A couple of weeks ago, a New York based newspaper called the Journal News took it upon themselves to aggregate and publish the names and addresses of all legal gun-permit owners in the region.
The backlash was swift, prompting unified outcries for the paper to take down the locations from their online affiliate site, lohud.com. Critics claimed it would enable criminals to more easily identify the which homes to break in to, putting many residents in serious danger
In response to the public reaction, the Journal News not only said that they would not take down the current list, but would seek to add to it.
The Journal News abdicated responsibility for any wrongdoing in their aggregation of personal information, declaring that it was all available through Freedom of Information requests.
In a previous article, we noted that not all professional journalists share the sentiments of the editors at the Journal news:
I am not a big fan of the maps that show sex offenders, but at least there is a logical reason for posting them …. The permit holders are accused of nothing….
I like it when journalists take heat for an explosive, necessary, courageous investigation that exposes important wrongdoing. There is journalistic purpose and careful decision-making supporting those stories. But The News Journal is taking heat for starting a gunfight just because it could.
Additionally, at the time the original publication began receiving national attention, I stated,
They may not have broken any laws in aggregating the personal information of gun permit owners, but the ethical impropriety of doing so is obvious.
The serious consequences of that ethical impropriety are now showing through, and the public outcry is growing louder.
Law enforcement officials from a New York region where a local paper published a map identifying gun owners say prisoners are using the information to intimidate guards.
Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco, who spoke at a news conference flanked by other county officials, said the Journal News’ decision to post an online map of names and addresses of handgun owners Dec. 23 has put law enforcement officers in danger.
“They have inmates coming up to them and telling them exactly where they live. That’s not acceptable to me,” Falco said, according to Newsday.
It’s not just law enforcement officials who are in danger.
Legis. Aron Wieder (D-Spring Valley) called the publication of the list “irresponsible journalism” and said he now fears for his safety because the map broadcast that he does not have a gun license. At the news conference Friday morning, he handed a $150 certified check and a completed pistol permit application to Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato.
“I never owned a gun but now I have no choice,” Wieder said. “I have been exposed as someone that has no gun. And I’ll do anything, anything to protect my family.”
In that last sentence, Wieder perfectly summed up the emotions that prompted such a vociferous backlash from the community.
The Journal News, whether intentional or not, has put peoples’ families in danger. They didn’t break any laws at the time by aggregating people’s personal information, but that may all change soon.
Piperato, who also serves as president to the New York State County Clerks Association, said all 62 counties in the state are supporting the state legislation to amend the law that makes gun permit holder information public.
“I’ve received hundreds of calls these last two weeks from residents in this county, both who have permits and those who do not have permits, who fear for their life,” Piperato said. “My heart goes out to them and I condemn what The Journal News has done.”
Bad journalism, in this instance, may give way to good legislation. But it shouldn’t take a wholesale feeling of helplessness among residents of an entire region of New York to achieve that end.