Newspaper can't have more gun permit data, county says, after publishing names, addresses outraged community

The Journal News | Rockland County Times | Politico | Poynter

Community anger over its decision to publish the names and addresses of gun owners in two New York counties did not deter The Journal News from plans to publish the same information for a third county. But that third county now says it will not provide the Gannett paper with the data, which has been considered public information.

Immediately after The Journal News published maps identifying gun permit holders in Westchester County, where it is based, and nearby Rockland County, New York State Sen. Greg Ball said he would introduce legislation to limit public access to that information, which the newspaper obtained through Freedom of Information requests.

“The asinine editors at the Journal News have gone out of their way to place a virtual scarlet letter on law abiding firearm owners throughout the region," Ball said in a statement, "and I thank God that Putnam County has a clerk with the guts to stand up and draw the line here.”

Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant said, “Since The Journal News has published this map, Putnam has received hundreds of calls from Putnam residents urging us not to release these records ... There is the rule of law, and there is right and wrong and The Journal News is clearly wrong. I could not live with myself if one Putnam pistol permit holder was put in harm’s way, for the sole purpose of selling newspapers.”

Outraged readers and conservative commentators published the names and addresses of journalists at The Journal News in retaliation. After receiving multiple threats, the paper has even hired armed security guards to staff their headquarters through today at least, reports The Rockland County Times.

The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association has asked advertisers to boycott the paper, according to Politico.

This is not the first time The Journal News has published gun permit information, and it is not the only news organization to have done so.

But the paper did provide the most detailed information with little context, and that caused Poynter's Al Tompkins to question the journalistic purpose of the project.

"Just because information is public does not make it newsworthy. People own guns for a wide range of law-abiding reasons. If you are not breaking the law, there is no compelling reason to publish the data," said Tompkins.

"The problem is not that The Journal News was too aggressive. The problem is that the paper was not aggressive enough in its reporting to justify invading the privacy of people who legally own handguns in two counties it serves."

Journal News Publisher Janet Hasson says the paper will fight Putnam County for the gun permit information.

Related: First Amendment Center CEO Ken Paulson, who was editor of The Journal News in the 1990s, says "Although we can debate the merits of the journalism, there is no question about the paper’s First Amendment protection. It had every right to publish this public information." || Maryland delegate proposes legislation to "prohibit newspapers and other publications from printing personal or private information about firearm owners." (Baltimore City Paper)


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