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Newspaper gun permit map: Journal News removes controversial online database

NEWS 12 WESTCHESTER: The paper removed gun owners' personal information from its website after intense public outcry. (Jan. 18, 2013)

Saying it was complying with the "spirit" of a newly passed law that allows gun permit holders to privatize their records, the Journal News on Friday removed its controversial gun map.

The interactive map, published Dec. 23, featured the names and addresses of registered pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties.

"With the passage this week of the NYSAFE gun law, which allows permit holders to request their names and addresses be removed from the public record, we decided to remove the gun permit data from at 5 p.m. today," the newspaper's publisher, Janet Hasson, wrote in a statement issued late Friday by a New York City public relations firm.

The map was still visible on the newspaper's website Friday evening, but is no longer interactive so users are unable to get addresses of pistol license holders.

"While the new law does not require us to remove the data, we believe that doing so complies with its spirit."

The newspaper found itself at the center of an unexpected firestorm of criticism after publishing the map. Police organizations criticized the paper for including the names and addresses of retired officers and current correction officers; domestic violence groups leveled similar criticisms because the map included the names of victims and women who had active restraining orders; and gun rights advocates lambasted the paper for its perceived bias and crusade against Second Amendment rights.

"From the moment the Journal News published the gun owners map, it put law-abiding citizens, including judges, police officers and victims of domestic violence, at risk," said Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

Earlier this week, Astorino asked the newspaper to remove the map.

"Though four weeks too late, I am glad to see the Journal News has finally done the right thing and taken the map down."

Republican State Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson), one of the newspaper's most vocal critics, echoed Astorino's sentiments.

"Even the editors, I believe, in their hearts know it was foolish."

However, Ball said he believes the paper's editors and publisher -- who have hunkered down and refused to answer questions -- removed the map because of potential legal ramifications, not because they came around to the view of their critics.

"The Journal News editors realized they would be responsible," Ball said.


Hasson said the decision to remove the map "is not a concession to critics that no value was served by the posting of the map in the first place." She said the newspaper had heard from "too many grateful community members" to consider the decision to publish the map a mistake.

Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco has said correction officers in the county jail have been taunted by inmates who told the guards they know "exactly where they live" because of the map. He, along with other law enforcement officials, have expressed concern for the safety of active and retired police officers whose names appeared on the map.

"I think it was long overdue," Falco said about the map's removal. "I applaud the fact that they took it down at this time. I just hope that it didn't already cause more harm than good."

At least two recent burglaries could have connections to the controversial gun permit map. Two handguns and two pistol permits were stolen from a New City home sometime on Wednesday. Clarkstown Police have said they have no evidence connecting the burglary to the gun-permit map.

Last week, a White Plains homeowner, who was also listed on the map, found his home ransacked. Jewelry was stolen and the thieves attempted to break into his gun safe.


The newspaper also had sent a freedom of information request to Putnam County for information on gun permit holders there, but the county's clerk and executive denied the request, arguing it would endanger their constituents.

"I'm glad they chose to ... take the map down and respect people's privacy," Legis. Ilan Schoenberger (D-Ramapo) said.

New York became the nation's first state to pass new gun legislation in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings that inspired the interactive map of on the Journal News website. In addition to tighter gun control measures, the law allows gun owners to opt out of having their information available to the public.

"For the past four weeks, there has been vigorous debate over our publication of the permit data, which has been viewed nearly 1.2 million times by readers," Hasson wrote in her statement.

The newspaper also saw vigorous opposition: At least five employees received suspicious packages, including one package of fecal matter sent to editor CynDee Royle. Additionally, earlier this week, law enforcement officers protested the gun map at the White Plains courthouse.

Said Hasson: "One of our core missions as a newspaper is to empower our readers with as much information as possible on the critical issues they face, and guns have certainly become a top issue since the massacre in nearby Newtown, Conn. Sharing as much public information as possible provides our readers with the ability to contribute to the discussion, in any way they wish, on how to make their communities safer."

Hasson has not responded to multiple telephone calls for comment this week.

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