How “Red Flag Laws” Could Open the Door to State Surveillance

October 2, 2019

by Karen R. Effrem, MD


Several weeks ago, we wrote about the very grave bipartisan concerns over “red flag laws” that have sadly been already passed in 17 states. These laws have been described as setting up a process that allows family members or law enforcement to ask a judge for an order that allows temporary confiscation of firearms if a person is deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.

When even a state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 2nd amendment rights organizations like Gun Owners of America and the National Rifle Association (NRA) are putting out similar talking points, there is likely something terribly wrong.

How this can go even further wrong was outlined in a highly alarming article in The Washington Post later discussed by Michelle Malkin on the right side of the spectrum and several left-of-center bloggers in the last couple of weeks. The Post article discussed a new agency that would reside with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA), modeled after a similar agency in the Department of Defense (DARPA), and would include a $40-60 million ostensibly voluntary research project called “SAFE HOME” — “Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes.”

This project would use data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo and Google Home and data collected by health-care providers like fMRIs, tractography and image analysis to identify “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.” The article noted President Trump’s interest in HARPA overall, but was not sure that he was briefed on the SAFE HOME aspect. HARPA would require congressional approval.

Here is one of the most important of Mrs. Malkin’s points against the SAFE HOME idea:

Here’s the big lie: Wright’s group promises that privacy will be “safeguarded,” profiling “avoided” and data protection capabilities a “cornerstone of this effort.”

There’s so much bullcrap packed in that statement it should be banned as a global warming pollutant. Anything involving Google should trigger automatic danger warnings of invasive data mining. We do not need the federal government partnering with Google to red-flag citizens. We need the federal government to red-flag Google.

Let me remind you that Google has already admitted to data mining children’s emails without consent and in violation of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This school year, untold thousands, if not millions, of children were required to sign on to Google email and Chrome in order to access homework, schedules and classroom discussions — without obtaining parental consent. Thanks to “1-to-1” programs forcing students across the country to use laptops and tablets when paper and pencil would suffice, iPads loaded with Google for Education are metastasizing in tech-crazed, fad-addled school districts oblivious to privacy concerns.

Here are several additional talking points with references put together for Eagle Forum and Education Liberty Watch for recent meetings in Washington, D.C.:

  • Even non-high-tech efforts in this realm have failed in America and in France.
  • There are no known standardized neurobehavioral signs of violence specifically or of mental illness in general. Artificial intelligence is only as good as the algorithms it uses.
  • A 2016 study from the American Psychiatric Association showed that “mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides” and “the overall contribution of people with serious mental illness to violent crimes is only about 3%.”
  • Despite thousands of studies there is no evidence regarding genetic and neurological chemical imbalances for mental illness.
  • This research will do nothing to examine the known connection between psychiatric drugs and violence.
  • Mental-health diagnostic criteria are readily admitted by experts to be subjective and difficult to use, especially in children and teens, who are all undergoing rapid developmental changes.
  • Psychiatric experts trained for years readily admit that their efforts to predict which patients will become violent are only slightly better than chance, saying things like “But unfortunately, it’s impossible for any of us to predict who is going to go from being troubled and isolated to actually harming others.”
  • Mental screening is notoriously inaccurate, with one commonly used instrument having an 85% false- positive rate.
  • There is also the known anti-gun and general anti-conservative bias of Google and of many thought leaders within the psychiatric profession.

There is also important research from this year authored by Dr. John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime and much other research clearly demonstrating the dangers of gun control, and Professor Carl Moody showing that standard red flag laws, despite being in 17 states, have done nothing to reduce mass shootings or gun violence:

Red flag laws had no significant effect on murder, suicide, the number of people killed in mass public shootings, robbery, aggravated assault, or burglary. There is some evidence that rape rates rise. These laws apparently do not save lives.

This is why the idea being floated by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to have the federal government give grants to states that pass more of these laws is both dangerous and ineffective.

Fortunately, White House domestic policy sources have stated that HARPA is not going to happen, but this SAFE HOME research project must be opposed and never funded even if HARPA does not proceed. Hopefully, it is also likely that because the U.S. House of Representatives and the White House are embroiled in the impeachment controversy, passing something as controversial as this will be more difficult. However, for the sake of your future freedom and privacy, please use the talking points to contact your members of Congress as they campaign, and stress what a terrible idea this is.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0


Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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