Junkfood Science: House-to-house searches — for twinkies and guns?

April 07, 2008

House-to-house searches — for twinkies and guns?

We make a bit of a departure today because this story has been all the buzz, and probably in your town, too. People are asking: “Did you ever imagine we would see this day in America?” The health and welfare implications of this issue may also be more real than might appear at first glance.

Two weeks ago, Boston police had launched a program called Safe Homes, for the protection of children. It would allow the police to go door to door and search homes — without warrants — for guns. The Boston Globe reported that they were getting objections from residents, but the police commissioner was “taken aback by the criticism.”

Police limit searches for guns

Boston police officials, surprised by intense opposition from residents, have significantly scaled back and delayed the start of a program that would allow officers to go into people's homes and search for guns without a warrant. The program, dubbed Safe Homes, was supposed to start in December, but has been delayed at least three times…

Officers may begin knocking on doors this week, officials said yesterday, but instead of heading into four troubled neighborhoods, as they had planned, officers will target only one, Egleston Square in Jamaica Plain, where police said they have received the most support…

Commissioner Edward F. Davis has been taken aback by the criticism. Davis promoted Safe Homes as a voluntary program that would help overwhelmed, frightened parents and guardians by removing guns from their homes without fear of prosecution. "I would say that the police commissioner has been a bit surprised by those that are not in favor," Driscoll said. "We're genuinely trying to save lives."…

Police officials have said the searches would be based on tips from the community, including neighbors, school officials, and even the parents of the child….

Today, the news reported that the Washington, D.C. police chief had unveiled a program called the Safe Homes Initiative, which would search people’s homes in the nation’s capital for guns without warrants. It is also meeting resistance:

Police Search Program in Washington Forgoes Warrants, Stirs Critics

A plan to thwart gun violence in the nation’s capital is under attack from some critics who say it may trick citizens into forgoing their constitutional rights... [and are] warning homeowners that they could be forfeiting their rights when they sign a one-page consent form that police would present before entering a home. Under the terms of the plan, the signatures would signify their “informed consent” to the search, which would otherwise be illegal without a warrant...

Opponents of the initiative had vigorously argued against it asking for instant access. “Most people believe they have to let police in, and that’s not informed consent,” said Barnes. Critics also challenged Lanier’s promise of amnesty to homeowners if officers find guns in their homes. The consent form rules out prosecution for illegal possession, but the amnesty would not apply if the gun were linked to a crime. There are also questions about what would happen if officers found drugs or discovered that a resident was an illegal immigrant...

Amid criticism, DC police change plans to search homes for guns

District of Columbia police have scaled back an amnesty program in which they planned to go door-to-door asking residents whether officers could search their homes for guns. The Safe Homes program will instead be offered by appointment only at residents' request, Chief Cathy L. Lanier said. The program, aimed at high-crime neighborhoods, was supposed to begin March 24. It was delayed after a backlash from residents, D.C. Council members and the American Civil Liberties Union. Critics complained that some residents could feel intimidated by officers asking to enter their homes...

Safe Homes will target those who know or suspect that their children or other relatives have guns. Residents are asked to call police, set up appointments for officers to visit and sign a consent-to-search form... Police plan to test the recovered guns to determine whether they can be linked to crimes. If so, police will launch investigations, which could lead to criminal charges.

A knock on our door

What other reasons might public officials use to convince people to allow them to search their homes and private lives, and believe that such intrusions are for their own benefit? Might we get a knock at our doors asking to go through our pantries and refrigerators to make sure we’re eating the prescribed “healthy” diet; to assess our weights, exercise and smoking habits; and to monitor our compliance with health prescriptions and report us if we’re not being good? Incredibly, it is not a far-fetched idea that agencies might want to make such door-to-door searches in the name of public health — because they already have!

As part of the plans of Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, “unfit and overweight Britons will get doorstep visits from NHS staff to track those at risk of future illness.” As the Observer reported, “staff could ask people in certain streets about their lifestyle — and invite those at risk for a health 'MoT' with their GP, after which they could sign agreements to lose weight or stop smoking...” Sec. Hewitt said the government had to start going to people and not wait for them to go to the doctor. She said those with “genetic inheritance” need especially intense interventions to “ditch bad habits.”

“At least two primary care trusts were already getting staff to knock on doors in streets they had identified as high risk for disease, often in low-income areas,” she said... The approach will be highly controversial, prompting charges of snooping on people's private lives and interfering in their freedom, the Observer reported.

Comparable programs have been suggested or already instituted here in the United States. Proposals were made by the California Department of Health for door-to-door searches of young Latina and African American women in low-income neighborhoods to assess their health risk behaviors, purportedly to tackle HIV and STDs.

A program funded by the National Cancer Institute, targeted 350,000 families of preschoolers in St. Louis, Missouri, who received a knock on the door asking them about their eating habits, going through their pantries and reviewing their grocery shopping lists. It was part of a “High 5 Low-Fat” program to address childhood obesity by telling parents how to feed their children “healthy” by cutting fat, getting fruits and vegetables, and reducing “bad dietary choices.”

A similar anti-obesity initiative was introduced last summer by Dr. Mehmet Oz, author of the You on a diet diet book and an Oprah regular. Funded by $250,000 from the New York City Council, the program he founded is called HealthCorps. Modeled after the Peace Corps, it pays college graduates to go around the city and council kids on diet and exercise.

Another initiative to fight obesity proposed by economists at Brookings Institution, called for establishing a “Retired Healthcare Professionals Corps.” Retired physicians and nurses would be mobilized into “cadres of community healthcare workers” to go door to door and to give residents information about common diseases and “monitor compliance with prescribed regimens, and communicate with healthcare providers about the needs and circumstances of neighborhood residents.”

Citing Robert Wood Johnson Foundation extensively: “My idea is to mobilize retired physicians and healthcare workers to serve their country by joining in a crusade to combat childhood obesity, especially in those communities and among the children where the problem is most acute.”

The authors said it was necessary to make “lifestyle medicine” a credentialed clinical specialty and part of basic medical training because of the “serious health threats confronting our nation” and that these Corps were necessary because primary doctors didn’t have time to do “the extensive counseling on nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes that is required to treat obesity.” They also noted that genomics will soon bring the ability to identify those at risk for chronic diseases and in need of intervention.

Second Amendment

But, there’s an even bigger story behind these recent searches of homes for guns that are being promoted by the police in the name of public safety — news you might not have heard about. They are part of a move for the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the Second Amendment to the Constitution. A decision is expected in June that will rule if citizens have the right to keep and bear arms:

Right to bear arms at heart of high court case

For the first time in 70 years, the U.S. Supreme Court will take on the question of whether individual Americans have the right to keep and bear arms or whether it a collective right of the people for service in a state militia. That question is at the heart of a long, impassioned debate about how much power the government has to keep people from owning guns and it could soon be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case about one of the nation's strictest gun control laws.

Set for arguments on March 18 and with a decision expected by late June, the nation's highest court could resolve once and for all the much-disputed meaning of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Written 219 years ago, the amendment says, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."...

Historians and experts on constitutional law have led some of the most disturbing discussions today about these renewed motions to degrade the Second Amendment. Putting the pieces together, the parallels they’re making are almost surreal. It’s hard to believe that we can actually make these analogies today. Their admonitions have gone far beyond reminding us of our founding fathers' belief that an armed citizenry is not as easily subjected to tyranny and is more able to protect itself...

"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." — Thomas Jefferson, 1776, Jefferson Papers

"The said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press, or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms." — Samuel Adams

... but to examples of what can happen when people forget the past. As Justice Felix Frankfurter had said in 1946:

We are in danger of forgetting that the Bill of Rights reflects experience with police excesses. It is not only under Nazi rule that police excesses are inimical to freedom. It is easy to make light of insistence on scrupulous regard for the safeguards of civil liberties when invoked on behalf of the unworthy. It is too easy. History bears testimony that by such disregard are the rights of liberty extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the end.

According to Stephen P. Halbrook, Ph.D., J.D., a Fairfax, Virginia, attorney specializing in Constitutional Law and an expert on the Second Amendment:

If the slogan “Never Again!” is to be taken seriously, then no single aspect of the Holocaust can be relegated to the Orwellian Memory Hole for denial—including Nazism’s brutal repression of the right of the people to keep and bear arms in order to dominate the populace at large and to eradicate disfavored members and groups.

Professor Halbrook has done the most extensive historical research on the Second Amendment, with numerous articles available on his website, and an upcoming book Founders’ Second Amendment, due out before the Supreme Court ruling. His extraordinarily documented, 55-page article on the history of Nazi firearms laws published in the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law is well worth reading. He traces, in detail, Adolf Hitler’s use of firearms registration and steadily increasing gun regulations on an unsuspecting populace. Owning a gun eventually became legal only for “persons whose trustworthiness is not in question and who can show a need for a permit.”

"The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History teaches that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. So let's not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order throughout the occupied Russian territories, and a system of military strong-points must be evolved to cover the entire occupied country." — Adolf Hitler, April 11, 1942, Tischegesprache Im Fuhrerhauptquartier

Jews were prohibited from owning guns by order of SS Reichsführer Himmler on November 10, 1938, said professor Halbrook, and all weapons were confiscated in a door-to-door search known as the Night of the Broken Glass. [Image from People’s Observer, November 10, 1938.] As the New York Times had reported that November, in just weeks the entire Jewish population of Berlin had been disarmed, and any resistors were shot. Finding those Jews who had firearms was simple, because the laws from 1928 required extensive police records on gun owners and the police used gun registrations.

Other European countries had similar gun registration laws kept by the police, said professor Halbrook. “When the Nazis took over Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1939, it was a simple matter to identify gun owners. Many of them disappeared in the middle of the night along with political opponents,” he said. A German poster from occupied France, Musée de l'Ordre de la Libération, Paris, imposed the death penalty for those who didn’t turn in all firearms and radio transmitters within 24 hours. Professor Halbrook has scanned the poster, as well as posted a synopsis of historical records from those decades on his website, with historical information about guns few of us ever learned in school!

“The disarming of the Jews made individual or collective resistance in the future impossible,” he concluded in the Arizona journal. “The record establishes that a well-meaning liberal republic would enact a gun control act that would later be highly useful to a dictatorship. That dictatorship could then consolidate its power by massive search and seizure operations against political opponents...It could enact its own new firearms law, disarming anyone the police deemed dangerous...”

In 1944, a German radio broadcast that 1.4 million German civilians had been trained in the use of rifles and revolvers, said Halbrook. In other words, the citizens had been re-armed. The United States reacted to the events of the Nazi threat and its policies, he said, by passing the Property Requisition Act of 1941 that prohibited any act that would “require the registration of any firearms possessed by any individual for his personal protection or sport,” or “to impair or infringe in any manner the right of any individual to keep and bear arms.” Today, Germany’s Grundgesetz (Basic Law) includes the following provision: “When other avenues are not open, all Germans have the right to resist attempts to impose unconstitutional authority.”

It is this history lesson that the Supreme Court is now re-examining.

Have we forgotten so soon?

The reason to remember the worst moments in history is to help ensure that such things never happen again. “Comparisons of various subjects with Nazism may be overstated, even grossly so, or no warranted at all,” wrote professor Halbrook, “but a rule that reference to one of history’s greatest tragedies should never be made in connection with a current issue would mean that no lessons can be learned from the tragedy.” In fact, Justice Felix Frankfurther cautioned that it “is not only under Nazi rule that police excesses are inimical to freedom.”

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