NEW YORK (Reuters) - A suburban New York newspaper that sparked an uproar among gun enthusiasts by publishing names and addresses of residents holding pistol permits is now planning to publish even more identities of permit-toting locals.
Further names and addresses will be added as they become available to a map originally published on December 24 in the White Plains, New York-based Journal News, the newspaper said.
The original map listed thousands of pistol permit holders in suburban Westchester and Rockland counties just north of New York City.
Along with an article entitled “The gun owner next door: What you don’t know about the weapons in your neighbourhood,” the map was compiled in response to the December 14 shooting deaths of 26 children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut, editors of the Gannett Corp.-owned newspaper said.
The next batch of names will be permit holders in suburban Putnam County, New York, where the county clerk told the newspaper it is still compiling information.
Some 44,000 people are licensed to own pistols in the three counties, the newspaper said. Owners of rifles and shotguns do not need permits, the newspaper said.
The publication prompted outrage, particularly on social media sites, among gun owners.
“Do you fools realize that you also made a map for criminals to use to find homes to rob that have no guns in them to protect themselves?” Rob Seubert of Silver Spring, Maryland, posted on the newspaper’s web site. “What a bunch of liberal boobs you all are.”
Republican state Senator Greg Ball of Patterson, New York, said he planned to introduce legislation to keep permit information private except to prosecutors and police.
A similar bill that he introduced earlier as an Assemblyman failed in the state Assembly.
“The asinine editors at the Journal News have once again gone out of their way to place a virtual scarlet letter on law abiding firearm owners throughout the region,” Ball wrote on his Senate web site.
The newspaper’s editor and vice president of news, CynDee Royle, earlier in the week defended the decision to list the permit holders.
“We knew publication of the database would be controversial, but we felt sharing as much information as we could about gun ownership in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,” she said.
Some critics retaliated by posting reporters’ and editors’ addresses and other personal information online.
Howard Good, a journalism professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, called the critics’ response childish and petulant.
“It doesn’t move the issue of gun control to the level of intelligent public discussion,” he said. “Instead, it transforms what should be a rational public debate on a contentious issue into ugly gutter fighting.”
Good said the information about permit holders was public and, if presented in context, served a legitimate interest.
But media critic Al Tompkins of the Florida-based Poynter Institute wrote online this week that the newspaper’s reporting had not gone far enough to justify the permit holders’ loss of privacy.
“If journalists could show flaws in the gun permitting system, that would be newsworthy,” he said. “Or, for example, if gun owners were exempted from permits because of political connections, then journalists could better justify the privacy invasion.”
Tompkins said he feared the dispute might prompt lawmakers to play to privacy fears.
“The net effect of the abuse of public records from all sides may well be a public distaste for opening records, which would be the biggest mistake of all,” he said.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by David Gregorio