AUGUSTA (WGME) – The head of four child care centers in Maine said he wants to arm himself to protect children with special needs.
The request has generated some controversy because state regulations do not allow firearms at licensed child care facilities.
Jeff Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Center, wants the state to make an exception.
“It’s doing what I think is the right thing to do,” he said.
Johnson is head of four Children’s Centers, which are licensed child care facilities for special needs children in Augusta, Gardiner, Skowhegan and Norridgewock. He wants the right to have a gun inside of them to protect the children there from active shooter situations.
“An engaged, armed security presence will either stop that event from taking place initially or will slow it down until first responders can arrive,” he said.
For Johnson, the Parkland, Florida school shooting hit close to home. He used to live there. And then there was the manhunt for the alleged gunman who shot and killed Corporal Eugene Cole.
“An active shooter event can happen here, can happen in Skowhegan, can happen in Parkland,” he said.
Johnson said that if the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School taught us anything, it is that even the most vulnerable children are susceptible to violence.
“Our kids cannot understand verbal instruction oftentimes. And they can’t move quickly,” he said.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services denied Johnson’s initial request to arm himself due to “the high risk of compromising children’s safety.”
“It was a one-sentence ‘no’ because we think the kids will actually be in more danger,” Johnson said.
This week, he appealed the decision.
Johnson said he will not take vital services away from the children to pay for an armed resource officer.
Johnson says he has taken a firearms safety course, passed the range qualifying test that law officers take and says three sheriffs wrote letters of support.
Even if the DHHS does grant a waiver to allow Johnson to have a gun inside the children’s center, which isn’t likely, he would still have to get approval from the children’s center board.