Does the Media Have the Responsibility and Right to Publish the Names of Gun Owners?

In the wake of the murders in Connecticut, the Journal News ran a story with the names and addresses of gunowners in Westchester and Rockland counties.

On Dec. 22, LoHud.com, powered by Journal News, released a story titled Map: Where are the gun permits in your neighborhood?” Based on information acquired through the Freedom of Information requests made to Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, the maps have dots that indicate and list the names and addresses of those in the community with permits for pistols or handguns.

The map, along with the accompanying article by Dwight R. Worley, “The gun owner next door: What you don't know about the weapons in your neighborhood,” have generated more angry comments about irresponsible journalism rather than support of publication of this type of information. 

The paper has upheld its decision based on the public’s need to know and that the information IS public. 

Opponents of the maps cite that not only does the information make gun owners the target of potential theft, it will make some unlikely to renew their permits when the time comes to do so. It will also likely make new owners hesitant to legally register their personal firearms. It also makes note of which homes do NOT have registered firearms, perhaps making them a larger potential target for crime.

From a journalistic standpoint, Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute, says the following:  

Just because information is public does not make it newsworthy. People own guns for a wide range of law-abiding reasons. If you are not breaking the law, there is no compelling reason to publish the data.
Publishing gun owners’ names makes them targets for theft or public ridicule. 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.

What do you think? Does the public have the right to this kind of information? Is it continued sensationalism of a hot topic or is it the responsibility of the media to provide the community it serves with the information? Or is this an invasion of privacy and perhaps "journalistic arrogance"?

Mr. B December 29, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Drop by my house anytime Amy. I'm married. I'd probably find you attractive. LOL
Xardox December 30, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Putting out a newspaper used to be a hazardous occupation, digging for such details people really wanted to know (Did the bride wear white?) at the risk of tar and feathers, in a time men took firearms to church regularly. Just because something is technically feasible doesn't make it a great idea. Do you really want them to know you DON'T have a gun?
Mike Smith December 31, 2012 at 03:25 PM
It seems that this entire conversation is missing the foundation of the debate. Why do most of us just assume that it is OK for the government to hold this personal information in a public fashion the first place? While government background checks for carry permits are necessary, there is no good reason the results of these checks must be held for public display. After the check is complete and the permit issued this data should be sealed like our medical records and IRS files - This small change would resolve the entire issue.
Tammy Osier December 31, 2012 at 03:45 PM
MS, very insightful. It's a shame that we have come to the place where we can be taxed unreasonably and think it's normal. We give up our right to privacy and don't blink. We've done it for so long that it becomes normal. That's how governments get the power that they do- the people voluntarily give it up without a fight. But those who fight it are told that they wear tin foil hats.
Jim S December 31, 2012 at 04:19 PM
We just had an article in the Patch about a local gun shop getting robbed. Publishing the addresses of residences of license holders, in which there are probably guns, will subject homeowners to this same possibility. The robbery happened at around 1 am in the morning, a time during which most homeowners are asleep in bed.


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