Earlier this year the United States Department of Agriculture, under the same federal program that sells military-grade weapons to local police departments for pennies on the dollar, filed a request for submachine and semi-automatic guns, Salon reported.

Specifically, the USDA requested “submachine guns, .40 [caliber Smith & Wesson], ambidextrous safety, semi-automatic or 2 shot burts trigger group, Tritium night sights for front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under foregrip) and scope (top rear), stock-collapsible or folding, magazine – 30 [round] capacity, sling, light weight, and oversized trigger guard for gloved operation.”

The USDA says that these type of weapons are necessary for protection, according to Modern Farmer.

A statement from a USDA spokesperson read:

“[Office of Inspector General (OIG)] Special Agents regularly conduct undercover operations and surveillance. These types of investigations conducted by OIG Special Agents include criminal activities such as fraud in farm programs; significant thefts of Government property or funds; bribery and extortion; smuggling; and assaults and threats of violence against USDA employees engaged in their official duties.”

While the USDA no doubt engages in dangerous missions and needs protection, are weapons of this type — submachine guns and semi-automatics — really necessary?

The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FCLDF) doesn’t see the justification for having battle-grade weapons and started a petition supporting a bill to limit the ability of agencies like the USDA to arm themselves. “They see it as overkill and scare tactics, especially for smaller producers,” Modern Farmer reported.

“What we have seen happen … is [the USDA has] come onto small farms, raw milk producers, and raided the heck out of them with armed agents present,” said Liz Reitzig, co-founder of the Farm Food Freedom Coalition. “Do we really want to have our federal regulatory agencies bring submachine guns onto these family farms with children?”

In the last year, OIG Investigation Development bulletins reported three incidents that involved guns and two “in which USDA agents were verbally threatened,” but most of their time is spent dealing with fraud in government programs.

Utah Representative Chris Stewart sponsored the bill behind the FCLDF petition, which hopes to “prohibit certain federal agencies from using or purchasing certain firearms …”

Stewart said, when asked about the USDA’s weaponry request, “I can’t envision a scenario where what they are doing what require that.”

“At its heart, it comes down to this: To myself, and for a lot of Americans, there is great concern over regulator agencies with heavy handed capabilities,” Stewart said.

“We have never argued that federal regulators don’t need to protect themselves,” said Rep. Stewart. But if they should find themselves in a possibly dangerous situation, Stewart said, “They should do what the rest of us do: call the local sheriff.”

Given the USDA’s lack of transparency on the weapons — they haven’t said exactly how many guns they want — and the trend of government agencies amping up military-style enforcement tactics after purchasing combat-level gear, farmers are right to be concerned about this request.