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The Journal News made national headlines with its decision to publish the home addresses of pistol permit holders in New York State’s Westchester and Rockland counties. Since assembling its map, which includes the personal information of gun owners, the paper haspromised to add a third county — Putnam — to its roster. But it seems the outlet, which recently hired armed guards to protect its own staff, has hit a snag, as Putnam executives are refusing to release the requested gun ownership data.
With county officials reversing course after claiming last month that they were assembling the information, some are warning that pistol permits are public record and that any refusal to release data violates state law. According to Robert Freeman, executive director of New York’s Committee on Open Government, the county’s decision not to comply with the Freedom of Information Law, which the Journal News used to obtain names and addresses, is not legally sound.
Freeman claims that the law speaks clearly on the issue, as he noted that, “The name and address of any gun licensee are public.” Putnam County, like Westchester and Rockland Counties, is part of the New York City metropolitan area; there are 100,000 residents living within its bounds.
Despite the notion that Putnam may violate state law in its refusal, Republican State Sen. Greg Ball is defending the county’s decision, calling the newspaper’s exploits “asinine.” Ball joined Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and County Clerk Dennis Sant in announcing the county’s stance on Tuesday. The decision came following calls that officials not release this personal data.
“I’m proud to stand with Putnam County and proud that Putnam won’t be releasing its pistol permit records,” Ball said in a statement about the contentious issue, claiming that The Journal News is placing a “virtual scarlet letter” on “law abiding firearm owners” in the New York region.
The Journal News has cause to appeal a denial. If the outlet again receives a refusal from Putnam County, the paper could ask for a judge to intervene and decide. In the wake of the government’s decision not to comply, the newspaper’s President and Publisher Janet Hasson defended the choices that her journalistic enterprise has made.
“We believe the law is clear that this is public information, and the residents of Putnam County are entitled to see it,” she said. “We’re troubled that county officials have apparently switched their position since we first requested the information.”
On Tuesday, Ball also had some less-than-favorable words for the Journal News, dubbing the paper the “Urinal News.” He tweeted, “Proud to stand w Putnam Cnty Clerk, Dennis Sant. Putnam will not be releasing the permit records to the Urinal News. Standing up for right.”