It was a stupid thing to do.
The Westchester Journal News in New York state used Freedom of Information laws to obtain, then publish an interactive map of gun owners’ homes.
The paper even claimed “residents would like lawmakers to expand the amount of information the public can find out about gun owners,” it wrote.
The maps cover two counties; there are clickable dots that will instantly give online users the names and home addresses of legal gun owners.
“New York residents have the right to own guns with a permit and they also have a right to access public information,” said Janet Hasson, president and publisher of The Journal News Media Group, after being called out for publishing such information.
“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. “People are concerned about who owns guns and how many of them there are in their neighborhoods,”
Know who really wants information about those weapons? Thieves.
But what seems to be underlying the Journal News articles and maps is an attempt to change the nation’s gun culture. The first step is to stigmatize gun owners.
It’s like the occasional crusade by local newspapers to “crack down” on prostitution or drunken driving by publishing the mug shots of “johns” or DWI arrestees.
Shame, the thinking goes, will discourage bad behavior. And maybe it used to. But this is the era of Charlie Sheen and Honey Boo Boo. Shame doesn’t appear to be much of a motivator these days.
But the legal, permitted (and heavily vetted) gun owners in New York state aren’t the problem. They’re the poster children for gun ownership, in a responsible manner. The local shooting the Journal News cites as another reason for its “investigation” involved a shooting by a man who had some legally purchased guns, yes, but also some illegal ones.
The legal gun owners never sought to make themselves public figures, much less the target of public scorn. They participated in a legal, if difficult, activity — buying a firearm. They’ve now been singled out, by a newspaper supposedly acting in the “public interest,” as tempting targets for crime.
The shootings in Newtown, Conn. have horrified and saddened us all. There are good responses and bad responses. Without question, this response by the Westchester Journal News is not only poorly thought out, but it’s sure to do more harm than good.