However, bad journalism, in this instance, may give way to good legislation.
Below are two related articles, the first from NewsBusters, the second from Legal Insurrection, which show the negative and perhaps positive consequences of publication of a two-county interactive map of pistol permig owners by Gannett's White Plains, New York-based Journal News... below the fold.
First article from NewsBusters:
New York Newspaper's Gun Permit Map Already Having Negative Repercussions
Many of those who expressed outrage at the publication of a two-county interactive map of pistol permit owners by Gannett's White Plains, New York-based Journal News just before Christmas have raised serious concerns that the paper's action would directly harm law-abiding citizens. Evidence is pouring in that those fears are legitimate.
Fox News, doing something the wire services should have been begun within days of the map's publication, has unsurprisingly found that "Reformed crooks say the New York newspaper ... did a great service – to their old cronies in the burglary trade." Additionally, a Newsday report identifies four concrete examples of negative impact: "Inmates are taunting corrections officers" at an area jail; one of the counties' sheriffs says that it's "hurting law enforcement as a whole"; a Rockland County Democratic legislator who currently doesn't own a gun says "he now fears for his safety" and will get one; and a divorced woman who says her ex-husband tried to strangle her is worried that "now he can find me." Excerpts from the two news reports follow the jump.
The Fox News report contains testimonials from reformed criminals affirming what critics have contended from the start, namely that the map's publication has great potential to harm gun owners and non-owners alike (bolds are mine throughout this post):
... The information published online by the Journal-News, a daily paper serving the New York suburbs of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, could be highly useful to thieves in two ways, former burglars told FoxNews.com. Crooks looking to avoid getting shot now know which targets are soft and those who need weapons know where they can steal them.
“That was the most asinine article I’ve ever seen,” said Walter T. Shaw, 65, a former burglar and jewel thief who the FBI blames for more than 3,000 break-ins that netted some $70 million in the 1960s and 1970s. “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?
"What they did was insanity," added Shaw, author of "License to Steal," a book about his criminal career.
... “They just created an opportunity for some crimes to be committed and I think it’s exceptionally stupid,” said Bob Portenier, 65, a former burglar and armed house robber turned crime prevention consultant.
Professional burglars are always looking for an edge, and like most folks, they read the paper, said Portenier.
... While some burglars may use the newspaper’s information to avoid guns, Portenier said others will target homes with guns. The newspaper’s decision could even lead to legally-owned guns proliferating on the street, he said.
“That’s one of the first things we’d check out—guns are on the top of the list of what you want to steal,” he said. “They can walk out with a shotgun and a couple of handguns and sell them on the street for $300 or $400 a pop. They can sell them to a gangbanger who ends up killing someone.” (Portenier seems to believe that the map identifies specific guns owned, which it doesn't; nevertheless, his point about "legally-owned (but stolen) guns prolierating on the street" is valid. -- Ed.)
“When I first saw that story it kinda freaked me out. If I had a gun if I was a registered legal gun owner and had my information in there I’d be outraged.
Portenier isn't the only person who is "kinda freaked out." The Newsday report quotes representatives of four specific groups who have similar feelings (the italicized numeric listing within the excerpt is mine):
1. Prison guards
... Inmates at the Rockland County jail are taunting corrections officers by saying they know the guards' home addresses -- information they got from the list published by Westchester (County)-based newspaper, Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco said.
"Since about 9:30 this morning, I've been in a meeting with my corrections officers and their unions. They have inmates coming up to them and telling them exactly where they live. That's not acceptable to me," Falco said at a news conference Friday morning in New City, where local leaders condemned the list.
2. Law enforcement in general
... Robert Riley, a White Plains police officer who is president of the department's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, agreed that the database is putting officers' lives at risk.
"My members are outraged," Riley said, noting that the potential dangers to law enforcement extend beyond Westchester and Rockland counties.
"You have guys who work in New York City who live up here," Riley said. "Now their names and addresses are out there, too."
Falco said there are 8,000 active and retired NYPD officers currently living in Rockland County.
3. Non-permit holders
... Legis. Aron Wieder (D-Spring Valley) called the publication of the list "irresponsible journalism" and said he now fears for his safety because the map broadcast that he does not have a gun license. At the news conference Friday morning, he handed a $150 certified check and a completed pistol permit application to Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato.
"I never owned a gun but now I have no choice," Wieder said. "I have been exposed as someone that has no gun. And I'll do anything, anything to protect my family."
4. Ex-spouses and others who were in abusive relationships.
... "When I saw the list, I had an immediate flood of emotions that I cannot even describe to you," said (Orangetown resident Charlotte) Swift. "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.'"
Heckuva job, Journal News. (/sarcasm)
Though much of the damage has obviously already been done, the Newsday article notes that law enforcement officials have called on the Journal News to take down the map. If the paper won't do it on their own, perhaps adults at Gannett, if any can be found, might demand that they do so.
It would also be fascinating to get a reaction to the two stories excerpted above from Connecticut legislator Stephen Dargan. As I noted yesterday (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), Dargan wants the Nutmeg State to change its laws, which currently protect the privacy of the state's handgun permit holders, to make such information accessible via Freedom of Information Act requests -- so that anyone can do to his state what the Journal News has just done to the residents of two New York counties. How can Dargan still submit his proposed legislation in the face of mounting evidence of the harm it would cause?
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.
Second Article from Legal Insurrection:
A couple of weeks ago, a New York based newspaper called the Journal News took it upon themselves to aggregate and publish the names and addresses of all legal gun-permit owners in the region.
The backlash was swift, prompting unified outcries for the paper to take down the locations from their online affiliate site, lohud.com. Critics claimed it would enable criminals to more easily identify the which homes to break in to, putting many residents in serious danger
In response to the public reaction, the Journal News not only said that they would not take down the current list, but would seek to add to it.
The Journal News abdicated responsibility for any wrongdoing in their aggregation of personal information, declaring that it was all available through Freedom of Information requests.
In a previous article, we noted that not all professional journalists share the sentiments of the editors at the Journal news:
I am not a big fan of the maps that show sex offenders, but at least there is a logical reason for posting them …. The permit holders are accused of nothing….
I like it when journalists take heat for an explosive, necessary, courageous investigation that exposes important wrongdoing. There is journalistic purpose and careful decision-making supporting those stories. But The News Journal is taking heat for starting a gunfight just because it could.
Additionally, at the time the original publication began receiving national attention, I stated,
They may not have broken any laws in aggregating the personal information of gun permit owners, but the ethical impropriety of doing so is obvious.
The serious consequences of that ethical impropriety are now showing through, and the public outcry is growing louder.
Law enforcement officials from a New York region where a local paper published a map identifying gun owners say prisoners are using the information to intimidate guards.
Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco, who spoke at a news conference flanked by other county officials, said the Journal News’ decision to post an online map of names and addresses of handgun owners Dec. 23 has put law enforcement officers in danger.
“They have inmates coming up to them and telling them exactly where they live. That’s not acceptable to me,” Falco said, according to Newsday.
It’s not just law enforcement officials who are in danger.
Legis. Aron Wieder (D-Spring Valley) called the publication of the list “irresponsible journalism” and said he now fears for his safety because the map broadcast that he does not have a gun license. At the news conference Friday morning, he handed a $150 certified check and a completed pistol permit application to Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato.
“I never owned a gun but now I have no choice,” Wieder said. “I have been exposed as someone that has no gun. And I’ll do anything, anything to protect my family.”
In that last sentence, Wieder perfectly summed up the emotions that prompted such a vociferous backlash from the community.
The Journal News, whether intentional or not, has put peoples’ families in danger. They didn’t break any laws at the time by aggregating people’s personal information, but that may all change soon.
Piperato, who also serves as president to the New York State County Clerks Association, said all 62 counties in the state are supporting the state legislation to amend the law that makes gun permit holder information public.
“I’ve received hundreds of calls these last two weeks from residents in this county, both who have permits and those who do not have permits, who fear for their life,” Piperato said. “My heart goes out to them and I condemn what The Journal News has done.”
Bad journalism, in this instance, may give way to good legislation. But it shouldn’t take a wholesale feeling of helplessness among residents of an entire region of New York to achieve that end.