8:45 p.m. | Updated In the days after the Connecticut school killings, a newspaper in nearby Westchester County, N.Y., decided to respond by publishing the names and addresses of handgun permit holders in its readership area. The newspaper, The Journal News, said that informing people about legal weapons in their neighborhoods was a public service.
Not everyone agrees.
The posting of the information online over the weekend has touched off an outcry across the country that has underscored the raw emotions surrounding the issue of guns. The interactive map put together by The Journal News, compiled from publicly available records, has already been shared tens of thousands of times on social media.
“Now everyone knows where the LEGAL GUNS are kept, a valuable piece of information for criminals,” wrote a Facebook user 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?”
The comment was characteristic of the negative reaction toward The Journal News, a Gannett-owned paper in White Plains. The map on its Web site is made up of thousands of dots, each representing a handgun permit holder in Westchester and Rockland Counties. By clicking a dot, users can view the name and address of the permit holder.
Among those whose names appeared were police officers, judges, battered women and “guys that did some undercover drug work,” said Scott Sommavilla, president of the Westchester County Firearm Owners Association.
The map includes information about more than 100 permit holders outside of the two counties, including dozens with home addresses in New York City, Connecticut and New Jersey. Many of those apparently obtained permits because they work in the counties.
Reginald Ward, a deputy police commissioner in Mount Vernon in Westchester, who lives in Manhattan, said he was surprised to learn that his name was on the map.
“I don’t understand why they’re publishing information with my name and address,” Mr. Ward said. “That should not be.”
While much of the reaction was negative, some praised The Journal News.
“I’d like to see a map of Nassau County, where I live,” said one commenter, Angela Minoggio of Port Washington. “If there’s such a guaranteed right to own firearms, why hide it?”
Poor judgment here-creates a map of unarmed homes for criminals | NY paper publishes map of gun permit holders: http://t.co/LgjTJxQs
Before this happens here, I’m going to go ahead and fess up. I own guns! http://t.co/5aGbp4jx
Janet Hasson, the president and publisher of The Journal News Media Group, defended the decision to publish the map.
“We knew publication of the database (as well as the accompanying article providing context) would be controversial,” she said in a statement on Wednesday. “But we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”
In an editor’s note with the article, the newspaper said the author of the article, Dwight R. Worley, owns a handgun and has a permit for it.
Still, readers angered by the map lashed out at Ms. Hasson, Mr. Worley and others at Gannett and The Journal News, putting some of their home addresses and telephone numbers online.
A North Carolina television station faced the same sorts of personalized attacks when it published an online database of gun permit holders in July. Howard Good, a professor of media ethics at the State University of New York at New Paltz, said that given the fierce debate over guns, such databases were a worthy endeavor for news organizations. But Professor Good said the coverage must also address public policy.
“It’s not enough to put images out there that provoke a visceral reaction,” he said.
For years, news organizations have used the Internet to publish vast amounts of searchable data. Yet readers can sometimes react negatively to the very act of collecting the information.
“I kind of got a sense from some of the comments that they were somehow being compared to sex offenders,” said Bill Grueskin, the dean of academic affairs at Columbia University’s journalism school. “They felt they were being branded with a scarlet G.”
Even so, Mr. Grueskin, who lives in Westchester, said he was intrigued to find out who had a handgun permit.
“There’s one down the block,” he said. “It’s not a neighbor that I know, but I’ll certainly be friendly the next time I see him walking the dog.”