A 26-year-old man went on a shooting rampage at a community college in the southern Oregon town of Roseburg late Thursday morning, leaving 9 people dead and nine injured, according to the county sheriff. The attacker died after a firefight with the police.
The shooting occurred at Umpqua Community College, which serves about 4,600 full- and part-time students over the course of an academic year. Yesterday was just the second day of classes for many of those enrolled, as the fall semester began earlier this week. Reports of gunfire began around 10:30 a.m. One survivor described hearing what sounded like a ruler slapping against a wall. Another heard screaming in the next room over. “And then everybody took off,” he told The New York Times. “People were hopping over desks, knocking things over.”
Law enforcement officials identified the gunman as Chris Harper Mercer, and said he was carrying at least three weapons, including a long gun and handguns. It’s not yet clear whether he had any connection with the school, but officials said he lived in the Roseburg area.
Here are some of the big things to watch and take note of as this story unfolds:
One of next key questions: How, where, and when did he get the guns?
So far, there has been no indication that Mercer had a criminal record that barred him from owning or purchasing a firearm. There are a number of other factors that could have blocked him from gun ownership, such as an admission of drug use or an involuntary hospitalization for psychiatric treatment, but nor has evidence of such disqualifiers surfaced.
But even if he was prohibited from owning a gun, Mercer might have been able to buy a firearm in Oregon without passing a background check — depending on when the transaction occurred.
Until recently, Oregon did not require background checks on private sales, at gun shows, or at sales arranged over the Internet. That changed in August when a hotly contested measure instituting universal background checks went into effect. Oregon is now one of the 18 states to require checks for all gun sales.
As the bill traveled through the state legislature, local gun groups and retailers rallied in opposition. Some law enforcement officers also sought to derail the bill, with several sheriffs calling it unenforceable and lamenting a lack of resources to sufficiently complete universal checks. In April, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin testified at the state house against the bill. “I can tell you that this law is not going to protect citizens of Oregon,” he said. “It will not do that.”
Here’s a video of Hanlin’s full remarks (skip to 1:44):
The local sheriff is “active” in the Oath Keepers
Hanlin is also involved in the local chapter of the staunchly pro-gun Oath Keepers militia, according to the group’s county coordinator. Rob Price tells The Trace that while Hanlin is not an official member, he attends meetings and offers guidance on gun laws and Second Amendment issues. “I would say he’s active,” Price says.
The Oath Keepers are largely comprised of current and former military service members, law enforcement, and other first responders. Members “declare that they will not obey unconstitutional orders,” the group’s website states, “such as orders to disarm the American people.”
In 2013, Hanlin wrote a letter to Vice President Joe Biden saying that he would not enforce legislation that expanded background checks to private sales. (The bill was defeated that year before passing this spring.) In the letter, Hanlin said, “Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings.”
At least one student was carrying a gun on campus when the attack occurred, but he decided against intervening
Speaking to MSNBC, John Parker Jr., a student and concealed carry holder, described hearing about the shooting with a group of fellow veterans on campus. They quickly consulted about their military experience, then decided it was not safe to rush to the scene and draw their own guns.
“Veterans are trained, be it Air Force, Navy, Marines, or Army. We’re trained to go into danger, not just run away from it. If there was something we were able to do, we were going to try to do it. Luckily we made the choice not to get involved. We were quite a distance away from the actual building where it was happening, which could have opened us up to being potential targets ourselves. Not knowing where SWAT was on the their response time, they wouldn’t know who we were, and if we had our guns ready to shoot they could think we were the bad guys.”
An FBI analysis of 160 active shooter situations between 2000 and 2013 showed that only one was stopped by a concealed-carry licensee holder (he was a U.S. Marine). Four were stopped by armed guards, two by off-duty police officers, and 21 by unarmed civilians.
Parker and his fellow veterans were allowed to have their guns on the Umpqua grounds because Oregon is one of the states where campus carry is legal under certain stipulations.
In 2011, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the Oregon University System’s longstanding ban of firearms on college campuses, allowing those with concealed carry permits to bring weapons on university grounds. The following year, the Oregon Senate considered a bill that would have again prohibited the carrying of guns onto school, college, or university grounds in the state. That legislation lost by a single vote. Jeff Kruse, the Republican state Senator who represents Roseburg, was among the lawmakers voting against the measure.
The day after the vote, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education took up the issue, setting a policy that allows guns on campus, but bars them from college buildings and sporting venues. Umpqua Community College adheres to that policy, while making an allowance for those “expressly authorized by law or college regulations.”
One UCC student has now lived through his second school shooting
In 2006, a 15-year-old at Roseburg High School shot a fellow student four times in the back. The victim survived, but according to the Oregonian, the incident sparked local institutions — including Umpqua Community College — to prepare for active shooter scenarios.
Kenny Ungerman, a UCC student and Navy veteran, was attending Roseburg High School when the 2006 attack occurred. “So it’s just crazy to think that I would be on campus when another shooting happened,” he told Brian Williams on MSNBC.
“That is unbelievable and a tragic story of modern day America,” said Williams, who pointed out that the veteran’s four years in the armed services were without similar incident.
For this corner of Oregon, it’s at least the third school shooting in the past two decades. In 1998, 15-year-old Kip Kinkel killed two students and wounded 24 others at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, about an hour north of Roseburg. The day before, he had been suspended from school for having a gun in his locker, and had shot and killed his parents — one of whom was a teacher at Thurston High — in their home. In 1999, Kinkel was sentenced to 111 years in prison, without the possibility of parole.
President Obama is drawing a contrast between the prevalence of gun violence and domestic terror
In his remarks at the White House, the president challenged news organizations to “tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side.” Here’s what one version of such a chart looks like, from Vox, which includes 9/11:
And here’s a different visualization, from International Business Times, which starts its count in 2002.
Had either included suicides by firearm — the most common form of gun death, and one that tougher restrictions on gun access has been shown to reduce — the disparities would have been even more stark.
“We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so,” Obama continued. “And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?”
Minutes before Obama gave his statement — the 15th he has delivered on mass shootings during his presidency — three people were fatally shot and one was injured near the city hall of Inglis, Florida. In all, across the country, there were at least 52 incidents of gun violence yesterday, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
[Photo: Michael Sullivan/The News-Review via AP]