SNYDER HALL is a squat building with windows that take up entire walls. Its classroom doors open to the outside, either southwest toward the parking lot or northeast toward the center of the Umpqua Community College campus. The campus buildings are clustered around a gently sloping, grassy commons with a fountain where, on foggy mornings, deer munch on the manicured lawn and watch students come and go.
At least, that's how I remember it. In 1998 and 1999 I took Writing 121, Speech 111, and Shakespeare 202 in Snyder Hall. I grew up in and around Roseburg. I graduated from Roseburg High School in 1995. I went to Hucrest Elementary School, a fact that shouldn't be remarkable except that, last week, the church behind my grade school became an impromptu grief counseling center as Roseburg folks tried to come to terms with a gun massacre.
On Thursday, October 1, the UCC campus changed forever for those of us who know it, those who will know it, and the rest of the world. Without the mass shooting that took nine innocent lives and shattered countless more, most people in the world would have never even known the college existed.
Roseburg is a town that will no longer be known for its sawmills and rivers. It's no longer just home to Wildlife Safari and a championship-winning high school football team; from now on, Roseburg will be one of those places—like Aurora, Newtown, and Thurston—that the rest of the world associates with a crazed gunman slaughtering unsuspecting people.
I woke up Thursday morning ready to report on good news: Legal sales of recreational weed throughout the state. I wasn't thinking about Roseburg one bit when, around 11:30 am, I got an alert on my phone that there'd been a shooting at UCC.
I began seeing stories from national news outlets describing my hometown. In the New York Times, it's a "close-knit lumber town," where everybody knows everybody. On the BBC's site, Roseburg is a "conservative community where guns have always been a way of life." The Washington Post described Douglas County as a place where "young men and women... grow up to work in the woods and the lumber mills, and they learn to hunt the woods for birds and large game."
They're all pretty much correct in their descriptions.
I did work in a lumber mill for a few years after high school. Roseburg is a town where the majority of people believe gun ownership is a right. It is a place where most people love pick-up trucks and bonfires and shooting things for fun.
In 2013, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and butchered 20 children and six adults. In the wake of that massacre, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin signed his name to a letter that implied gun control is "unconstitutional," saying that it's "NOT the answer to heinous crimes like school shootings."
Anecdotally, I'd say many Roseburgers would agree. Though I haven't lived in the 'Burg for 15 years, many of my family and friends are still there. Since last Thursday's shooting, I've talked to plenty of them who hold fast to their belief that if only more people carried guns, things like what happened at UCC last week wouldn't happen. My Facebook news feed is jammed with Douglas County friends voicing support for Hanlin and his stance on their Second Amendment rights.
It's a "guns don't kill people, people kill people" point of view, which echoed the words of presidential hopeful Jeb Bush following the UCC shooting: "Stuff happens."
But does "stuff" have to happen? The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world, and, according to the website shootingtracker.com, as of October 2 there were 297 mass shootings (defined as "four people or more shot in a spree or setting," regardless of circumstance) in the US this year. Our gun homicide rate is 50 times that of Germany's. In Japan, where gun control laws are strict, there are virtually no gun homicides.
So, as a gal who grew up hunting in the woods, a person who's fired many types of weapons—I spent a lot of time at the Roseburg Rod and Gun Club as a kid, and would be sad not to be able to do it anymore—I'd also like to say that not all Roseburgers think that "stuff happens." Not all people who grew up in rural Oregon believe it's more important to hold onto the right to bear arms than it is to make these killings end. It seems worthwhile to say that this former Roseburg resident agrees with those people who say guns don't kill people. They're totally right. Guns don't kill people.
People with guns kill people.