What news value is there in publishing the names of thousands of residents with handgun permits on an interactive map that pinpoints their addresses?
Second Amendment advocates should prepare for the day when they have to ask their local news editors that very question because media outlets are going to be pressured to publish names and addresses of local handgun owners after a suburban New York city newspaper did so over the weekend, spurring applause and outrage nationwide.
But what the Journal News, a daily owned by the Gannett Company in White Plains, N.Y., did in its Dec. 23 edition and on its LoHud.com Web site isn’t new nor illegal — in fact, the same newspaper published a similar listing in 2006.
The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., published a similar database in 2011. The Roanoke Times published lists of handgun permitees as early as 2007. The New York Times’ occasionally publishes the names of those with New York City concealed carry permits.
Just last year, the Associated Press demanded, and received, the names of the approximately 1.3 million Illinois residents whom the Illinois State Police have deemed “qualified” to own guns.
So, what is the news value other than to demonize neighbors who chose to exert a Constitutional right?
“We knew publication of the database would be controversial, but we felt sharing as much information as we could about gun ownership in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,” said CynDee Royle, editor and vice president/news of The Journal.
Other supporters say permit data is public information and available anyway. They say public disclosure is necessary to assure that government doesn’t issue permits to felons and others who should not have weapons.
Opponents say the interactive map could make the gun owners a target, but also make clear to would-be robbers which homes do not contain a gun.
“Do you fools realize that you also made a map for criminals to use to find homes to rob that have no guns in them to protect themselves?” one reader wrote on Facebook.
But perhaps the most stinging rebuke came from the Poynter Institute, a respected journalism school and think-tank on the campus of South Florida University in St. Petersburg.
“Publishing gun owners’ names makes them targets for theft or public ridicule,” Al Tompkins, a Poynter senior faculty member, said in a Dec. 26 statement “It is journalistic arrogance to abuse public record privilege, just as it is to air 911 calls for no reason or to publish the home addresses of police or judges without cause. Unwarranted publishing of the names of permitted owners just encourages gun owners to skip the permitting.”
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