President Barack Obama set just the right tone on Friday in brief remarks after meeting with the families of those killed in the Umpqua Community College shooting. We wish we could say the same of those who declared the president unwelcome in their town.
Many in the Roseburg area were angered by Obama's statement on the day of the shootings when he said he would be accused of politicizing the incident to call for stricter gun laws.
"Well, this is something we should politicize," he said on Oct. 1. "It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic."
Obama had already scheduled a four-day trip to the West Coast when the shootings occurred. It was an obvious choice to add a stop in Roseburg to meet privately with the families of the victims, an appropriate gesture by the president of the United States in response to a tragedy of this magnitude.
As soon as the president's visit was announced, some Roseburg-area residents, among them the publisher of a conservative weekly newspaper, declared he was not welcome. The publisher said Obama was coming to "stand on the corpses of our loved ones."
That's not just inappropriate. It's offensive.
In response, Roseburg's mayor, City Council and county commissioners issued a statement welcoming Obama and pledging to "extend him every courtesy." That they felt compelled to do that is, frankly, embarrassing.
Obama arrived on Friday as planned, where he was met by demonstrators, some carrying firearms.
Peaceful demonstrations of political opinion are an American tradition, and demonstrators are common during presidential visits. When President George W. Bush visited Medford during his 2004 re-election campaign, he was greeted by demonstrators, too. But we don't recall anyone announcing in advance that he was not welcome here.
On Friday, Obama held no public event and delivered no speech. He made no pronouncements about gun control.
"I want to thank the entire community and the entire state of Oregon for coming together at this terrible time to support the families," Obama said in brief remarks after meeting with the victims' families. "Obviously, in moments like these, words aren't going to bring their loved ones back. But the one thing that they shared is how much they appreciate the entire UCC community coming together, how much they appreciate all their neighbors, all their friends and people all across the country who offered to help, who sent their thoughts and their prayers."
And he said this:
"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," Obama said. "We're going to have to come together as a country to see how we can prevent these issues from taking place, but today it's about the families and their grief and the love we feel for them."
That doesn't sound like grandstanding or exploiting a tragedy.
Demonstrators, however, spoke of their belief that Obama wants to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens — something he has never advocated — one saying he had come to Roseburg with a "gun-grabbing agenda."
The protesters are certainly free to exercise their First Amendment rights, which they did. It would have been nice if they had had exercised some respect and dignity in a somber moment, but they didn't.
Obama didn't use his visit to politicize the shootings. The protesters did.