The map is gone, but the mapmakers are still drawing lines in the sand.
Following a month-long muddle of kudos from free-speech advocates and death threats from gun owners, the Journal News has yanked the personal data from its controversial gun-permit map. Gone are the names and addresses of every pistol-permit holder in Westchester and Putnam Counties, although a screenshot of the Google map remains in place.
In a letter posted on lohud.com, the paper’s publisher, Janet Hasson, wrote that removing the data was a response to new legislation that allows gun-permit holders to request confidentiality. The legislation, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 15, is a provision in the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or SAFE act, which aims to strengthen protections against gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Hasson stressed in the letter that the data’s removal was not a response to criticism or intimidation.
“Our decision [to remove the data] is not a concession to critics that no value was served by the posting of the map in the first place,” Hasson wrote. “On the contrary, we’ve heard from too many grateful community members to consider our decision to post information contained in the public record to have been a mistake. Nor is our decision made because we were intimidated by those who threatened the safety of our staffers. We know our business is a controversial one, and we do not cower.”
The Journal News, which is owned by Gannett (NYSE:GCI), caused a firestorm last month when it published the gun data, which it obtained from a Freedom of Information request to the county clerks’ offices in Westchester and Rockland Counties in New York state. (A similar request to Putnam County was denied after the county clerk there cited safety concerns.) The paper argued that residents should have the right to know if their neighbors’ homes contain guns.
Opponents -- including gun owners and privacy advocates -- blasted the gun map as unfairly stigmatizing law-abiding gun owners, with some critics equating it to yelling fire in a crowded theater. Threats made to the paper’s employees led the paper to hire an armed security team for its Westchester offices. In retaliation for the map, some bloggers posted the names and addresses of the Journal News’ staffers. Opponents also created websites to protest Hasson and Journal News editor CynDee Royle. The domain name JanetHasson.com, registered by proxy on Dec. 26, now hosts a website containing Hasson’s photo and personal information. An equivalent website is hosted at CynDeeRoyle.com.
Despite the decision to remove the gun data, criticism of the paper has not abated. Robert Cox, an op-ed contributor to the Washington Examiner, wrote on Tuesday that he is not removing a retaliatory map he posted that contains the names and addresses of Journal News employees. “The way I see it, the Journal News does not get to pick a fight and then decide when it ends,” he wrote.
Cox, who wrote that he is not a gun owner, argued that the paper’s gun map served no public good. “The Journal News map was not journalism,” he wrote. “It was not even political activism. It was voyeurism, with Janet Hasson as a digital Peeping Tom, peering into the bedrooms of readers to see what she might see.”
Hasson, meanwhile, vowed that the Journal News’ days of outing gun-permit holders are not over. “Make no mistake, The Journal News will continue to report aggressively on gun ownership,” she wrote. “We will continue to pursue our request for data from Putnam County, and we will closely analyze the data for Westchester and Rockland Counties when it once again becomes publicly available.”
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