"Where are the gun permits in your neighborhood?" That's the question posed by The Journal News, a New York newspaper that published a Google map on Sunday that shows the names and addresses of pistol or revolver permits in Westchester and Rockland counties.
The timing of the Journal News report is especially sensitive because of the gun control debate sparked by the fatal mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
The information was gathered through requests filed under Freedom of Information laws, but the Journal didn't get everything it wanted. The paper also requested the number and types of guns owned by permit holders, which the state's public information officer denied. The map omits owners of rifles and shotguns, which can be purchased in New York without a permit. A third county, Putnam County, is still in the process of handing the information over to the paper for publication.
The media have published information about gun owners before
This isn't the first time the media have published public information about gun owners. The Roanoke Times in Virginia and WRAL-TV in North Carolina have both published similar information dumps before. The Roanoke Times eventually retracted its database, which contained individual names but not addresses, citing concerns over accuracy. WRAL did not display individuals' names, only the street on which the permit was registered.
In Philadelphia, the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections was criticized for publishing a map of permit holders' names and addresses, as well as the names and addresses of people who appealed after their permit was denied. The city and the Philadelphia magazine blog redacted the names and addresses after the story went viral.
New York residents are required to renew their permits every five years and the information is public by state law, but gun owners and privacy advocates are predictably upset at what they say is an unnecessary invasion. "I'd rather have a gun owner as my neighbor then a journalist, one is far more responsible then the other," reads the first comment on the story. The paper defended its decision to print the names in a statement to ABC News, saying readers "are understandably interested to know about guns in their neighborhoods."
Update: In direct response to the Journal News report, a Connecticut-area lawyer has posted personal information belonging to over 50 of the newspaper's employees. Christopher Fountain published phone numbers and addresses of the journalists — including the original story's author, Dwight Worley — on his blog. Since then (and with assistance from his readers), he's added details for many more employees including executives at Gannett Company, which operates The Journal News. Critics of the interactive gun map maintain it could lead to targeted firearm thefts and allow criminals to focus on unarmed homes.