On Saturday, I spoke with 17-year-old J.T. Lewis, whose brother Jesse was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012. After the shooting, Lewis started a charitable organization called Newtown Helps Rwanda. According to the charity’s official website, $35,000 has been "raised and donated" over the course of the last five years.
Seeing the wave of anti-Second Amendment and anti-gun sentiment following the Parkland shooting, Lewis has shifted his focus to school safety.
The following is my exclusive interview with J.T. Lewis:
Q: Can you walk me through what happened to you and your family in Newtown?
A: That day, my brother Jesse is actually remembered as a hero. The shooter came into his classroom, and shot a few people. His gun ran out of bullets, and in that moment when he was reloading, Jesse yelled out for his classmates to run. Nine of them ran. He saved nine lives.
Q: What got you started in advocacy?
A: After the shooting, I hadn't been going back to school. It was just too hard. I was sitting around the house, depressed. Through a family connection, I was able to Skype with these kids from Rwanda who had been through the 1994 genocide. They had their whole families killed — some of them were buried alive — and they basically said, "You'll be happy again. You'll do better." That was inspiring for me — someone who had been through it, and much worse in many cases.
After that, I decided to reach back out to them, and do something for them. That's when I started Newtown Helps Rwanda, and began raising money to send them to college. Since then, we've put two through college, and in Uganda, built fish ponds and poultry farms for former child soldiers.
Q: What changed in the five years since the shooting in terms of moving from helping people in Uganda (which you still do) to specifically advocating for safe schools?
A: Watching the kids in Parkland; I felt bad for them. They wanted to do something right. It was positive what they started out doing, but the Democrats have been trying to do gun control as a country since Columbine, and nothing has gotten done. It's a waste of time to focus on that.
Like it or not, guns are not going away — there are 350 million of them in the United States; they're here to stay. So what we can do is, as the president has said, not let our schools be soft targets. With a gun-free zone, you're asking for something like that to happen.
Q: Have people used the Newtown shooting in ways you didn't approve of?
A: After the shooting, we had a bunch of foundations start up, like the Sandy Hook Promise. They raise money off the backs of dead children and use that donation money to push an anti-gun message, which not all of us support.
Q: What's your personal position on the Second Amendment and gun rights?
A: I support the Second Amendment — it's a constitutional right whether we like it or not, and it's not going anywhere.
Q: What have you done in response to them using your family's name to raise money for anti-gun legislation?
A: Pretty much the same day of the shooting, these foundations were popping up, like the Sandy Hook Promise, basically raising money to lobby for anti-gun agendas.
I decided to focus on something we can do that's positive. It's all negative with them. They're very disorganized, the Democrats. They don't have one agenda. If they had one agenda, then we could say, "Okay, here's what we agree with; here's what we disagree with." But they're all over the place. They want to repeal the Second Amendment; they make claims not really knowing what types of guns are what. I hear them say they want to get rid of all semi-automatic weapons, which is basically all guns.
They don't have a clear message, and until they have a clear message, we can't even have a debate about it.
Q: What is it you do now as it pertains to school safety?
A: I think there should be two armed guards in every school. That's just common sense.
There were two recent shootings — one in Maryland and one in Florida. The shooter comes into the school, and the armed guard confronts him. In both cases combined, one person was killed. And that's as opposed to a Newtown or a Parkland where 26 people and 17 people were killed.
The numbers are reduced when there's an armed guard doing their job.
Q: When did you begin advocating for armed guards in school?
A: After Parkland, when I saw those kids get up and start making anti-gun remarks. I felt bad for them because it wasn't going to work, and they were going to be let down. And there's a way that we can make our schools safe for right now.
Q: Do you think having armed guards in schools is something that people on the other side of the aisle can get on board with?
A: I've talked with a lot of different people on that side, and what I found is that in private they'll say, "Yeah, we support it."
I've spoken with several people from CNN, and after meeting me, they said, "Yeah, I'm gonna call my kid's school, and say we want an armed guard put in." So there's support for it because it's a very obvious solution. But at the same time, it doesn't fit the narrative of the Left, which is "all guns are evil," basically, so by supporting it, they would be admitting that the narrative’s just not true.
But there is support. So what I'm trying to do is get the word out to the public that armed guards will reduce or prevent these shootings. And I think once we get several figures on board with that, the support will increase dramatically.
Q: What can we expect from you going forward?
A: In the coming weeks, there's gonna be something called the DeVos Commission on School Safety, which is headed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Basically, people are going to come in who were affected by school shootings, and talk about what the best solutions are. So, I'll go in and I'll advocate for armed guards and doors that lock from the inside in classrooms.
Q: Is there anything you would want our readership to know that we haven't covered today, or other news outlets haven't covered?
A: You don't hear it from the media, but there are a lot of people who support the Second Amendment. I would say the silent majority. So I think that's an important message to keep getting out there. Also, there are ways that we can make our schools infinitely safer without giving up our constitutional rights.
I’d like to thank J.T. for speaking with me about his mission.