Thursday, December 27, 2012

Publication of gun owners online (based on permits) in NY State causes controversy

A small newspaper in suburban Westchester County, NY published the names and home addresses of holders of permits for handgun and other weapons in its coverage area, going all the way into New Jersey and Connecticut.  The “outcry” was reported today by David Goodman in the New York Times on p. A17 (website url here ). 
The link  (“Where are the gun permits in your neighborhood”?) at “Lohud” Journal News (Gannett) is  here.    The maps are divided by county and are color coded as to the aging of the gun permits.

The site does not say that the address actually has a gun, just that there is a permit.
A North Carolina television station had published a similar list in July.

The information is available manually from public record and available (apparently with no restrictions) under Freedom of Information Act provisions. (Whether personal purchase decisions should be available sounds like a good policy question, but "licenses" have always been public -- to the chagrin of libertarians.)   But an ethical and perhaps a legal question remains on almost cost-free Internet distribution of information (maybe intended as a shaming online "scarlet letter") that could lead to targeting of people. One comment at the Times notes that criminals can also figure out from the maps who is unarmed (although that says nothing about security systems, cell phone access, camera systems,  and other weapon-free measures).  Is the law going to change in this area?  We’ve seen similar concerns over no-consent photos of people in bars and discos. 

There has been some blowback, publication of names and addresses of the newspaper management.  

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