WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The controversy over a New York newspaper’s publication of an interactive database of gun permit holders is turning into an open government standoff.
A county clerk has refused to release names and addresses of residents with pistol permits.
Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant cited concerns about the safety of permit holders with protection orders as among the reasons for turning down a Freedom of Information request from the Journal News. The paper wants information on who holds handgun permits in his county.
WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reports
“These laws were written almost 30 years ago,” Sant said. “Thirty years ago we didn’t have computers, we didn’t have Facebook, we didn’t have social media, and we certainly didn’t have Google Maps. I think that’s what really broke the camel’s back on this request.”
The move is backed by several local elected officials, including County Executive MaryEllen Odell. She called the paper “reckless” and said families would be put at risk if the information was released.
But experts said the county will have a difficult time defending the refusal, because New York state law classifies the data as public.
“We’re not talking about the rule of law anymore, we’re talking about endangering our citizens,” Sant added.
State Sen. Greg Ball has promised to pursue every legal remedy to block the paper’s request.
“I will fight with you until hell freezes over. And then we’re going to fight on the ice,” Ball said Thursday. “We’re going to hold this Journal News editorial board accountable, and I’m asking everybody who’s listening today, cancel your subscriptions.”
Ball has vowed to introduce legislation limiting access to gun permit databases.
“Let’s remember these are tens of thousands of people who did nothing wrong,” Ball said.
A story published by the Journal News on Dec. 23 was accompanied online by maps with the name and address of each pistol or revolver permit holder in Westchester and Rockland counties.
Reporters obtained the information by filing a Freedom of Information Act following the Newtown school shootings.
The story included comments from both sides of the gun rights debate and presented the data as answering concerns of those who would like to know whether there are guns in their neighborhood.
Critics called the publication an invasion of privacy; some said it could endanger permit holders.
The Journal News has hired armed guards at its headquarters after being flooded with angry calls, but the paper is standing by the project.
“Sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,” the paper said in a statement.
“We believe the law is clear that this is public information and the residents of Putnam County are entitled to see it,” said Journal News President and Publisher Janet Hasson.
The online map only tracks handguns because state law doesn’t require permits for rifles and shotguns.
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