Stephen Barton, the recent Syracuse University graduate who survived shots to the face and neck during the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., last summer, visited his family’s Connecticut home this weekend. It’s down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where another shooter took the lives of 20 children and six adults last week, before turning the gun on himself.
Standing beside one of the makeshift memorials to victims of the shooting, Barton said he sensed anger and frustration among residents, upset “that these instruments of destruction have been turned against these communities.”
Barton, too, is upset.
“I would feel frustrated anyway, but just that it happened in a community right next to where I grew up. It could have just as easily been my hometown, your hometown, anyone’s hometown, and that’s pretty terrifying to me, that we’ve come to accept – or at least it seems that we’ve come to accept after Aurora – this horrible level of violence,” Barton told ABC News Wednesday. But in the past five days, “It seems like that’s changed now. This has kind of been the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
This morning President Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead an interagency effort to come up with recommendations for what the country might do to reduce gun violence.
Barton called Biden’s initiative “really encouraging.”
“It means that they’re serious about addressing violence generally,” Barton said.
“I think what happened on Friday in Newtown was just so horrifying that people just can’t ignore the issue anymore,” said Barton.
Before the November election, Barton worked with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to petition the presidential candidates to put forth a plan that addressed gun violence. Barton said Obama “shied away” from the issue then, but now Barton sees more engagement from the president and members of Congress.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is the co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has in the past week urged the president to embrace stricter gun laws.
“We don’t buy into the inaccurate aphorism that guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” Barton said. “I think right now most people would agree that it’s reasonable to not have military-grade weapons in the hands of civilians. The stakes are too high.”
Before the shooting in Aurora, Barton had planned to teach English in Russia on a Fulbright scholarship, but his injuries from the shooting forced him to postpone the trip for a year. So he approached Mayors Against Illegal Guns in September to see what he could do to help.
Barton has spent the past week with the survivors and families of victims of gun violence to make their presence known to families in Newtown.
“It’s been really amazing,” Barton said of his experience. “Every gun tragedy is unique in its own horrible way, but what really unites these survivors is just their courage to stand forward on this issue and their strength, their inner strength, to turn something that was essentially an act of violence into something that has meaning.”