First sex offenders, then gun permit holders…

Click on this image of the map to get to the original article.

Click on this image of the map to get to the original article.

Chip Oglesby (the guy who very kindly gave this blog a whole new theme this week, just because y’all complained about the comments format in the previous new one) brings this to my attention today.

The L.A. Times is reporting on a contretemps precipitated by another newspaper, on the East Coast:

It’s getting hard to find a public official in Putnam County, N.Y., who thinks putting the names of gun permit-holders on a map does anybody good.

On Thursday, a flock of officials gathered at a news conference to announce their support for County Clerk Dennis Sant’s decision to refuse a public-records request by the White Plains-based Journal News for a list of licensed handgun permit-holders, whose names and addresses are public record under law.

The state’s top open-records official previously told the Los Angeles Times that county officials would be breaking the law by refusing the newspaper’s request.

On Dec. 22, the newspaper published online an interactive map that included the names and address of people who had pistol permits  licensed by Westchester and Rockland counties. The map led to so much outrage that the newspaper has hired armed guards to protect its newsroom. Reporting on one recent incident, the newspaper said it received a suspicious envelope containing white powder on Wednesday evening, which was deemed to be nontoxic.

The Journal News also wants to publish a similar map for Putnam County, but officials have resisted. On Thursday, there was no indication of the battle easing after Putnam County officials said they’re prepared to take the fight all the way to its conclusion, according to statements released by the office of state Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican who represents the area…

This raises all sorts of questions, mainly about privacy in an age in which very little privacy exists. Also about the principle that so many newspaper editors like to go on about, which holds that “the people have a right to know” pretty much anything that an editor gets it into his head to publish.

Do the people have not only a right, but a need, to see this map? And does it outweigh any presumed privacy that a gun permit holder might feel entitled to? I mean, it’s one thing for permits to be public information, so that an individual holder could be looked up. It’s another to publish a map, holding these people up to… I don’t know what, really. Because I don’t really understand what practical purpose the map serves. Is it intended as a sort of sociological study of the county, to satisfy someone’s curiosity as to where permit holders are most likely to live?

I’m curious to know the editors’ thinking on that, because without knowing that, I don’t know what to think. Going by this story, the editors haven’t been forthcoming on that point. But the publisher said, “We believe the law is clear that this is public information and the residents of Putnam County are entitled to see it. We’re troubled that county officials have apparently switched their position since we first requested the information.”

In response, a critic of the newspaper’s position says, “The Journal News has really come up with the perfect map for the perpetrators and for the stalkers and for the criminals. They have yet to give us a cogent reason why, except for the reason that they can. I am sorry — that is not acceptable.”

Frankly, I’m not persuaded either that the editors had a clear, thought-out reason for using that portion of their newshole for this purpose. Nor am I convinced that anyone has been harmed by their doing so. But that’s the way it is with so many things that people get really, really stirred up about…

7 thoughts on “First sex offenders, then gun permit holders…

  1. Bryan Caskey

    The Journal News needs to update it’s map to put a little dot on their own building.

    “The Journal News has hired armed security guards from New City-based RGA Investigations and that they are manning the newspaper’s Rockland County headquarters at 1 Crosfield Ave., West Nyack, through at least tomorrow, Wednesday, January 2, 2013.”

    That’s odd. I wonder why the Journal’s editors didn’t simply “remain calm, project authority, and think”. Any thoughts on that, Mark?

  2. tavis micklash

    This makes me sick. Ive been a HUGE backer of FOIA in SC. I follow Rep. Taylors bill and hope it succeeds where it fell short last session.

    The paper doubling down on this and wanting to continue to pursue this issue seems mind boggling.

    Make no mistake they WILL get the names if they are public record. They also should get the bad publicity from this. If the people up there don’t like the actions then just stop buying the paper. Im sure there is some other news source to subscribe too.

    Using FOIA as a weapon to try to shame or embarrass people hurts the efforts of those trying to pass responsible FOIA reforms in a state that badly needs them.

  3. Burl Burlingame

    I like the map, as it shows cluster patterns, and that’s always enlightening. But the paper also published a list of names and addresses, which was guaranteed to blow up in their faces. This was a stunt.

  4. Bryan Caskey

    This post leads me to an interesting question, and since Brad is a former newspaperman, I’d be interested in his answer: What is the purpose of a newspaper? There is a certain side that is meta “HEY! HERE’S WHAT’S GOING ON” and there’s a side that is normative “HEY! THIS NEEDS TO BE DONE!”.

    What is the purpose of a newspaper? What ethical obligations does it have, and what boundaries should it observe?

  5. Scout

    I think the rationale was supposed to be that people have the right to know where guns are so that they can be aware of potential dangers to themselves, since for example, parents may not want to allow their children into the home of a neighbor if they know there is a gun in the house. Part of the argument is that despite the best intentions of the permit owners the mere presence of a gun is a danger since it has the potential to fall into unintended hands. That at least is the nature of the argument that I heard being made on one of the Sunday talk shows by some newspaper that had done this – I don’t think it was this one though – seems like it was somewhere in the northeast. I’m guessing it’s a similar rationale. People on the other side were arguing that among other things it put people who chose to not have guns in greater danger since that information was also readily apparent from the map. My feeling is just because it’s public information doesn’t mean it has to be easy to get – it doesn’t have to be on the internet. It could be like tax information on the internet – it is public information and it can be on the internet, but if you don’t want your information on the internet, you can opt out. People can still find it but they have to make the effort to go to the courthouse themselves. Why can’t it work like that.

    BTW, do y’all see my kitty’s picture over there now? I made a gravatar, and I see it on my phone but not on my pc – just wondered if it is showing up for others. Thanks.

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