Making a list, checking it twice

A newspaper in suburban New York has received a wave of criticism after publishing the names and addresses of all of the local residents with handgun permits in its coverage area.

Hundreds of residents in New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties, north of New York City, were surprised to find their names and addresses listed on a map posted by The Journal News on Dec. 23. Users can click any dot on the map to see which of their neighbors has a permit for a legally registered handgun. (Obviously, unregistered handguns possessed by criminals don’t show up.)

The map sparked more than 500 comments from readers within a day of its appearance on the web site, many of them voicing outrage.

“This is CRAZY!! why in the world would you post every licensed gun owner information?” asked subscriber Curtis Maenza. “What do you hope to accomplish by doing this. This is the type of thing you do for sex offenders not law abiding gun owners. What next? should i hang a flag outside my house that says I own a gun? I am canceling my subscription with your paper today!!!”

All of the names and addresses were compiled through public records, according to the editors. The paper has also requested the same information from Putnam County, which is still compiling the records for publication.

In a statement, The Journal News said its readers “are understandably interested to know about guns in their neighborhoods,” because of the conversation about gun control on its website after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., the week before.

“We obtained the names and addresses of Westchester and Rockland residents who are licensed to own handguns through routine Freedom of Information law requests. We also requested information on the number and types of guns owned by permit holders, but officials in the county clerks offices in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties maintained that those specifics were not public record,” the statement read.

“New York’s top public-records expert, Robert Freeman, disagrees,” the newspaper added.

The paper’s managers have declined to answer further questions about the map.

The permit information is indeed public information, and the newspaper is within its rights to publish it. Whether it’s wise to do so is a different question.

Reader Curtis Maenza is correct, it’s hard to miss the implication that the newspaper’s editors believe residents who have obeyed the state and local laws and registered their handguns are somehow a danger about whom their neighbors need to be warned rather than patriots, properly trained and background-checked, ready to defend their families.

Do the publishers imagine such notoriety will cause their subscribers to throw away hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of durable investments?

In a practical sense, such a map invites burglars to break into the listed homes and steal firearms when the owners are away – while also identifying presumably “gun-free” homes which criminals can feel more at ease to invade, even if residents are home.


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