make a difference.

“I hope so, that this will spark change, because if not, this is going to be so common that the president is not even going to bother anymore to show up, and nobody’s going to bother to say anything at all,” she said.

“It’s going to happen in another place because these people (shooters who kill innocent victims) are mentally ill people, and that’s not going anywhere,” she said.

But Roberts said she feels that if more people had carried guns on the day the killer came to campus, someone could have stopped him before he took nine lives.

“If they take away all the guns, then that doesn’t solve anything,” Roberts said. “But it’s one of those things. Something needs to change but I think it’s more of a mental health issue, and education and family values, than gun control.”

Roberts likened the situation to driving on a street that you know is regularly patrolled by police.

“You drive slower because you know there might be a cop on that street,” she said. “He may be hidden somewhere and you don’t want to get a ticket, so you automatically drive the speed limit and you drive slower. So if you start taking away all the guns, what is going to prevent people from not shooting? Because you know there’s no one there to fight against them.”

“We do not want
him to come”

In an unscientific sampling of Roseburg area residents on Tuesday, more sided with Roberts’ views than with Foley’s.

Immediately after Thursday’s shooting, Obama repeated a call for more gun control. That did not sit well with some Roseburg area residents.

“We do not want him to come, and the veterans don’t want him to come,” asserted Patti Sciapiti, who said that her husband is involved with the American Legion in Roseburg.

“I don’t want him here because I don’t think it was proper for him to talk about gun control when the tragedy was just happening,” Sciapiti said from the parking lot at Mercy Medical Center. “He politicized it; he even said he politicized it. That’s just not right. … He’s not welcome.”

One man who said he is a military veteran and provided only his first name, Dave, said he doesn’t plan to try to see Obama on the visit, calling him “a jerk.”

“They have laws on the books now that cover gun control,” he said. “They don’t need any more because they already have them. All they got to do is enforce them.”

The views in Roseburg echo the political stalemate that has set in over gun control. A new poll conducted by Morning Consult, a Washington, D.C., publication for business and political insiders, shows that while a broad cross-section of voters nationwide want to see stricter gun control measures in the wake of the UCC shooting, few believe any gun control measures are likely to pass in the near future.

James Wyatt, Morning Consult’s director of polling, said, “Democrats and independents are much more likely to support new controls, while Republicans — especially Republican men — are the most vocal opponents.”

No public event

In 2012, Douglas County residents favored GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney over Obama 61 percent to 34 percent.

The county has 25,751 registered Republican voters and 16,474 registered Democrats, according to the county elections office.

Obama plans to visit Roseburg on Friday during a four-day West Coast visit that had already been scheduled. He is not holding a public event, but rather plans to meet privately with the families of those killed, the White House said.

Douglas County resident Sid Hohbein on Tuesday said he is neither “an Obama fan” nor a “gun person” and is ambivalent about the president’s visit.

“That shooting was a bad thing, but I don’t know how you can stop it. There’s going to be more of them,” he said. “There’s too many guns in the world. You can’t stop it.”

Others, including Roseburg resident Chanty Lytsell, offered conditional support for Obama’s visit. Lytsell, who also stopped by at the Starbucks coffee shop, said she doesn’t object to the president showing up to offer his support to grieving families. But if he is coming to start a political debate, she said, “Don’t bother.”

“I can see that he’s coming here maybe because of the fact that he wants to be supportive of our city. But it doesn’t really feel that way,” Lytsell said. “I feel like it’s another political scheme for him. Our town has gone through a lot already and I don’t think we need the president here for his support.

“We support each other as a community and that’s what’s important in our community and we need our time to grieve,” she said. “We don’t need to listen to what his views are on gun control. That is not what we need to talk about right now.”

City releases statement
in support of visit

The impression that many in Roseburg don’t welcome Obama’s visit — including some representing themselves as community leaders — prompted city officials on Tuesday to release a statement in support of the president.

“We wish to be clear that Mayor (Larry) Rich, City Council President (Tom) Ryan and the Roseburg City Council welcome the president to Roseburg and will extend him every courtesy,” the statement said.

Rod Cotton, a lifelong resident of Roseburg, has lived in the neighborhood directly across from the UCC campus for the last 25 years. He said he doesn’t mind if the president comes to the community — an opinion different from many of his friends — but hopes Obama will narrow the focus of his visit.

“He is the president of the United States and there are many of his policies that I don’t agree with, but he has every right to come,” said Cotton, who describes himself as a political conservative. “There’s a lot of negative out there from folks who I don’t think really represent the community as a whole. I think he’s sincere about coming to grieve with the folks.

“I wish politics would stay out of it,” Cotton added. “I hope he comes in, grieves with the families and gives them a hug and then moves on. I have no issue with his coming. I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Roberts and Foley, the two friends who met for coffee, found some common ground in their perspectives.

Both agreed that more mental health services need to be made available to residents, and both said they feel Obama has not brought mental health issues to the forefront of the debate.

The two said they also could support stricter background checks for gun purchases if they include reviewing a prospective gun buyer’s history for “detrimental” health concerns, such as schizophrenia.

Still, Roberts — who attends UCC in the viticulture and wine marketing program but was not on campus when the shooting occurred — said she feels the president misstepped by politicizing the issue last week.

“He turned it into such a controversy and that’s not very intelligent because this community is full of a lot of gun-carrying people,” she said. “People are hunters, that’s how they survive, that’s how they live.”

But Foley said she feels that the president can’t win.

“I feel like no matter what he says, he’s always in trouble,” Foley said. “If he didn’t mention gun control, people would say, ‘I can’t believe it, he didn’t say anything.’ ”


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