A newspaper in suburban New York has received a wave of criticism from its readers after publishing the names and addresses of all of the local residents with handgun permits in its coverage area, reported WHAS-TV Channel 11, the local ABC affiliate, on Christmas Day.
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 Sunday, 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, which are far more likely to be involved in crimes, 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 at the paper’s decision to disseminate the information.
“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!!!”
“How about a map of the editorial staff and publishers of Gannett and Journal News with names and addresses of their families… ?” asked commenter George Thompson.
Actually, one reader proceeded to take Mr. Thompson up on his suggestion. Blogger Chris Fountain responded by publishing a map of his own, reports John Surico of New York’s Village Voice. This map featured the names and home locations of the employees of The Journal News, including a bit from Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” called “Where the White Women At?”
“I just thought they were being hypocrites,” Fountain told CNN. “I’ve received e-mails from abused women who were under protective order and in hiding and they’re terribly afraid that now their names and addresses are all over the Internet and accessible through that map.”
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, according to The Journal News’ website.
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,” it 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 and its 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, as though they’re convicted sex offenders or Typhoid Marys likely to spread infection — rather than patriots, properly trained and background-checked, ready to defend their families and other innocent parties against tyrants and aggressors.
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 include rapists can feel more at ease to invade, even if residents are home.
Should we really expect the local plaintiffs’ bar to refrain from asking the court to test the newspaper’s liability, the next time a woman or child is raped in a home thus identified as “self-defense-weapon-free zone?”
But there’s another possible unintended consequence that the publishers, apparently blindered by their scorn for the Bill of Rights, may have failed to consider. Since such “permit” records are indeed public information, and anyone can publish such information at any time, perhaps even the residents of New York state will finally come to realize what Americans in many other states (states with far lower crime rates, including Vermont and Alaska) have already figured out, and convey that conclusion to their legislators: that the only solution is to stop licensing and registering law-abiding gun owners, as though they’re convicted sex offenders or dangerous dogs.
After all, we don’t allow the government to register those who wish to attend a church or synagogue, or to write a letter to the editor. Like registering law-abiding firearm owners, that would be designed to intimidate or discourage, in addition to being a prima facie “infringement” and/or “law respecting,” which would make it a violation of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.