A newspaper in New York state published on Monday an extensive database of gun owners in Westchester and Rockland counties, saying the information was in the public’s interest following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
The Journal News immediately found itself at the center of a firestorm of controversy over the decision, even though the names and addresses of gun permit holders were obtained through a public information request. They tried to get even more specific by asking for how many guns and what kind are owned by individual permit holders, but officials refused to turn over any additional materials.
“I’d rather have a gun owner as my neighbor then a journalist, one is far more responsible then the other,” commenter Julie Green wrote.
“Do you fools realize that you also made a map for criminals to use to find homes to rob that have no guns in them to protect themselves?” commenter Rob Seubert added. “What a bunch of liberal boobs you all are.”
Others responded to the article by threatening to sue or organize a class action against the paper, which featured the data with an interactive map showing the addresses of more than 44,000 individuals licensed to carry firearms. The report added that the journalist behind the story, Dwight R. Worley, is also a licensed gun owner.
“Anyone can find out the names and addresses of handgun owners in any county with a simple Freedom of Information Law request, and the state’s top public records expert told The Journal News last week that he thinks the law does not bar the release of other details,” Worley wrote.
The paper additionally featured a video of Dana Schubert, a retired police officer from Newtown, Connecticut, discussing the importance of securing firearms in gun safes and with trigger locks.
“If these firearms [in Newtown] had been secured, as they should have been, [the shooter] would not have been able to access them and carry out this act,” Schubert said. “He would have at least had to try a lot harder, and that’s why I believe that securing your firearms in a safe and not sharing access to those is the responsible thing to do.”
UPDATE: The Journal-News has spoken up in its defense. President and publisher of the Journal News Group Janet Hansson told Politico, “We knew publication of the database (as well as the accompanying article providing context) would be controversial, but we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”
“Frequently, the work of journalists is not popular,” she continued. “One of our roles is to report publicly available information on timely issues, even when unpopular.”
Update, 5:33 p.m. EST: Salon has reported that Christopher Fountain, a Connecticut real estate developer, has published the home addresses and phone numbers of Journal-News staff members — including a photo Hansson’s home — and of Gracia Martore, chief executive officer of Gannett, the newspaper’s parent company.
This video was published by The Journal News on December 24, 2012.
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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