New York: A New York newspaper has sparked outrage by publishing a detailed map with thousands of names and addresses of gun permit holders in the wake of the Newtown school shooting.
The publication came amid a heated debate over gun control revived after the Connecticut massacre and drew intense criticism on social media outlets from gun owners, who called it a violation of privacy.
The Journal News in New York state’s Westchester County obtained the publicly available information from county clerks and published it earlier this week in an interactive map alongside an article entitled “The Gun Owner Next Door”.
The paper obtained the names and addresses of more than 33,000 permit holders in two counties, though it said that more than 13,000 had no activity in the last five years, and could belong to people who moved or passed away.
It said it was awaiting information on 11,000 permit-holders from a third county.
The newspaper defended the publication, saying the information was legally obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and that its readers had a right to know whether their neighbours owned firearms.
“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 of the Journal News, a Gannett Co. publication.
“People are concerned about who owns guns and how many of them there are in their neighbourhoods,” she said. The newspaper had also asked for information about the type and number of weapons people owned, but that request was denied.
Critics slammed the move as an invasion of privacy that could put gun owners at risk, and the newspaper said it had received hundreds of calls from people who feared for their safety or felt their privacy had been violated.
“You’re giving a shopping list to criminals,” the newspaper quoted Tom King, president of the New York Rifle & Pistol Association, as saying.
“Does it matter if you own 47 guns or you own one gun? Everybody likes to think that someone who has all of these guns is evil, that there’s some nefarious reason they have all these guns. There are collectors.”
The newspaper’s Facebook page drew hundreds of comments, positive and negative, with several irate users publishing the home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of the daily’s publisher and editors.
“Don’t you idiots realize you have just classified the law-abiding gun-owning citizen with sex offenders who have been released from prison?” wrote one user, identified as Sheila Gray.
“You also have told the street thugs where the armed homes are and where there are no guns.”
The school shooting at Newtown, Connecticut earlier this month— in which 26 people, including 20 young children—were shot dead, has sparked renewed calls for new gun regulation.
President Barack Obama has appointed a panel led by Vice President Joe Biden and vowed to offer new legislation within the coming weeks to address gun violence.
The National Rifle Association, the country’s most powerful gun lobby, has maintained its staunch opposition to any new firearms restrictions, instead calling for more armed guards in schools.