As the Newtown, Conn., mass murder and bloodbath slowly recedes from the headlines, the debate over gun control has entered an entirely new dimension – cyberspace. According to the New York Times, advertisers and readers of a suburban New York City newspaper are being pilloried from both sides in the debate after publishing the names and addresses of gun owners in its community.
The story began with the Westchester Journal News on Dec. 22. Gun enthusiasts reacted sharply when the names and addresses of some its own gun-owning staff members were published in the paper. Both sides of the gun control issue have weighed in.
"The Journal News has made no credible case, nor offered any valid reason, for releasing the data."
- New York State Rifle & Pistol Association
“The data posted also includes active and retired police officers, judges, battered and stalked individuals, FBI agents, and more," the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association said in a release that marked the latest escalation. "The Journal News has made no credible case, nor offered any valid reason, for releasing the data, and it serves no investigative or journalistic purpose. It merely invites harassment and burglary.”
The association has called for a boycott of the Gannett-owned newspapers and their advertisers.
But the paper’s economic survival is not the only thing at stake here. The physical safety of its management and staff has been threatened, as well. Indeed, on Dec. 28, it posted armed guards outside one of its offices. That was in response to a blogger who had published the names and home addresses of the 50 journalists who had worked on an interactive map which showed who the legally-registered guns owners were.
Also, hackers may have broken into the Journal News' online subscriber database. They boast that they are circulating passwords and other information for 10,000 account holders. Online threats to publish the home addresses and phone numbers of executives of the newspaper’s major advertisers have also been made.
One New York legislator vows to introduce legislation criminalizing the acquisition of gun permit holders’ information through Freedom of Information Act requests. That is how the Journal News obtained the permit holders’ information and then used it to create their controversial online database.
“The Journal News has placed the lives of these folks at risk by creating a virtual shopping list for criminals and nut jobs,” said Republican State Sen. Greg Ball, in announcing plans to introduce the law.
I'm sorry, but registered gun owners' records are public records. There is no justifiable (or reasonable) excuse or reason not to keep those records public. Anyone off the street can go into a county or city courthouse and see for themselves, and for free, just who owns what and how many types of guns in the that county or city. So what is the big deal about putting such information online?
Keeping gun ownership a secret is not an option in a "free and open" society.