A Deeper Divide: The Gun Control Debate After Newtown

Signs at Gun Appreciation Day, left, and March For Change rallies represent two sides of the gun control legislation debate. (COURANT FILE PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)

"I was very happy yesterday to hear guns and know that life was getting back to normal," Ostrosky said the following day. "Because that's a very big gun club, and all responsible guys. They go over there and they shoot and it's just part of this neighborhood and I missed it."

The Mobilized

After her 9-year-old daughter and five others were killed while waiting to meet U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store two years ago, Roxanna Green kept clear of the political spotlight, focusing her energy on a foundation in her daughter's name that built playgrounds and stocked libraries.

But as she saw other families shattered by mass gun violence – at a movie theater in Colorado, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin – Green found a broader voice, appearing on national news shows, meeting with politicians in Washington and New York, and speaking out about guns.

"After it happened to me two years ago, I was hoping and praying it would never, never happen again," Green said. "But look what's happened."

Although Green found a mission, she did not find concrete success, leaving her frustrated that the national grief over the murder of her daughter did not propel changes she believes will reduce gun violence.

But today, after Sandy Hook, Green is both heartbroken and energized. Like many other gun control advocates, she says she sees the Dec. 14 shootings as a tipping point in the debate.

"I'm very confident that this time, this is it. It has to be now," Green said last month during a visit to Connecticut to meet with families of those killed in Newtown.

"I mean, it's times 20. One child two years ago; now we're talking about 26, 27 innocent lives," Green said. "I'm very, very confident that Congress is going to do something now, because the entire country is depending on them. They want change. They want some kind of plan."

For the first time in decades, gun control advocates sense they have momentum and the upper hand in their efforts to restrict what they see as the deadliest weapons, including the semiautomatic rifle Adam Lanza used at Sandy Hook. Millions of dollars are pouring in to existing gun control groups, and dozens of new groups are popping up, with plans for rallies and marches and other grass roots efforts to create an organized political force to take on the large and powerful National Rifle Association.

Many of the newly minted activists call Newtown home.

"During past shootings, I've been devastated and appalled by them, but I never took action," said Po Murray, who sent her four children to Sandy Hook Elementary and who can see Lanza's house from hers. "On Dec. 14th, I promised myself that I am going to take action and work as hard as I can to prevent this type of tragedy from happening to other families and parents and communities across the country."

Murray has become active in Sandy Hook Promise – the most prominent of the local groups that sprang up after the shootings – and recently attended the inaugural meeting of the Newtown Action Alliance, which has taken a stronger stand than Sandy Hook Promise on gun control.

"We're hopeful that our efforts here will help level the playing field in terms of the influence that the special interests have," said David Ackert, who leads the alliance. "There's a huge silent majority out there that I believe is easily motivated not to be silent any more if we give them the tools."

Ackert, who works in marketing, said Newtown has a "brand equity" that gives it a powerful voice in the debate over guns. He said his group was formed in the days after Dec. 14, but became more active after he heard about plans for a march on Washington last month to address gun violence.

"The light bulb went on," he said. "A connection was made in my head that Newtown needs to be on the national stage." He helped arrange buses that brought 100 people to the nation's capital, and local residents led the parade.

Supporters of gun control are mobilizing in Newtown even as the community reels from the savagery of the attack.

Mark and Jackie Barden are terrified they will forget a single story about the short life of their son Daniel.

Neil Heslin replays the last morning of his son's life over and over. "I miss Jesse something terrible," he says. "That was the worst day of my life."

Richard Marotto is haunted by the killer's decision to skip his 6-year-old daughter's classroom. "They were the very first room. Very first room from where the glass was broken. Very first room," he says.