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Politician scolds newspaper for posting permit data

Casey Seiler, Times-Union
Updated 8:28 pm, Wednesday, December 26, 2012

 

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ALBANY, N.Y. — An outcry over a Hudson Valley newspaper's decision to publish names and addresses of pistol permit holders has prompted a state lawmaker to renew the push to keep the data from public view.

Sen. Greg Ball, R-Putnam County, said in a statement that he is outraged at the "asinine" editors of the Journal News for posting public gun license data for Westchester and Rockland counties, and called on the paper to take down its interactive map.

"The Journal News has placed the lives of these folks at risk by creating a virtual shopping list for criminals and nut jobs," Ball said. "Publishing this information on a website provides criminals with a map of where they can steal firearms from lawful owners for later use in the commission of crimes."

Handgun license application information is in the public record and subject to state Freedom of Information Law requests; the Journal News secured its data from county clerks. Under state law, ownership of rifles and shotguns does not require a permit.

The paper's project, accompanied by a story headlined "The gun owner next door: What you don't know about the weapons in your neighborhood," has become a cause celebre on social media, fueled by the recent intensification of the debate over gun control following the Dec. 14 killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Hundreds of angry comments have been lodged with the paper, and numerous online campaigns have distributed personal information about Journal News staff and management.

"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, a Gannett company, in a story on the controversy that ran in the paper.

A similar debate erupted in 2010 after another pool of permit data was released on a website, WhosPackingNY.com, whose anonymous creator offered information on 1.3 million gun permits issued by the state since 1936, when the licenses were first required. (At the time, the Times Union used that data to identify a dozen legislators who were permit holders.)

After three weeks, the online gun data was replaced with a series of links to stories about numerous controversies involving Ball, a former Assemblyman and staunch Second Amendment advocate. The website is currently defunct.

Ball says he will introduce legislation similar to a bill he co-sponsored during his days in the Assembly that would make permit application information exempt from FOIL and secure them with "exceptions for prosecutors and police conducting an active investigation."

The Journal News plans to publish a permit map for Putnam County, where Ball lives, as soon as the data has been assembled by local officials.

In 2008, the Times Union took criticism from some quarters after it provided searchable access to payroll information for state government and most major public authorities, including overtime and bonuses.

cseiler@timesunion.com ■ 518-454-5619 ■ @CaseySeiler