The Journal News, a newspaper based in White Plains, NY, attracted attention recently for its online publication of the names and addresses of people with permits to own guns living in Westchester and Rockland counties. The interactive map pinpoints homes where one or more residents are licensed to own a handgun – a pistol or revolver.
The map doesn’t track ownership of long guns, like shotguns and rifles, and only marks homes where someone is licensed to own a gun – they may not actually own a gun, and there is no way to track unlicensed gun owners. The story received a lot of criticism, with many people calling the map an extreme violation of privacy, and some comparing the list to a sex offender registry. Critics also worry that the information makes residents more vulnerable, although they debate whether those with or without guns are in more danger. One blogger retaliated by publishing the names, addresses and home phone numbers of the Journal News’ staff.
By New York state law, gun permit records are public information -- the Journal News used technology to aggregate the records on a convenient Google map and publish them widely.
Should gun permit information be readily accessible? Is the map useful even if it can’t track unlicensed gun owners, or long gun owners? Knowing who in your neighborhood is permitted to own a handgun may seem useful, but is it dangerous to also note which homes don’t have guns? Is publishing this public information online a violation of privacy?