Stephen Barton is among them.
He had planned to spend much of 2013 in Russia, teaching English on a prestigious Fulbright grant.
“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 and 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 laws.
“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 crisscrossed the country from Colorado to Connecticut, speaking with lawmakers and gathering public support for stricter gun control. “It’s been empowering and, in a way, therapeutic to do this sort of work.”
Barton is among a growing number of victims who have put their previous lives on hold to push for better background checks, restrictions on assault weapons and other measures intended to help prevent further deadly killings. Some have met in recent weeks with the gun-violence task force led by Vice President Biden and, like Barton, attended President Obama’s rollout of gun-safety proposals last week.
Others have lobbied lawmakers in their states, pressured retailers that sell certain types of weapons, and held news conferences to call for changes and give voice to their outrage. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) decided to run for office after a gunman killed her husband and five other people on a Long Island commuter train in 1993, and she remains one of the most ardent gun-control advocates in Congress.
America has a long history of influential movements that grew out of personal grief and tragedy.
Candice Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving the year after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver in California. Nancy Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure after her sister died of breast cancer. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is named for James Brady, the White House press secretary who was seriously wounded during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
“I never thought I’d be doing this, ” said Colin Goddard, 27, who was shot four times during the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 and is now one of the most visible faces for the Brady Campaign, doing everything from lobbying on Capitol Hill to speaking at rallies to appearing in a documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. “Getting involved in this work has been part of the therapy. . . . It allowed me to turn it into something positive.”