Newspaper gun permit map: Putnam says new law shields county from releasing info

A patron holds a handgun at the Coyne A patron holds a handgun at the Coyne Park Range in Yonkers. (Oct. 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Elizabeth Daza

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Putnam County officials say they believe the state's tough new gun control laws shield them from fulfilling a Freedom of Information Law request from The Journal News to provide gun permit records for thousands of county residents.

Besides banning certain semiautomatic rifles and large magazines, the package of new laws requires owners to register within a year any once-legal guns banned under the law. It outlaws bringing those guns and clips into the state.

But a provision of the laws also limits the state records law to protect handgun owners from being identified publicly. It allows a handgun permit holder a means to maintain privacy under the Freedom of Information Law and exempts others.

State Sen. Greg Ball (R-Brewster) pushed the legislation in response to The Journal News' interactive map -- posted on the newspaper's website Dec. 23 -- that showed the names and addresses of all pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. Putnam County officials initially balked at the newspaper's FOIL request but later flatly rejected it.

The newspaper has not responded to numerous calls for comment.

"The text of this law reaffirms our position that the importance of protecting an individual's privacy far exceeds any unfettered 'right to know,' " County Executive MaryEllen Odell said in a statement Thursday. "The governor and the state Legislature saw the logic and recognized the merit of our stand, and as a result, state laws were changed."

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Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy echoed those sentiments, saying in a statement Wednesday that he "felt vindicated that the governor and state Legislature saw this as a public safety issue just as we did."

Under the new law, an applicant or a registered gun permit holder may opt not to have his information released if he feels that by doing so "his or her life or safety" or that of his family "may be endangered" or that he or his family would become objects of "unwarranted harassment." The law exempts active or retired police, probation, parole or correction officers; anyone currently under an order of protection; any witness in a criminal proceeding involving a criminal charge; anyone who served as a juror in a criminal proceeding, or anyone who sat as a member of a grand jury.

County officials said the state is in the process of creating opt-out forms for gun permit holders and applicants.

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OUTRAGE OVER NEW LAW

The move to restrict gun permits has shocked public records law advocates, many of whom have called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to restore access to gun permit holders records by rescinding the provision.

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"This is clearly a wild overreaction to the decision to publish the names," said Mike Cavender, executive director of the Radio-Television Digital News Association. "Closing off public records is an excessive and inappropriate response, and we respectfully urge Gov. Cuomo and New York legislators to restore the public's access to this information."

Brushing those concerns aside, Ball is declaring victory in his "battle" against the newspaper.

"We have won a big battle against the Journal News' unwarranted invasion of privacy and have put an end to this public safety nightmare," he said. "They will never be able to do something as dangerous and idiotic as this again."

Ball voted against the state's gun control package, citing "unfair" restrictions on the state's gun owners.

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