Just before Christmas, the local newspaper in New York’s tony Westchester and Rockland Counties decided to respond to the horrific shootings in nearby Newton, Conn., with its own version of insanity.
The Journal News published an interactive “gun map” showing the names and addresses of thousands of local residents who have handgun permits. The article’s headline read, “The Gun Owner Next Door: What You Don’t Know about the Weapons in Your Neighborhood.” The paper explained that it had obtained the records by filing Freedom of Information Act requests with local officials. Publisher Janet Hasson defended the paper’s move by stating, “We felt that sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”
Judging from the outraged response, most of the paper’s readers and many local officials disagree. Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant, announcing he would not follow the lead of officials in Westchester and Rockland Counties, has refused to turn over records to the paper. By plotting the addresses of the homes with guns on Google Maps, the paper has effectively provided thieves with detailed directions to homes without guns — thereby “endangering our citizens” by making some homes more inviting to robbers, Sant said. County executive Mary Ellen Odell called the publication “reckless.” One high-ranking official in Westchester County I spoke with notes that the newspaper has put legitimate gun owners on an equal footing with sex offenders and other criminals. “Maybe I’d like to see a map published of those accused of defrauding the county government, but I’d never expect a paper to print one,” he says.
Some local officials say that anyone who has had contact with ex-criminals — including prosecutors, judges, jurors, and police — could feel threatened now. Aron Wieder, a Democratic county legislator in Rockland County, fears for his safety now that people know he doesn’t own a handgun. He applied for a pistol permit last week. “I never owned a gun, but now I have no choice,” he told reporters in a news conference Friday. “I’ll do anything, anything to protect my family.”
Rockland County sheriff Louis Falco told Newsday that he was appalled to learn that inmates at the county’s jail were taunting guards in the days after the Journal News published its map. “They have inmates coming up to them and telling them exactly where they live,” Falco said. “That’s not acceptable to me.” Charlotte Swift, of Orangetown, says she experienced a flood of emotion when she first saw the list: “I originally obtained a gun permit because I had previously been married to a man who attempted to strangle me. . . . The first emotion I felt was, ‘Oh my gosh, he can find me.’”
Ironically, some of the harshest critics of the Journal News’s decision to publish the map are former burglars, such as Walter T. Shaw, an ex-burglar whom the FBI blames for more than 3,000 break-ins during the 1960s and 1970s. Shaw told Fox News: “Having a list of who has a gun is like gold — why rob that house when you can hit the one next door, where there are no guns?”
Equally disturbing, crooks who need weapons now know exactly where they can steal them. “Guns are on the top of the list of what you want to steal,” Bob Portenier, a former armed house robber, told Fox. “They can sell them to a gangbanger who ends up killing someone.”
But such arguments make no impression on knee-jerk supporters of gun control. In Connecticut, Democratic representative Stephen Dargan, the co-chair of the legislature’s public-safety committee, has introduced a bill to make public the names and addresses of 170,000 people who hold handgun permits in the state.
“I don’t know why a responsible gun owner is worried about whether a permit for a revolver is FOI-able or not,” he told reporters. In his view, it’s reasonable for people to want such information. “Maybe their kids are going over to Johnny Smith’s, and maybe they want to see whether they have guns in the house,” he suggested.
Richard Burgess, head of a local group that advocates for Second Amendment rights, says Dargan’s bill is nonsensical. Homeowners with rifles or shotguns don’t need permits in the state, he observed to a Hartford Courant reporter, so no one would know if those weapons were in a home. “So, really, you’re not getting a benefit out of it, and you’re only putting the gun owner in danger.”
Liberals such as Dargan don’t see anything wrong in publicly shaming those who legally own guns. When it comes to their own personal safety, though, they are far more sensitive.
Take the Journal News executives who decided to publish the gun map. The newspaper was so inundated with complaints that shortly after Christmas it took extra security precautions and hired security guards — who were armed — to patrol its Rockland County headquarters. The executives reported no incidents of any kind at the building, but they turned over at least two e-mails they found troubling. The local police said they didn’t find the e-mails threatening and concluded that they “did not constitute an offense.” The Journal News chose not to share with its readers the information that it had hired armed security guards. That revelation came from a competing newspaper, the Rockland County Times, which concluded that the Journal News conducts itself according to the double standard: “Guns are good for the goose but not for the gander.”
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.