By Linley Sanders
Joseph Theodore “JT” Lewis, 19, believes that people have three options after experiencing a massive tragedy: deny that it happened, do absolutely nothing, or try to make the world a better place. He’s aiming for that last one.
Seven years ago, his younger brother Jesse was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Lewis was 12 when the perpetrator entered his 6-year-old brother’s first-grade classroom and began shooting. Jesse shouted for his classmates to run as he remained by his teacher’s side, saving nine of his classmates’ lives.
Now, Lewis, a full-time political science major at the University of Connecticut, is running for state Senate in Connecticut’s 28th district as a Republican and Second Amendment-supporting school safety advocate. Rather than banning guns, Lewis proposes more guns in schools — via armed guards, a policy with no conclusive evidential support — and stronger federal background checks.
His opponent is incumbent Republican Tony Hwang, who served in the state House of Representatives when the Sandy Hook shooting took place; his district included part of Newton. He joined the state Senate in 2018, winning over Democrat challenger Michelle Lapine McCabe, whose campaign earned endorsements from advocacy groups Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, which was founded as a direct response to the local tragedy. Hwang’s reelection campaign focuses on fiscal conservatism, but he’s also supported liberal bans on bump stocks and gun storage regulation.
(In a statement provided to MTV News, Hwang says, “I appreciate and respect anyone's desire to run for public office. I love representing the people of the 28th district … I remain focused on working tirelessly in the state Senate to address issues of state fiscal accountability, social responsibility, and economic sustainability.” He also adds, “I am honored and privileged to serve as the State Senator and will continue to do all I can to be a voice our constituents can be proud of. I will always rise above accusations and political negatives.”)
Lewis says that after the Newton attack that left 20 children and six teachers dead, Connecticut had an opportunity to show the nation how to end mass shootings by strengthening background checks, expanding mental health resources, and implementing school safety measures. “We could have led the nation and showed how to prevent these shootings. We failed early on,” he says. “Now, almost seven years later, we still have a chance to become the icon for the rest of the nation.” Perpetrators continue to carry out mass shootings across America, and Lewis says it’s partially because old leadership did not do enough to advocate for school safety measures immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting.
Lewis talks to MTV News about how he will make Connecticut a model for school safety in America — and why young Republicans are key to undoing the missteps of their older counterparts.
MTV News: You tell the story of losing Jesse in your campaign video. Your mother later called State Senator Tony Hwang, who at the time served in the House, about her [Choose Love] initiative and did not get a callback. The senator has since apologized to you. What should elected officials do in the wake of mass shootings?
Lewis: Well, first of all, it shouldn't be done in the wake of mass shootings, it should be done proactively before it even happens. That's the big thing. But I don't want this whole campaign to be a fight between me and [Senator Hwang] because that's not what it's about. It's about the fresh new ideas I'm going to bring [to] Connecticut.
After a mass shooting, the rest of the country's looking at how you're going to react to that. [Connecticut] should have committed to three angles: gun regulation, mental health, and school safety measures. That's something I hope I can do: Bring people to the table and have these tough conversations on big issues.