Could The Journal News Gun Map Actually Help Burglars?

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The ongoing debate over the Journal News' Google gun map escalated Friday when Fox News tracked down three ex-burglars who said the map could make thievery easier.

One of the arguments against the Journal News’ decision to publish the names and addresses of pistol-permit holders is that the information could aid criminal behavior. Many critics of the newspaper hypothesized that burglars could peruse its interactive online map, which identifies gun owners in Westchester and Putnam counties, and use it to target gun-free homes.

Now, more than two weeks after the map was published, Fox News has managed to track down a few ex-burglars to purportedly prove that theory true. On Friday, Foxnews.com reporter Jana Winter quoted three reformed thieves who said the map could definitely make the burglary trade easier.

“They just created an opportunity for some crimes to be committed, and I think it’s exceptionally stupid,” Bob Portenier, a burglar turned crime-prevention consultant, told Winter. Portenier also said that burglars might choose to target homes with guns, as firearms often fetch a hefty price on the black market. “They can walk out with a shotgun and a couple of handguns and sell them on the street for $300 or $400 a pop,” he added.

Fox also managed to get feedback from famous con-man Frank Abagnale, whose life of crime was immortalized in the 2002 film “Catch Me if You Can.” Abagnale noted that the map is the equivalent of publishing a list of homes that contain large sums of money, jewelry and other valuables.  

The Journal News, which is owned by Gannett Co. (NYSE:GCI), set off a firestorm in December when it published the gun map alongside a feature story titled “The gun owner next door: What you don't know about the weapons in your neighborhood.” The newspaper obtained the information legally through a Freedom of Information Law request to the county clerks’ offices, but critics have said that it violates the privacy of legal gun owners.

The move has also enraged pro-gun conservatives and led to an online backlash, with one blogger publishing the names and addresses of the Journal News staff.  

Response from within the media industry has been mixed. Most journalists who have spoken about the incident supported the paper’s right to publish the information, but some wondered what public good was being served. Katy Culver, associate director of the Center for Journalism Ethics, told IBTimes in December that that information on gun-permit holders is definitely a matter of public interest; however, she added, “In this case, I don’t think the benefits outweigh the risks.”

Supporters of the paper contend that people have a right to know if their neighbor has a firearm in the house.

Ironically, as Fox News sermonizes about the gun map’s potential to abett hypothetical burglars, the only known crime inspired by the map so far has been crime against the newspaper itself. Earlier this week, employees of Journal News were subject to an anthrax scare after an envelope containing white powder was discovered at its office in White Plains. The paper has also received death threats and other “negative correspondence,” prompting it to hire armed security guards -- an irony not lost on its critics.

In response to ongoing interest in the gun map, the Journal News on Thursday published a Frequently Asked Questions page explaining what information has been published and how the map works.

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