The newspaper that used an interactive map to "out" residents owning gun
permits in two suburban New York City counties has hired armed security guards to protect its offices while it seeks the same information for residents in a third county.
Gun owners in Rockland and Westchester counties were outraged when The Journal News, a Gannett-owned newspaper, published an online map linked to their names and addresses following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
What the newspaper did is perfectly legal, as it is covered under the Freedom of Information Act, but that didn’t stop the flurry of enraged emails and phone calls to newspaper.
RGA Investigations, a private security company, "is doing private security at one location at the Journal News as a result of the negative response to the article," according to a police report first obtained by the Rockland County Times. The guards "are armed and will be on site during business hours through at least Jan. 2, 2013."
It is unclear how many guards are monitoring the office.
Since posting the interactive map that allows users to zoom in on individual names and addresses of households with gun permits in the two counties the paper serves, The Journal News has attempted to obtain the same information about residents in neighboring Putnam County.
However, Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant isn't budging on refusing to release the records, saying that hundreds of residents have called urging him not to.
One lawmaker — New York State Sen. Greg Ball — said he would propose legislation that limits the public to that sort of information.
"The asinine editors at the Journal News have gone out of their way to place a virtual scarlet letter on law abiding firearm owners throughout the region," Ball said in a statement, "and I thank God that Putnam County has a clerk with the guts to stand up and draw the line here in Putnam County."
Sant said he stands by his decision.
"There is the rule of law, and there is right and wrong and The Journal News is clearly wrong," he told Fox News. "I could not live with myself if one Putnam pistol permit holder was put in harm's way, for the sole purpose of selling newspapers."
Sant's move could provoke the newspaper to file a lawsuit against the county in pursuit of the records. The publisher said they will fight for the information.
Conservatives and gun rights advocates publicly protested the paper's move. Politico reports that on Monday the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association called for a nationwide boycott of the paper's advertisers like Best Buy and CVS, calling it a "wanton act" that "has put in harm's way tens of thousands of lawful license holders."
However, they aren't the only ones who chimed in. Some critics worried that the map is essentially a guidebook for criminals, allowing them to rob homes that have guns. Others worried it would expose law enforcement officials, according to The Huffington Post.
"You have judges, policemen, retired policemen, FBI agents — they have permits. Once you allow the public to see where they live, that puts them in harm’s way," said Paul Piperato, the Rockland County clerk.
This isn’t the first time a controversial Journal News story on guns has provoked widespread backlash. In 2006, the paper published a similar story, but it didn't go viral because social media wasn't as popular then.
In response to December's map, local blogger Christopher Fountain, who was appalled by the newspaper's move, published the names, addresses and phone numbers of the publisher, Gannett's CEO, the paper's editor, the editor who made the map, and the reporter who wrote the story.
Another blogger, Robert Cox, published an interactive map of where all the staffers live.
Attached to the bottom of the Journal News story is an editor's note that says "Reporter Dwight R. Worley owns a Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum and has had a residence permit in New York City for that weapon since February 2011."
Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, condemned the interactive map.
"Just because information is public does not make it newsworthy,” Tompkins wrote. “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."
"The problem is that the paper was not aggressive enough in its reporting to justify invading the privacy of people who legally own handguns in two counties it serves," he added.
Editors at the newspaper are standing their ground for releasing the information, claiming the public is entitled to know who owns guns.
“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 in a statement.
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