Farmers, agribusinesspeople, a state legislator, a mayor and even Tipton High School students gathered at Tom and Karen McKinney’s farm near Tipton, Ind., on Feb. 23 to tell Indiana Sen. Todd Young, a Republican, what was on their minds. Young and members of his staff were home in Indiana to hear what Hoosiers had to say on various topics. The McKinneys, named Master Farmers in 2015, hosted the event and invited many friends and neighbors to take part.
What was supposed to be a discussion on agricultural topics sounded more like a think tank on guns and school safety during the first half of the session. The recent school shooting in Florida, stories related to the incident that are still hitting the press and threats against schools in Indiana since then have apparently made the subject a top concern on almost everyone’s minds — even farmers and rural community members.
Young listened intently as people spoke. The No. 1 concern seemed to be what it was going to take to make schools safe. One participant who had been in a position of authority in a school system in the past said he would have felt better knowing they had a way to defend themselves if something like an invasion occurred. He was talking about either having certain people carrying weapons, or having security officers, perhaps even deputy sheriffs, on-site.
One idea floating around in media discussions is if schools should allow teachers to be armed in the classroom. Looking at the half dozen students who were in the room, Young asked for their opinions.
The reaction was quick. “I wouldn’t want my teachers carrying guns,” one young lady said, followed by nodding heads from other students. “I’m not sure they have the training and expertise to be allowed to have guns in the classroom.”
Another student offered that perhaps there were a few teachers he would trust to be armed, but not most of them. It didn’t sound like a good idea, he said.
Other adults noted that trained officers who routinely were at school and interacted with students could do more good than just protect kids in the event of a potential threat. “I know from experience that in our school, they mingle with kids during lunch and at other times, and may be able to pick up on potential issues and help head them off,” one person said. “I know of a case where they even told a parent they were concerned about who their children were hanging out with at lunch. The parent then had a conversation with the kid. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
An older farmer in the room confided after hearing the discussion that he still was uneasy about introducing guns into schools, especially in the hands of people not specifically trained to handle them, nor on how to react in certain situations.
No answers were offered. But the issue is clearly top-of-mind, even in farm country, these days.
The discussion eventually turned to agriculture. “We hope Congress realizes that crop insurance works out here, and that it needs to be subsidized at an appropriate level in the next farm bill,” one farmer said.
“We have received that message loud and clear,” Young said. “I think it makes sense, and there definitely seems to be good support for continuing crop insurance going into the future.”
One person said the Agriculture Risk Coverage program needed to be examined and perhaps tweaked. But the overriding concern when it came to the farm bill was that Congress should continue subsidizing crop insurance, and allow farmers to decide how much risk they want to take.