The publisher of The Journal News today said the newspaper has removed an interactive map listing details of handgun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties from its web site, Lohud.com.
The map and a report about gun permits in the two counties was published in the wake of the deadly shooting in Newtown, CT, where 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed.
"In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, The Journal News thought the community should know where gun permit holders in their community were, in part to give parents an opportunity make careful decisions about their children’s safety," said publisher Janet Hasson in a letter to readers. "But public reaction to the posting of names and street addresses was swift and divided. Many in the community expressed their gratitude for The Journal News’ decision to make the information available, but permit holders were outraged at what they considered to be an invasion of privacy. Gun owners from across the country vocally conveyed their anger and accused The Journal News of having exposed permit holders and non-permit holders alike to the risk of burglaries and other crimes. Hundreds of threats were made to Journal News staffers."
Hasson said the decision to remove the gun permit data from Lohud.com was not a concession to the newspaper's critics. She said the data has been public for 27 days and that those who would want to view the information have had time to do so. She also said that as time passes, the data will become outdated and inaccurate.
In reaction to the publishing of the data, the state Legislature included changes to state law on the release of gun permit information as part of a gun violence packaged initiated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State message last week.
The changes would allow gun permit holders to opt out of having their information become public information. And, it includes a 120 moratorium on the release of permit information.
In response to the paper's decision to remove the data, state Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, who was vocal critic of the map, issued a statement.
"Thank God the Journal News has finally realized the error in their judgment and done the right thing," Ball said. "Whether they did this responding to the public's outcry or because they were simply fearful of getting sued due to the rash of burglaries and threats against law enforcement and victims of domestic violence, we will never know. Regardless, I am proud to have passed legislation keeping the Journal News from doing this ever again and proud to have been shoulder to shoulder with thousands of residents who were dealt a crappy hand by the eggheads at the Journal News. I look forward to them creating an interactive map of level three sexual predators, rapists and felons with illegal gun purchases, but I won't hold my breath."
Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino urged the newspaper to take down the permit information, and today Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato asked the newspaper to remove the map in light of the provisions included in the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act.
"From the moment the Journal News published the gun owners map, it put law abiding citizens, including judges, police officers and victims of domestic violence, at risk," Astorino said tonight. "I had asked the publisher to take down the map as a matter of public safety and common sense. Though four weeks too late, I am glad to see the Journal News has finally done the right thing and taken the map down."
The newspaper originally also sought gun permit information from Putnam County, but officials there refused to release the information — although it was subject to the state's Freedom of Information Law.
"As a news organization, we are constantly defending the public’s right to know," Hasson said in the letter. "Consequently we do not endorse the way the legislature has chosen to limit public access to gun permit data. The statute is very broad and allows anyone who meets certain criteria within qualifying categories to keep their permit information private. When the moratorium concludes, far fewer permit holders will be identifiable, and those who want to know which houses on their block may have guns will not be able to get that information. But we are not deaf to voices who have said that new rules should be set for gun permit data."