A 22-year-old survivor of the shooting massacre in Aurora, Colo. is taking on an issue that's center stage in the race for the White House, and he's moved to New York City to make it happen.
Stephen Barton, a Southbury, Conn. native and Syracuse University graduate, is sharing his story with the public as part of his new advocacy work for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's non-profit organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Barton and two friends were in the middle of a cross-country bicycle trip when they went to watch "The Dark Knight Rises" in a theater in Aurora that July night.
Fifteen minutes into the movie, shots rang out. At first, Barton and his friends thought it was fireworks.
"I just put my arm up and almost in that exact moment, I was shot with a shotgun," said Barton. "I just fell to the floor."
Barton was hit numerous times while he saw and heard the killings of 12 other moviegoers just inches away.
"The earliest thought I remember having is, 'There's no way this is actually happening right now,'" he told NBC 4 New York Tuesday.
He said he only managed to escape because the gun of accused shooter James Holmes jammed.
"After that, it was just really like, I just hope the shooting stops. I'm not ready to die," Barton said. "I just need to get out of here."
Barton said a single shotgun blast sent pellets into his hands, arms, chest and neck. One almost hit his eye, and he still can't lift his left arm all the way. Bullet wounds are still visible on him.
"I don't want other people to go through that," he said.
Barton is postponing his Fulbright teaching gig in Russia to work for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He's the face and voice of a new public service ad launched to coincide with the first presidential debate Wednesday.
Sitting in an empty theater, Barton says in the spot, "In the next four years, 48,000 Americans... will be murdered with guns during the next president's term, enough to fill over 200 theaters."
Barton is living in Park Slope while he continues his advocacy work. He hopes to resume and complete his cross-country bicycling trip in the future.