Massacre survivors take lead in calling for gun law changes

WASHINGTON — The mass shootings that have rocked communities across the country in recent years — from Blacksburg, Va., to Tuscon to Aurora, Colo., to Oak Creek, Wis., to Newtown, Conn. — have left a well-documented trail of carnage and grief.

But those tragedies and others like them also have produced what could prove to be the most formidable, fervent advocates in the looming fight over US gun-control policy: Survivors who know what it feels like to be in the crosshairs of a mass murderer and outspoken families who have lost a loved one to gun violence.

Stephen Barton is among them.


He had planned to spend much of 2013 in Russia, teaching English on a prestigious Fulbright grant.

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‘‘I was expecting to be freezing in Siberia right now, drinking vodka,’’ joked Barton, 23, who graduated from Syracuse University last spring with a triple major in economics, international relations, and Russian studies.

Instead, after surviving a shotgun blast last summer inside a movie theater in Aurora, undergoing emergency surgery and the physical therapy that followed, he decided on a different line of work. Six months ­after the shooting, he is a full-time outreach and policy associate for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a nationwide coalition that pushes for stricter gun controls.

‘‘I said to them: ‘I’ll do anything and everything. I just want to help out,’ ” said Barton, who has filmed commercials on behalf of the group and has crisscrossed the country from Colorado to Newtown, speaking with lawmakers and gathering public support for stricter gun controls. ‘‘It’s been empowering and, in a way, therapeutic to do this sort of work.’’

He is among the growing number of victims who have put their lives on hold to push for better background checks, restrictions on assault weapons, and other measures intended to prevent more deadly killings in the future.


Some met with the gun-violence task force led by Vice President Joe Biden and, like Barton, attended President Obama’s rollout of gun-safety proposals that followed.

Others have lobbied lawmakers in their states, pressured retailers that sell certain types of weapons, and held press conferences to call for changes and to give voice to their outrage.

Representative Carolyn McCarthy, Democrat of New York, ran for office after a gunman killed her husband and five other people on a Long Island train in 1993, and she remains one of the most ardent gun-control advocates in Congress.