This song references the Umpqua Community College shooting on October 1, 2015, at the UCC campus near Roseburg, Oregon, United States, when one of the students, Chris Harper-Mercer, fatally shot an assistant professor and eight students in a classroom.
Drive-By Truckers co-vocalist Patterson Hood imagines here a terrified student desperately barricading a door against the shooter hunting him. He told Uncut magazine:
"The day I wrote 'Guns of Umpqua' I had just moved to Portland, Oregon. It was a stunningly beautiful day, and I picked up my phone and they were announcing this shooting maybe a couple of hours' drive away. We'd spent a night in that town on our journey to Portland, so I could picture the landscape of where it happened. What makes somebody wake up on a beautiful day like that and f--k up a lot of people's lives. That's one of the reasons why the flag's always at half-mast these days."