Publishing Names of Gun Owners Triggers U.S. Debate

31 December 2012

The publication by a New York newspaper of the names and addresses of handgun owners, although public information, has generated a substantial controversy.

The Journal News published an interactive map to make it easy for readers to find some gun owners in New York’s Rockland and Westchester counties, outside of New York City. The paper filed a series of state freedom of information requests to get the data and plans to update the maps.

“The map indicates the addresses of all pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. Each dot represents an individual permit holder licensed to own a handgun — a pistol or revolver. The data does not include owners of long guns — rifles or shotguns — which can be purchased without a permit. 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.

“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,” said CynDee Royle, editor and vice president/news, as quoted in a blog post by Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center.

“People are concerned about who owns guns and how many of them there are in their neighborhoods,” she said. “Our Freedom of Information request also sought specifics on how many and what types of weapons people owned. That portion of the request was denied.”

A U.S. journalism research and education center, the Poynter Institute, published an article by Julie Moos describing how other newspapers have handled similar information, with mixed results. Poynter senior faculty Al Tompkins was quoted as saying: “Publishing gun owners’ names makes them targets for theft or public ridicule. It is journalistic arrogance to abuse public record privilege, just as it is to air 911 calls for no reason or to publish the home addresses of police or judges without cause.”

For other articles on the controversy see: The Washington Post, CNN, the Huffington Post, and Reuters, and a Los Angeles Times editorial defending the Journal News.

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