A Newspaper Publishes Names of Gun Permit Holders, Prompting Outrage

A newspaper’s interactive map listing the names and addresses of gun permit holders in two New York counties has drawn a gathering avalanche of outrage this week.

As word spread across social media, thousands left comments expressing disbelief and anger at the map, compiled from publicly available information on handgun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland Counties and published online over the weekend by The Journal News, a newspaper based in White Plains and owned by the Gannett Company.

The clickable map is made up of thousands of dots, each representing a permit holder; by clicking the dots, users can view the name and address of each permit holder. Rifle and shotgun owners were not included because, the newspaper noted, those guns can be purchased without a permit. “Being included in this map does not mean the individual at a specific location owns a weapon, just that they are licensed to do so,” The Journal News cautioned.

The map thrust the paper directly into the heated national debate over guns that has followed the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., further churning the already frothy argument between those seeking curbs on certain types of weapons and those advocating gun rights.

“Now everyone knows where the LEGAL GUNS are kept, a valuable piece of information for criminals,” wrote an irate Facebook commenter who gave his name as Mike Pandolfo. “Why don’t you do something helpful, like trying to find out where the ILLEGAL GUNS are kept? That would be helpful to the noncriminal population.”

The comment was characteristic of the reaction of many of the thousands that had been attached to the article as it flew around social networking and news organizations’ sites, seemingly shared more in outrage than in support.

Poor judgment here-creates a map of unarmed homes for criminals | NY paper publishes map of gun permit holders: http://t.co/LgjTJxQs

Carol Roth (@caroljsroth) 26 Dec 12

Before this happens here, I’m going to go ahead and fess up. I own guns! http://t.co/5aGbp4jx

Duane Biggs (@DuaneBiggs) 26 Dec 12

The map — followed by an article published online Sunday titled “The Gun Owner Next Door: What You Don’t Know About the Weapons in Your Neighborhood” — also includes dozens of permit holders who reside outside of the two counties, including at least 15 in New York City and several in Connecticut and New Jersey.

In an editor’s note published with the article, the newspaper said that the author of the article, Dwight R. Worley, is himself the owner of a handgun — a Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum — and has had a residence permit for the gun since February 2011.

Editors at the newspaper and representatives at Gannett did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

But Janet Hasson, the president and publisher of the Journal News Media Group, defended the decision to publish the map.

“Frequently, the work of journalists is not popular,” she said in a statement. “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.”

Her comments came as some furious readers lashed out at Ms. Hasson. According to Gannett Blog, an independent blog that follows the company, her home address and telephone number have been passed along by those disgusted by the map.

Despite the reaction, the newspaper is promising to enlarge the map to include handgun permit holders in Putnam County as well. “Putnam is still putting together its records and could not immediately provide any data,” The Journal News said on its Web site over the weekend. “The map will be updated when that data is released.”

Ms. Hasson said the paper had no intention of changing its plans to publish the same information for permit holders in Putnam County “when the information becomes available.”

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