What happens when a hometown turns on its newspaper? Well, The Journal News is finding out these days as an editorial decision has gathered national headlines and harsh criticism. The now infamous interactive map of pistol permit holders in Rockland and Westchester counties has nearly everyone, from average readers to advertisers to Rockland officials across the spectrum, including the sheriff himself, lining up to throw stones.
If The Journal News thinks they can intimidate Putnam, they are sorely mistaken. Before I waver, the egghead editors at the Journal News can kiss my white, Irish behind. — New York State Senator Greg Ball (R, C), 40th Senate District.
The Rockland County Times, one of the first local publications to upbraid the Journal News‘ decision to publish the permit material, has tracked the issue as it caught fire both in Rockland County and nationally. And the blow back against the Journal News has been fierce.
Upon its first publication, RCT Editor Dylan Skriloff called the Journal News article an “editorial hit-squad,” and said that the paper’s tactics amounted to an effort to “criminalize ordinary, law-abiding gun owners in the area.”
Friday morning, a group of bipartisan Rockland lawmakers and officials brought together by Rockland Legislator and Deputy Minority Leader Frank Sparaco (R), Valley Cottage, held a press conference to cudgel the Journal News and announce support of proposed state legislation to amend the state law as it relates to the confidentiality of information contained in pistol permit applications. Collectively the group appeared to agree with Skriloff’s initial condemnation. The press conference included Spring Valley Police Chief Paul Modica, Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan, County Legislators Ilan Schoenberger, Aron Weider and Tony Earl, Clerk Piperato, and the committee leaders of the Republican, Democratic, Independence, Working Families and Conservative Parties.
Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco said “it was very, very poor judgment and a poor marketing move on their part to do. Now criminals can go to houses where guns are or where they know they’re not.” Falco said that he had to meet with corrections officers and their unions because inmates were calling out to guards the location of their home addresses. The sheriff said he supported the Journal News removing the information from LoHud and favored a law that would prohibit the media from obtaining pistol permit information.
Rockland Legislator Sparaco, one of the youngest members of the County Legislature, called the Journal News‘ actions “sensationalist” and that they have placed residents at risk. “This action is deplorable though not illegal,” said Sparaco. “We call upon the editors and owners of the Journal News to remove this map immediately.”
Putnam County has very publicly rejected the Journal News‘ request for its pistol permit holders. In a statement of support of Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant, NY State Senator Greg Ball who represents the 40th District boldy called the editors at the Journal News “asinine.” Ball said the paper placed a “virtual scarlet letter on law abiding firearm owners throughout the region.”
In his statement, Ball also succinctly said:
“The county clerk has my full support to protect these law abiding citizens and if The Journal News thinks they can intimidate Putnam, they are sorely mistaken. Before I waver, the egghead editors at the Journal News can kiss my white, Irish behind.”
The RCT also reported that Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato said nearly 25% of the addresses in the Rockland map are not accurate due to changes in address. Many county registries are not reliable as a source of addresses, Piperato said. As president of the New York State Association of County Clerks, Piperato also said the association, which represents 62 NY state counties, is backing legislation restricting the publication of gun permit registration data.
With its data dump, the Journal News stepped into an emotional issue that tends to get messy very quickly. Lost in the chorus of catcalls is the fact the what the Journal News did is perfectly legal. Clerk Piperato said he believed that Putnam County would eventually lose in court because state law is very clear on the issue. Article 400, section 5 of the NY Penal Law states: The name and address of any person to whom an application for any license has been granted shall be a public record.
Reuters reporter Jack Shafer presents a balanced view of what’s now taking place in Rockland County. Shafer cites a recent academic paper called Guns, Privacy, and Crime that explores a case that nearly exactly mirrors the Journal News issue. A local Tennessee paper published a searchable database of people permitted to carry handguns, just as the Journal News did. Burglary actually decreased in the Tennessee neighborhoods that showed a lot of gun permits.
The guns involved in the Newton, CT shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school were permitted and legal. Personal information of the estimated 180,000 people in Connecticut that have pistol permits is confidential via CT state law and has been for nearly 20 years. But that may soon change.
According to WTNH News 8, Democratic State Representative Steve Dargan of West Haven, co-chair of the legislature’s Public Safety Committee, and reportedly considered a friend of gun owners, is proposing that the gun owners confidentiality law be overturned and that the names and addresses of CT permit holders be made public.
The Journal News hit a very hot button issue. The U.S. market is the largest and most active market for handguns and other small arms in the world. And the U.S. is also the world’s largest arms exporter. With such a pedigree, it’s a wonder that the current rules of engagement appear to work fairly well. The Journal News’ map looked dense with dots enough while showing only hand gun permits. Rifles and shotguns are not registered in Rockland County.
Press conference photo of Rockland Legislator and Deputy Minority Leader Frank Sparaco (R), Valley Cottage, courtesy of Kevin Zawacki, Patch. The Journal News offices photo courtesy of Fox News.