Maine forest rangers should be allowed to carry firearms like their fellow law enforcement officers.

Last week, I supported L.D. 297, a measure that would arm forest rangers and provide them with training. The bill won overwhelming initial House approval on Tuesday.

Maine forest rangers often enter difficult and dangerous situations. They encounter individuals who commit crimes including arson, theft and domestic violence. These law enforcement officers are charged with protecting Maine’s residents and our state. They have the right to defend themselves if they encounter a dangerous situation.

I believe that we have an obligation to provide the safest possible work environment for these law enforcement officers.

Years ago, I witnessed a coworker die on the job because he was not provided with the proper safety equipment. He fell 36 feet to his death. There is no question in my mind that, had we been provided with the proper safety equipment, my friend and coworker would have returned home safely that day. After the incident, the workplace equipped us with safety belts and harnesses.

One day, forever cemented in my mind, my 17-year-old nephew collapsed and died of heart failure on the gym floor in front of his whole school during a basketball rally. A defibrillator could have saved his life but none was kept on school grounds at the time. After the tragedy, defibrillators were purchased for the school.

I am supporting L.D. 297 because I want to ensure that forest rangers have the means necessary to protect themselves.

We should not wait for tragedy to occur before acting.

Rep. Stanley B. Short Jr., D-Pittsfield