Where the Guns Are: Map Pinpointing Suburban New York Pistol Permits Draws Fire

by Categorized: Data, First Amendment, Law Enforcement, Legal Affairs, Media, Politics, Public Safety, Transparency/FOI Date:

Are there guns in your neighbors’ homes?

What about the homes where your kids play?

It’s a point of curiosity in many cities and towns, and the massacre in Newtown has sparked fresh debates over the proliferation of weapons in seemingly quiet communities.  But one New York newspaper’s decision to map the exact location of every pistol permit in its coverage area has created a firestorm of Westchester_Permitslocal controversy, including angry threats against newspaper employees.

In journalism circles, meanwhile, the publication is reviving discussions over whether there are limits to ethical publishing in the Internet age, when massive datasets – from public employee salaries to criminal convictions – can find permanent homes on the Web.

It all began last Sunday, with a story in the Journal News, a Gannett-owned newspaper covering Westchester and Rockland counties north of New York City. “The gun owner next door: What you don’t know about the weapons in your neighborhood” was the headline, and the story mostly focused on the paper’s effort to obtain pistol-permit data for the region, along with a discussion of whether such information should be public or private. In New York State (but not, since 1994, in Connecticut), the names and addresses of pistol-permit holders are public records by law.

It was a fairly routine article. But accompanying the story was an interactive Google map with dots identifying the location of each pistol permit in the counties. Zooming in and clicking on the dots revealed the name and street address of the pistol-permit holder – though possession of a permit does not necessarily mean an individual owns a firearm.

Fueled by social media, the response was immediate and overwhelmingly negative. Gun owners complained their privacy had been violated, and that the publication would make them targets for gun thieves. Some believed the paper was putting gun owners in the same category as sex offenders. One reader said publishing the map “is no different than Germans publishing the names of Jewish merchants and bankers back in 1933.” And by week’s end, blogger Robert Cox who runs “Talk of the Sound,” had published a Google map showing the home addresses, home telephone numbers and email addresses of 21 employees of the Journal News.

Janet Hasson, president and publisher of The Journal News Media Group, defended the map in a follow-up story. “New York residents have the right to own guns with a permit and they also have a right to access public information,” she was quoted as saying.

But the publication created unease among some data journalists. On an email listserv for computer-assisted reporting, several journalists wrote that the data, without further analysis, added no value to the story, and that the wholesale publication would likely generate legislative efforts to block public access to the data. One called the publication “data vomiting” and part of a trend toward publishing click-friendly datasets with little context.

Still, the map was click-friendly, generating tens if not hundreds of thousands of views, including some, presumably, from area residents who did find it valuable to identify the possible location of guns in their neighborhood.

Media outlets in the past have run lists of gun-permit owners, and – as in New York State – have faced backlash from angry gun owners, including tit-for-tat publication of the journalists’ residential information. This week, critics of the Journal News reacted gleefully to the dissemination of the journalists’ addresses and phone number, though one wondered if it would increase the likelihood that they would become victims of violence.

“I’m sure none of these people have guns or the ability to stop ‘bad’ people from doing bad things,” one wrote.

But that’s not entirely correct. The original Journal News story, written by staffer Dwight R. Worley, included this unusual editor’s note: “Journal News reporter Dwight R. Worley owns a Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum and has had a residence permit in New York City for that weapon since February 2011.”

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29 thoughts on “Where the Guns Are: Map Pinpointing Suburban New York Pistol Permits Draws Fire

    1. Dan

      I think half the anti-gunners are mad they can`t have guns because they are convicted felons or sex offenders. The other ones are crimanals that would like their job made easier for them.

  1. Paul

    Gun owners seem to think that owning a gun allows them to defend themselves/their property. Would not publishing such information also aid in deterring would-be criminals who target these homes. No objections here.

    Further, as a parent, I would rather know if the homes my children are visiting have firearms present.

    1. America Is Dying

      Would-be criminals who target these homes will now know where to target the ones who don’t have guns!

    2. Eileen

      These houses would be watched by burglars for the pattern of when no one is home. Criminals are lazy, not stupid.

      You should ask the parents of your child’s friends, then, if they have firearms and how the firearms are kept. I presume you’re not sending your children out to play at strangers’ homes. Conversation is better than jumping to conclusions.

  2. Tim

    I have at least two problems with that list: First, it only shows the LEGAL gun-owners, who have had training, and are likely to be storing/handling their guns responsibly, while omitting the ILLEGALLY possessed guns, with questionable behavior in the house. Second, if gun thieves know which houses HAVE guns, they can arrive prepared to shoot the homeowner. So this publication UNDERMINES public safety, while providing the ignorant with a FALSE sense of security.

    1. Bill

      Tim; I am in agreement with you on this one. Publishing names only punishes the gun owner. Freck that. However, when we abolish the 2nd amendment and require all. Firearms (except single bolt action hunting rifles) we can begin the process of building a safe and more secure society like every other developed nation on earth.

      The wild west mentality must go.

      1. Eileen

        Only single bolt action rifles? Not allowed to hunt deer or game birds with that, unless you have private land. And what is wrong with lever action rifles? Pump action & breach loading shotguns also on your ban list? You’re not familiar with hunting or hunting laws.

  3. Eric

    What’s the problem…people are so quick to proclaim that the second amendment gives them the right to own guns….ah the first amendment has a little thing called freedom of the press…..

  4. Michael Wayne

    It not the guns that are associated with the addresses on this map that should concern the press or anyone else as these individuals are complying with the laws affecting gun ownership and registration. It’s weapons possessed by those previously convicted of crimes who possess them illegally that should be of concern. However it is not politically instep to focus on the shorting comings of government and law enforcement in enforcing existing laws as it is much more politically expedient to stigmatized the 170,000 law abiding carry permit holders in Connecticut.

  5. gimmieabreak

    Good going! If I were a crook I would now know who doesn’t have a pistol permit which probably would mean they wouldn’t have any firearms in the house which would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about getting shot if I robbed them!

  6. susan dipinto

    Please remember if they touch the 2amendment what is stopping them from touching any other ones ! nothing that is the true problem !

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