A newspaper in suburban New York has received nationwide attention and criticism after publishing an interactive map that lists the names and addresses of gun permit holders in Rockland and Westchester counties. The Journal News sought this information following the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and was obtained legally under New York’s Freedom of Information Law.
The release of these records has ignited heated debates all across the country. While some readers appreciated the information, others believe that it was an invasion of privacy and fear it could also endanger gun permit holders. In an article titled “The Journal News is Armed and Dangerous” the Rockland County Times reports that concern over the negative reaction has prompted the newspaper to hire armed security guards to protect its Rockland County headquarters. According to police reports on public record, Journal News Rockland Editor Caryn A. McBride was alarmed by the volume of “negative correspondence,” namely an avalanche of phone calls and emails to the Journal News office, following the newspaper’s publication. This article also reports that New York State Senator Greg Ball has introduced state legislation to make information contained in an application for a pistol license confidential. Several Rockland County legislators plan to introduce a bipartisan-sponsored resolution with similar intent.
The Journal News stands by its publication and in a statement from Janet Hasson, president of the Journal News Media Group, wrote “Frequently, the work of journalists is not popular. One of our roles is to report publicly available information on timely issues, even when unpopular. 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.”
The Journal News had also planned to publish information about gun permit holders from a third county. But today Senator Greg Ball, along with Putnam County Clerk, Dennis Sant and other officials announced that they will not release the pistol permit data to the Journal News. Sant, who has served in the Putnam County Clerk’s Office since 1978, cited the safety of Putnam’s citizens as his reason for not complying with the newspaper’s request. Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith also weighed in saying that while he is a strong believer in open government he also believes this type of information should only be released for legal court proceedings. However, experts say the county may have a difficult time defending their refusal as current New York law classifies the information as public. Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, said that Putnam County would be violating state law if it withholds the information. “The name and address of any gun licensee are public,” he said in a statement.
You can track legislation sponsored by New York Senator Greg Ball here. To track New York State Assembly bills and other legislative information, visit the New York Free Public Records Directory. There you will also find access to many additional public records such as campaign finance disclosures, physician disciplinary actions, business license records, registered sex offenders, Uniform Commercial Code filings, inmate records, and more. If you are interested in uncovering what records are public in your state, be sure to check out the Free Public Records Directory. This site provides links to thousands of public records for every state and county in the United States. You can search for information by record type, state, county, municipality, or zip code.