As the Capitol Building came into view Tuesday morning, Lee Shull tried to help his neighbor Po Murray navigate their car into Washington.
He's a 43-year-old software consultant. She's a mother of four. A week ago, they lived in a town and a neighborhood they thought was safe.
Now their block in Sandy Hook is set off by caution tape. Inside a house 100 yards from Murray's front door, Nancy Lanza was found in her bed on Friday, a gunshot to her face. The killer, her 20-year-old son, Adam Lanza, took three of his mother's high-powered guns to Sandy Hook Elementary and murdered 20 first-graders and six adults.
"I cannot even tell you what that feels like to have that happen in your town. It was like we were grabbing for something, anything," said Shull. On Friday night, neighbors and friends starting calling each other.
"We all thought we have to do something," he said. "That turned into, 'What are you doing Saturday? Can we get people together Saturday?'"
About 50 people got together Saturday, then Sunday and again Monday at the town's public library, the only place that could accommodate the growing crowd of 75-plus people.
They decided to call themselves Newtown United. A Facebook and Twitter account were set up. Then they scrambled to find people in the group who could drop their jobs for a day or put off family obligations to go to Washington. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which holds perhaps the biggest pro-gun control megaphone in the country, was staging a press conference at the capital.
Shull, Murray and Murray's 16-year-old daughter, Tess, just wanted to be a part of that, if only to stand and listen.
They get that they're entering a foreign, complex and often ugly world of politics and ideology.
"Maybe that sounds like a pipe dream, and maybe that's arrogant," said Shull. "But why not? If we fail, and maybe we will, but we don't know if we don't try."
So many victims, a long fight
At the press conference, more than 40 relatives of people who have been victims of gun violence spoke. One after another, they approached the microphone:
-- Mothers of an 8-year-old and a 27-year-old killed in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shootings this July.
-- A man who talked about his sister who was shot to death in a classroom in 2007 at Virginia Tech.
-- A mother who held a picture of her 16-year-old son, gunned down the same year on a bus in Chicago.
-- The sons of a member of the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin where a gunman murdered six in August.
-- The mother of a little girl killed in the Tucson, Arizona, shooting that targeted former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.
Tom Mauser, the father of Daniel Mauser, who was one of 13 people killed at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, walked to the podium. He had on worn, gray sneakers.
"I am here today wearing my son's shoes," he said. "It's amazing we have the same size shoes so I wear them, because he was a member of the debate team at Columbine High School, so I now wear his shoes in this great debate and it's a debate we need to have in this country."
Mauser knows what he's talking about.
He's dedicated the past 13 years to urging politicians to pass stricter gun laws. Experts say the effort has been largely unsuccessful.
Part of the reason for that rests with the troubled ban on assault weapons that passed in 1994 and was due to last 10 years. It expired in 2004 during President George W. Bush's administration. The specifics of that ban were complicated, critics said, which allowed for numerous loopholes. It also only applied to new gun purchases.
Further, gun-control advocates are up against the National Rifle Association, which has 4 million members in the United States.
This year, the NRA spent $17 million on federal elections. Annual gun sales in the United States total about $3.5 billion, according to CNN Money.
"It's not like the NRA represents some tiny splinter of American culture," said Paul Barrett, author of "Glock: The Rise of America's Gun."