Stephen Barton was shot at Aurora, Colo. Now he wants "common sense" VIDEO
As far as pressure group slogans go, “Demand a plan” hardly sounds radical. Politicians have plans for everything. Mitt Romney won this week’s debate largely by repeating that he has plans, even as he refused to describe them. Then there’s gun control, an issue so touchy that most national politicians refuse to make any promises at all.
Since the summer’s shooting in Aurora, Colo., which killed 12 and injured dozens, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has arguably been the country’s most prominent gun control advocate. Now Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group he co-founded with Boston Mayor Tom Menino in 2006, thinks that getting the presidential candidates to address gun violence at all would be a kind of breakthrough. So far the group’s “Demand a plan” campaign includes an online petition that has attracted more than 250,000 signatures and an ad featuring Stephen Barton, who was shot in the face in Aurora.
After graduating from Syracuse this year, Barton, 22, was set to teach English in Russia on a Fulbright grant. Before leaving he and a friend were spending the summer on a cross-country bike trip. Forty-four days and 2,700 miles after pushing off from Virginia Beach, Va., they went to the movies.
“I was hit pretty early on,” Barton said. “I remember putting my hand up at the last second and pretty much getting shot simultaneously.” An hour later he was in emergency surgery as doctors removed shotgun pellets from his neck, and checked for arterial damage. He’s since had more surgery but shot remains buried in his neck, chest and shoulder. “By going after them, the doctors risk other muscles. It’s very destructive,” he said.
“I barely ever thought about gun control before this,” Barton said. And while he followed politics he was never an activist. In an interview with Salon, he refused to discuss his broader political views. “It’s not a partisan campaign, because both parties have been absent when it comes to gun policy.”
As he spent the summer in Connecticut recovering from nerve damage and regaining his strength, Barton began to learn more. “It’s outrageous to me, as I think it is to most people, that when these shootings take place … someone was able to get ahold of a lot of powerful guns so easily, the click of the mouse,” he said. “There didn’t really seem to be any discussion about it.”
“I eventually decided if I wasn’t willing to get involved myself I couldn’t really [be] rightfully frustrated when politicians aren’t talking about it.” He met with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D.-Conn., who helped him get a job as a policy and outreach assistant with Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Shortly after Barton started, he was asked if he wanted to appear in an ad. He did. “I felt totally comfortable talking about my experience.” It remains an open question whether that will matter. Gun control was as absent from the presidential debate as it was from the two party conventions. “They were standing 10 miles away from the theater where I was shot.”
Wednesday night was a bit of a political awakening for Barton. “I was very optimistic … as the debate progressed and we got to the hour mark I got a little less optimistic,” he said. “It was as if both candidates and even the moderator have moved on from what happened this summer.”
The suggestion that a 22-year-old, even one invested with considerable moral authority, could derail two presidential campaigns, might have been Barton’s only touch of naïveté in a remarkably on-message interview. He seemed aware that being moderate and nonpartisan in the face of an outrageous crime is an asset. He calmly framed some measure of gun control as the “common sense” issue it is for every industrialized society except our own.
What would common sense regulation look like to Barton? The “low-hanging fruit” would be requiring a background check for every gun purchase. Perhaps 40 percent of gun sales in this country do not. “If you talk to law enforcement they’ll say the quickest way to reduce violence is to conduct a background check for every gun sold.” (Alleged Aurora shooter James Holmes passed background checks and obtained his guns legally.)
To give an idea of how skewed the politics of gun control are: 74 percent of National Rifle Association members agree. Support is even higher among non-NRA gun owners.
Barton doesn’t pretend to understand the passions of his opponents. He didn’t grow up hunting. He has never fired a gun. His current role as an activist was thrust upon him and is likely impermanent. (He still plans to go to Russia next year.)
Perhaps that’s why, unlike many career culture warriors, he can discuss his opponents in measured terms. They have a “philosophical disagreement about what it means to give guns to people and say ‘You are now responsible for your own personal safety.’” Government, in other words, should not protect its citizens from people like the Aurora shooter.
In the wake of mass random shootings, gun-rights activists have often said that armed citizens would have been able to stop the shooters. In that crowded theater, “It was dark, filled with smoke, filled with people,” Barton said. “The man who shot me was covered with body armor. I don’t think having a gun would have helped.”
More Related Stories
- Is abortion about to doom Republicans again?
- How to oust Michele Bachmann from Congress
- Krist Novoselic: My plan to fix Congress, curb obstruction
- Why I quit the Republican Party
- How IRS scandal could help Karl Rove and dark money
- The truly worrying thing about Mark Sanford's win
- The futility of the Deep South Democrat
- Sanford wins special election in South Carolina
- Is revolution coming to the U.S.?
- How a big fracking setback got overlooked
- Rand Paul will never be president
- It's time for Democrats to ditch Andrew Jackson
- What you need to know about Gabriel Gomez
- Who is the real Anthony Weiner?
- How to interpret Kirsten Gillibrand's political opportunism
- Census reveals historic black voter turnout
- Republican's term limits proposal is dumb, undemocratic
- Save your cash -- forget OFA!
- The Reagan Revolution is over
- Pelosi to Salon: They had to take me down
- Campaign finance reform in the age of Citizens United
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11