They started out cautiously, afraid of attracting unwanted attention from their opponents, gun rights supporters like the National Rifle Association, who they knew were not only well-organized and well-funded, but armed.
But as the women who founded Connecticut's three chapters of One Million Moms for Gun Control watched their membership skyrocket, and witnessed 5,500 people turn out at last month's March for Change in Hartford, they abandoned their fear.
The One Million Moms group, founded the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, now claims 80,000 members in 80 chapters nationwide. Still largely made up of women, the group has even changed its name to the more muscular "Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America."
On Wednesday, they marched on Washington D.C. in a gun control rally dubbed "Moms Take the Hill."
"I can't say it's unprecedented, but it's a remarkable moment," said Todd Gitlin, journalism and sociology professor at Columbia University. He should know. Gitlin was part of a culture-changing grassroots movement once himself. President of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, Gitlin helped organize national demonstrations against the Vietnam war.
The gun control advocates' passion and willingness to personally step up and make a difference puts them in the same camp as historic social movements, like the fight for civil rights, Gitlin said.
The difference today is that the Internet and social media enabled the gun control movement to grow at lightening speed.
"I remember the night I created my (Facebook) page I asked my husband, 'Are you sure you're OK with me doing this, because I have a feeling it's going to snowball,' " said Kara Baekey of Norwalk, who launched the Fairfield County chapter of One Million Moms. Soon after she had almost 700 followers.
Such easy contact is a double-edged sword, and gun control advocates quickly found themselves fielding nasty comments and veiled threats from gun rights supporters who used the same Google searches, Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags to express their disagreement.
There were taunts from men telling them to drop the cause and return to their housework, and so many "scary" comments that Baekey banned 30 people from her Facebook page.
The response was similar to the death threats and vitriol that journalists at The Journal News, in Westchester County, received from some gun rights supporters after that paper published an interactive map with the names and addresses of pistol permit holders.
"There was very aggressive behavior there," Bethel resident Kathleen Eggert said of reaction from gun rights activists in early public hearings. "There was a lot of intimidation and hissing and booing. I think the subject matter is scary too."
But, Eggert, who taught in Bridgeport for 10 years, refused to let her fear get the best of her.
"I just couldn't stand in the background wringing my hands, thinking this is so awful and watching it happen over and over again," she said. "It makes me nervous and I'm afraid, but that's the commitment I've made."
Gun rights advocates, on the other hand, say they, too, have been subject to inflammatory comments through email and social media.
"One woman sent me something a few days in a row," said Scott Wilson, of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League. "A picture of one of the children murdered and said I was responsible for their death."
Comments directed at them are rarely talked about, though. Wilson said he feels like gun owners have been unfairly attacked for defending their second amendment rights.
"I think we've been demonized, vilified and ostracized for the simple fact that we own guns or are being vocal to defend," he said.
Gaining new strength
Everything changed on the two-month anniversary of the shooting, when a crowd of 5,500 turned out in Hartford on a weekday morning to March for Change, despite an historic blizzard that paralyzed much of the state just days before.
"There was something very empowering about being at that rally," said Nancy Lefkowitz, who co-founded March for Change with fellow Fairfield resident Meg Staunton. "So you mess with me, you mess with them. And since the march, the governor has come out with a bold agenda. I like to think that 5,500 people standing in his backyard really had something to do with that, and he said as much."
Many suburban parents at the rally also heard the plight of families affected every day by gun violence in the state's cities.
"I said OK, this is three miles down the road and it's a whole other culture, and it was so embarrassing that it was so eye-opening," said Lefkowitz. "We feel a responsibility to make sure that voice is heard just as much. Those bullets don't have a sensory device. They hit anybody."
Nicole Matthews, a Bridgeport mom who lost her 18-year-old son Shaahyid Matthews in 2005, said she was disappointed it took so long for those in the suburbs to realize the extent of urban gun violence.
"I'm not afraid because I'm the one who had to sit and make funeral arrangements," Matthews said. "I'm the one who had to deal with my other kids. I'm afraid it might get worse."
Kingsley Osei, of Connecticut Against Violence, a group focused on overall violence in the inner-city, said he welcomes the groups' efforts, but worries that they are too focused on issues that won't put a dent in the amount of gun violence in Bridgeport, New Haven or Hartford.
"Their focus is on assault rifles," he said. "We have a small handgun problem. I'm not sure if they do help or not. If we all work together, it may help because it's all about strength in numbers."
Awakened and angry
Many in the grassroots movement for new gun laws in Connecticut never imagined becoming politically active -- until Dec. 14, 2012.
"I think we're shocked at ourselves," said Lucy Davies, who attended a meeting on the March for Change and ended up helping to organize transportation from Wilton, where she lives. "But it's still, to this day, different for me putting my kids on the bus everyday."
Connecticut's gun control efforts are not centralized. In addition to the Million Moms, there are local groups that have adopted the same agenda, including a ban on assault rifles, limit on high-capacity ammunition, background checks for all gun purchases and registration of guns.
"Historically, mothers movements have been very, very powerful forces," said Kristin Goss, author "Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America." "It's not unprecedented and it's not unusual."
Liz Perry put a post on MoveOn.org in late January calling for people to join her cause by attending a meeting at her Greenwich home.
The New York City schoolteacher was surprised when 30 strangers showed up at her door. Two weeks later, the group was standing in front of the old post office on Greenwich Avenue holding signs calling for gun control.
"The most interesting thing was the reaction of drivers," she said. "Greenwich is not known for its activism, so it was kind of fun to be active in that way." A similar rally was held there again last weekend.
It's easier to keep each other going when one joins a local group, Perry said. It has also helped when contacting legislators, she said. "Our organization has the name Greenwich in the title, so it's like there's no question we're your constituents."
March for Change, on the other hand, has partnered with Connecticut Against Gun Violence, which has been doing this work for decades.
"The passion has always been on the other side of the issue," said Ron Pinciaro, director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence. "We've always had a lot of support, but it hasn't been a vocal support. They're awakened and they're angry."
Lisa Labella, former Fairfield County coordinator for the Million Mom March in 2000, said she's never seen anything like what's happening now in Connecticut.
"In 2000, I believed we were right, we had the public behind us, we had the right policy," said Labella, who does community outreach with Connecticut Against Gun Violence. "But I think we were naive in the politics. We learned they're (politicians) hearing from a lot of different people who don't agree with us. I feel sorry for the freshmen legislators up at the General Assembly."
Goss, associate professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, said the local movements have likely gained loyal followings so quickly because individuals were already concerned due to mass shootings in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, Tucson, Arizona and the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. She calls the recent grassroots movement the best opportunity to get significant action in Congress on gun control.
The rise of the gun control groups has forced local gun rights groups to amp up their efforts contacting legislators as well.
"Our people got upset because after the shooting all of a sudden we had 100 gun bills," said Robert Crook, director of the Connecticut Coalition of Sportsmen, noting that the majority are resurrected bills that failed in the past. "If they pass one or they pass them all, it wouldn't preclude what happened. The gun didn't do it. It was just sitting there until it was picked up by a mentally ill man who got it from another person who wasn't following gun safety rules.
"It's all emotion out in Fairfield County and hopefully we don't write laws based on emotions," he added.