09/25/2012 08:44 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2012

Why I (and Other Young People) Will Be Watching and Paying Attention to the First Debate

When President Obama, Gov. Romney and debate moderator Jim Lehrer take the stage in Denver next week, I'll be watching. And I won't be alone. I'll be hosting my first Presidential Debate Watch Party in D.C. and I'll be joined by a number of young people who, like me, will be watching a presidential debate for the first time.

In 2008, after recently graduating Virginia Tech, I worked at the Virginia State Board of Elections, "looking behind the curtain of democracy," as my boss would say. Being responsible for reading, re-reading and re-reading ballot after ballot for potential errors, I was more concerned about the correct spelling of candidates' names than with their positions on the issues. Back then I always figured I'd have other ways to figure out where they stood on the issues.

This election is different. Working with the Brady Campaign since 2009, I've had discussions with folks all over the country about gun violence and what we can do to prevent it. I've traveled to cities and towns in the East, West, North and South, sharing my experience as a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre, and screening documentaries like Living for 32, that shed light on the laws and policies that are at the center of this debate.

Today, I released 10 Minutes that Changed My Life, an e-book that shares details of my childhood, the tragedy at Virginia Tech, and my journey from survivor to activist in an effort to save other Americans from the trauma and lifelong pain caused by gun violence. I'm releasing this book on the same day I'm speaking to students, faculty and the general public at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where the courts have forced administrators to accept guns on campus. Even so, up to this point, not a single student has registered to live in the campus-designated dorm that allows students to possess and carry guns. Because the American landscape seems to be dominated by incredibly dangerous policies and laws like allowing students to carry guns on campus, my book includes an invitation to Americans (and guide for how to) to join me in hosting Debate Night Watch Parties with other concerned citizens who are demanding President Obama and Governor Romney present solutions to prevent gun deaths and injuries.

Let's be clear. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney need to be asked a question about our nation's gun policy at this debate. Both of these men will be just miles from the sites of two of the worst mass-shootings in American history: Columbine where 36 people were shot and 13 killed, and Aurora, where 70 people were shot, and 12 killed. Both shootings also explain why a growing number of young Americans are concerned about this issue. A shooting at a crowded movie theater -- a favorite place for young people -- tragically illustrated the dangers posed by guns in the wrong hands. Young people are engaged on this issue.

If nothing is done, an estimated 48,000 Americans could be murdered with guns during the next presidential term. We need our next Commander-in-Chief to tell us his plan to reduce the number of people shot and killed every year. These shootings keep happening to our friends, families and neighbors, and each incident is more sickening than the last. We know that we are better than this and we can do better than this. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have signed petitions like one on the website. Please join them, as we insist that now it's time for the next president to show us that he knows we are better than this, too. Watch the Debate with me next Wednesday and join me in the conversation on social media at