A few days ago, the Journal News, a newspaper servicing what we like to refer to as Barely Upstate New York, published a map of the names and addresses of everyone in Westchester and Rockland counties who owns a gun permit, which it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Predictably, many gun owners and gun-rights advocates were not happy about this. At all. As the Journal News itself reports, “Hundreds of callers have complained, claiming publication of the database put their safety at risk or violated their privacy. Others claimed publication was illegal. Many of the callers were vitriolic and some threatened members of the newspaper staff.”
“We knew publication of the database would be controversial but we felt sharing as much information as we could about gun ownership in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,” the paper’s editor and vice-president of news says. The publisher also points out that the permits are, by law, public record. “New York residents have the right to own guns with a permit,” she says, “and they also have a right to access public information.”
Regardless of the paper’s right to compile that information and release it publicly, the question is what purpose it served. As Chuck Schumer wrote recently in a Washington Post op-ed, “moderate gun owners have become convinced by the NRA … that the goal of all gun-safety advocates is to take away their guns. These owners view even the most reasonable gun-safety proposals with suspicion, fearing a slippery slope to a ban on firearms. This paranoia is what gives the gun lobby its power.” If the paper’s concern is gun violence, publishing a map that singles out gun owners as if they were pedophiles, or future mass murderers, would seem to be counterproductive.