A New York newspaper’s decision to publish a map with the names and addresses of area pistol-permit holders continues to generate backlash, with officials in one county now saying they won’t comply with a state law mandating that such information is public.
As reported here last week, the Journal News, a paper covering several counties north of New York City, published a map pinpointing the exact location of homes in Westchester and Rockland counties whose residents had permits to own a handgun. Putnam County had begun assembling the same data in response to the newspaper’s Freedom of Information Act request. But following a firestorm of controversy, county officials have now scheduled a news conference Thursday to announce they won’t release the data.
“There is the rule of law, and there is right and wrong and the Journal News is clearly wrong,” Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant said in a statement to the Reuters news agency.
In this case, the rule of law is clear; the New York State statute covering firearms licenses states that “The name and address of any person to whom an application for any license has been granted shall be a public record.” But that has held little sway with local politicians, who were inundated with calls from gun owners upset at the prospect of being identified.
State Sen. Greg Ball called publication of the data “unethical” and blamed “asinine editors” for the decision to put the information on the Web. His office issued the press advisory for Thursday’s announcement, under the label “Putnam County Officials Stand Up For Law-abiding Gun Owners.”
The Journal News, which is owned by Gannett, quoted Ball as saying: “The county clerk has my full support to protect these law abiding citizens and if The Journal News thinks they can intimidate Putnam, they are sorely mistaken. Before I waver, the egghead editors at the Journal News can kiss my white, Irish behind.”
Reaction from readers and gun enthusiasts has been similarly harsh, leading to threats against newspaper employees, a local blogger’s effort to map the home addresses of scores of staffers at the paper, and a call by a New York gun group to boycott advertisers of Gannett newspapers. “The Journal News has put in harm’s way tens of thousands of lawful license holders,” officials with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association wrote. “This action by the Journal News can only be viewed as an attempt to intimidate and bully lawful gun-owning citizens.”
Many journalists have also criticized the publication, saying that in the absence of additional analysis – such as comparing the database of permit holders against a database of convicted criminals or those named in restraining orders – the data has little public value.
But some have defended and praised the reporting, which showed that one in 23 adults in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties have permits to own handguns. Some commenters said they appreciate the ability to see which homes in their neighborhoods may have firearms, while others dismissed the claims that gun owners were put at risk by the publication, saying gun-permit records in New York has been public for years.
And one poster said critics have it all backwards, saying it isn’t the gun owners who should be upset by the publication. “It puts the unarmed population in harms way,” wrote one poster on Facebook. “Now the bad guys know who cannot put up a competent defense and therefore will choose the unarmed instead of a firearm owner’s house.”