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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Law - "A suburban New York newspaper is under fire from conservatives and gun rights advocates after publishing the names and addresses - and a locator map of people who possess pistol permits in several suburban counties"

That is the headline to this Dec. 25th story in Politico, reported by Katie Glueck.

First, some Indiana background. This Jan. 27, 2010 ILB entry quoted from a Fort Wayne Journal Gazette editorial about a bill then pending in the General Assembly (the bill later became law):

House Bill 1068 would seal a public record, an act that almost never serves the public. The bill would make permits to carry handguns a private record, no longer open to the public. These are not “gun permits”; these are licenses that specifically allow people to carry handguns in public. Such permits are not necessary to carry rifles or shotguns, nor are they needed to have a handgun in your home.

The move comes after the Indianapolis Star and the Bloomington Herald-Times published information about gun permits. Notably, neither paper published the names and addresses of permit holders – the information the gun lobby says should be secret. The Star’s story, in fact, illustrated exactly why the permits should be a public record: It found numerous instances where the carry permits were wrongly issued to convicted felons or unwisely issued over the recommendations of local police chiefs and sheriffs.

Supporters of the law want to deny the scrutiny that could uncover future cases where convicted felons get permits to carry concealed handguns. And gun rights advocates should note that public scrutiny of records can also guard against people being wrongly denied carry permits.

The Jan. 27, 2010 ILB entry also quoted from a story by Mary Beth Schneider in the Indianapolis Star headed "House OKs bill to keep gun permits secret."
House Bill 1068, which was authored by Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, was prompted by databases published in The Indianapolis Star and the Bloomington Herald-Times. Those databases did not identify gun permit holders by name or address, but did allow people to search their ZIP code to see the number of permits held in that area.

The Star used the gun permit information to investigate the state’s process for issuing them, learning that violent individuals were granted permits, sometimes against the wishes of local police departments.

The Jan. 27, 2010 ILB entry also contain a link to the original Oct. 11, 2009 Star investigative story by Mark Alesia, Heather Gillers, Tim Evans and Mark Nichols, headed "Should these Hoosiers have been allowed to carry a gun in public?" The Star story is still accessible here (although slow to load); but the gun permit database itself evidently is no longer available. The Bloomington Herald-Times database is still available, to subscribers.

This ILB update on Feb. 14, 2010 quoted from an Indianapolis Star editorial:

Tuesday, the Indiana House resoundingly passed a bill to deny the press and public access to the public records from which The Star learned that Indiana State Police routinely grant gun permits to individuals known for violence. State law allows for the denial of permits, local police often object to the granting of them, and those who get them sometimes go on to commit crimes.

The newspaper would not have learned this without entree to the total gun permit archive, with its names and addresses. The Star, in its online database, did not publish those names and addresses; only general information about gun permits by race, gender, age and ZIP Code.

That was enough, some lawmakers have said, to scare and even outrage them as to the endangerment of privacy, Second Amendment rights and life itself. Gun owners and non-owners alike bombarded them with pleas to keep the bad guys from knowing who might have a gun in his house and who might be unarmed, supporters of secrecy declare.

Far fewer have spoken up for the cause of open and responsible government. No one thus far has proposed a legislative inquiry into lax enforcement of a legislative mandate governing deadly weapons.

Okay, now back to the present and yesterday's Politico story, which reports:
A suburban New York newspaper is under fire from conservatives and gun rights advocates after publishing the names and addresses - and a locator map of people who possess pistol permits in several suburban counties.

“The newspaper didn’t even feel it necessary to publish a rationale for that violation of privacy — publishing the names and addresses of gun owners makes them more vulnerable to robbery when they aren’t at home, since criminals will know where the guns are,” charged Ben Shapiro of Breitbart.com.

The story, published by the White Plains-based Journal News and posted on its website, LoHud.com, includes maps of Westchester county to the north of New York City and Rockland county to the north west — with the names and addresses of people with gun licenses represented by dots — on which readers can click to learn that information. It was posted over the weekend.

“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 newspaper cautioned, and noted that the information was the result of Freedom of Information Act requests. * * *

In a separate piece, the Journal News cited the interest readers might have in public information about gun owners.

“In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and amid renewed nationwide calls for stronger gun control, some Lower Hudson Valley residents would like lawmakers to expand the amount of information the public can find out about gun owners,” wrote the paper’s Dwight R. Worley. “About 44,000 people in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam — one out of every 23 adults — are licensed to own a handgun.”

But that didn’t resonate with some outraged readers, who posted scathing comments at the bottom of the piece, via accounts linked to Facebook.

“This is CRAZY!!” wrote Curtis Maenza. “why in the world would you post every licensed gun owner information?? What do you hope to accomplish by doing this. This is the type of thing you do for sex offenders not law abiding gun owners. What next? should i hang a flag outside my house that says I own a gun? I am canceling my subscription with your paper today!!!”

Here is the White Plains NY Journal News overview, along with the maps, as published Dec. 22nd. Here is the accompanying story by Dwight R. Worley. Some quotes:
In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and amid renewed nationwide calls for stronger gun control, some Lower Hudson Valley residents would like lawmakers to expand the amount of information the public can find out about gun owners. About 44,000 people in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam — one out of every 23 adults — are licensed to own a handgun.

Anyone can find out the names and addresses of handgun owners in any county with a simple Freedom of Information Law request, and the state’s top public records expert told The Journal News last week that he thinks the law does not bar the release of other details. But officials in county clerk’s offices in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam maintain the public does not have a right to see such things as the specific permits an individual has been issued, the types of handguns a person possesses or the number of guns he or she owns — whether one or a dozen.

Combined with laws that allow the purchase of rifles and shotguns without a permit, John Thompson, a program manager for Project SNUG at the Yonkers Family YMCA, said that leaves the public knowing little about the types of deadly weapons that might be right next door.

“I would love to know if someone next to me had guns. It makes me safer to know so I can deal with that,” said Thompson, whose group counsels youths against gun violence. “I might not choose to live there.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 26, 2012 02:42 PM
Posted to General Law Related