January 4, 2013

The Journal News | USA Today | NBC Connecticut
New York state Sen. Greg Ball and Assemblyman Steve Katz said at a press conference Thursday they want a law making information about handgun permits confidential.

We have received calls from victims of domestic violence,” Ball said. “We have a Journal News editorial board that has created an interactive map that allows those who seek to harm these people a way to their doorstep.”

At the same time, Putnam County officials said they’d fight a request from The Journal News to release data about gun owners. Ball, John Ferro writes, “said he envisioned legislation that would limit release of the gun database to law enforcement agencies, which could then decide whether or not to disseminate the information further.”

Rockland County, N.Y., officials also want to change New York Freedom of Information law to shield gun owners.

The Journal News published the names and addresses of local gun owners in its readership area in late December. Rockland and Westchester County provided the data, which are public records, to the newspaper. “I am a man who follows the rule of law,” Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant said at Thursday’s conference. “We are not talking about the rule of law anymore. We are talking about endangering citizens.” The map includes permit-owners’ names but is not searchable by name.

New York law is fairly clear on this point: Public records requests can’t be denied unless they constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” which under the law’s definition includes employment or medical records, use of names and addresses for fundraising purposes, if the records would result in “economic or personal hardship to the subject party” among other exceptions.

The law also prohibits release of data that “if disclosed could endanger the life or safety of any person.”

Robert Freeman, the executive director of New York’s Committee on Open Government, told Cathy Lynn Grossman and Ferro that “the name and address of any person to whom an application for any license has been granted shall be a public record.”

Hence, Putnam County is legally required to comply with The Journal News’ request, Freeman said.

I’ve left a message with Freeman’s office (curiously, the COOG staffers’ email addresses aren’t easy to find) to inquire whether the safety exemption could be applied to handgun permits — though such a mechanism might require people fighting records’ disclosure to assert that, essentially, owning a handgun makes them less safe.

Meanwhile, a Connecticut legislator is trying to make gun-permit records public, LeAnne Gendreau, Liz Dahlem and Josh Chapin report: “Names of gun owners are now confidential, but [State Rep. Stephan] Dargen believes if people know how many guns are spread across communities, they’ll be safer,” they write.

Related: Newspapers can’t have more gun permit data, county says, after publishing names, addresses, outraged community | Where the Journal News went wrong in publishing names, addresses of gun owners | Journal News will screen incoming mail after it receives suspicious powder 

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
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