It’s a deja’ vu moment for we Virginians to see that a New York newspaper thought it was “newsworthy” to publish the names and addresses of people who had followed the law and registered their handguns with the state. The Westchester Journal News published the story on 22 December and included a searchable, interactive map of the addresses, allowing anyone with an internet connection to browse through the county and look for specific names. This has drawn some significant condemnation from people both in and out of the county.
Now it is the advertisers and readers of a New York newspaper who are caught in the crossfire, after its controversial decision to publish the names and addresses of gun owners in its community.
The initial story by the Westchester Journal News on Dec. 22 prompted a bitter backlash by gun advocates, who published the names and addresses of some of the newspaper’s staff. Since then, supporters and critics of the newspaper’s controversial stand have been taking potshots at each other in a near-daily exchange that has drawn national attention.
We in Virginia dealt with something almost identical to this back in March 2007 when the Roanoke Times pulled the same stunt. Speaking of the Roanoke paper’s colossally stupid move, I wrote at the time:
…commenters were generally lining up in the stance that the paper was certainly correct that they were publishing data that was publicly available but that it shouldn’t have published it anyway. I agree with that stance and go one step further: why is the data publicly available?
The Journal News’ move has generated precisely the same reaction. In Virginia, the State Police reacted initially by declaring the database closed to non-State access. This was followed up with legislative action by the General Assembly that removed the database from those records eligible for Freedom of Information Act requests at all. New York’s lawmakers are coming to the same conclusion that we did: journalists apparently can’t be trusted with data of this importance and they are introducing legislation to copy Virginia’s approach.
The tenor of the Journal News story was unmistakable and intentional: people with guns in their homes are a danger to you and your family and you should be outraged that anyone would dare own a gun in their own home if it’s near you. They are throwing any gun owner at all into the same category with criminals and deranged killers. If someone has chosen to exercise their rights to keep and bear arms – a right explicitly protected from government action by the Constitution, I’d like to add – then the readers of the Journal News should be considering those people as unbalanced and inherently dangerous, so say the almighty editors.
Finding themselves the brunt of angry calls and letters, the management of the paper – you remember, the people who say that any people who bring guns into the neighborhood are dangerous things that should be avoided and strictly controlled – decided to hire a bunch of armed guards. You see, the paper and the people who work there are critical and deserving of armed protection. You and your family, however, are not.
The paper had absolutely no reasonable purpose in publishing this information. They made no attempt to quantify any connection between more guns in a neighborhood and a higher level of crime or accident or anything else. They published this to simply to invade these peoples’ privacy and make the implication that they were somehow a danger to the community when, in fact, they are law-abiding citizens. I would say they should be ashamed but their actions in this matter have proven they have none. The best thing for the citizens of New York is to pass laws taking this information out of the casual public eye. And subscribers to the Journal News should check into a nearby publication, the Rockland County Times.