During the summer of 2012, Barton, 24, took a post-college cross-country bike trip with his best friend. When they stopped in the city of Aurora, Colorado, the two decided to see a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. During the screening, James Holmes opened fire on the audience.
My friend and I decided to clear our summers after graduation from college. June 6th, we dipped our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean, and set off west from Virginia Beach. We were on the road for 43 days, and the 43rd day we were in Aurora, Colorado. It was a really amazing trip; we experienced nothing but kindness from strangers. But there's no way you can ever expect anything like [a shooting]. It was a big lesson: the fragility of life. It sounds cliché, but it was pounded into my head by that experience, imprinted on my brain. Because one day we were on top of the world and then everything changed.
I learned that as much as an issue might seem clear-cut, it almost always evolves and becomes more complex inside the Beltway. [Ed. note: Barton worked on gun-control issues after Aurora.] Money is an important part — I guess I already understood that on some level, but to see politicians privately agree with your position but publicly can't make that jump, it becomes very clear who's on the fence, and who wants to do the right thing.
I grew up in rural Connecticut, so I know there are people who have guns in that community. In middle school, there was a hunting accident that involved one of my classmates, and he passed away. But I didn't really associate it with a gun, I thought of it as this terrible tragic accident.
“One day we were on top of the world and then everything changed.”
I'd say politically I had vague opinions about guns [before Aurora]. I understood on some level that we could do a better job regulating them. Guns and gun violence were not an important issue to me before I was shot. You can say I was rudely awakened.
As told to Elisabeth Garber-Paul