The Journal News based in Westchester County, New York, the county just north of New York City, published the names and addresses, complete with an interactive map, of every handgun owner in Westchester and Rockland counties.
The backlash has been swift and harsh. From the comments on the original story:
Some critics felt the Journal News article put people in danger. “Do you fools realize that you also made a map for criminals to use to find homes to rob that have no guns in them to protect themselves? What a bunch of liberal boobs you all are,” one commenter wrote on the newspaper’s website. Others worried that the names would expose law enforcement officials. “You have judges, policemen, retired policemen, FBI agents — they have permits. Once you allow the public to see where they live, that puts them in harm’s way,” Paul Piperato, the Rockland county clerk, told Journal News reporter Worley.
Indeed, one former burglar made it plain what a boon this is for his former colleagues:
The information published online by the Journal-News, a daily paper serving the New York suburbs of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, could be highly useful to thieves in two ways, former burglars told FoxNews.com. Crooks looking to avoid getting shot now know which targets are soft and those who need weapons know where they can steal them.
“That was the most asinine article I’ve ever seen,” said Walter T. Shaw, 65, a former burglar and jewel thief who the FBI blames for more than 3,000 break-ins that netted some $70 million in the 1960s and 1970s. “Having a list of who has a gun is like gold – why rob that house when you can hit the one next door, where there are no guns?
“What they did was insanity,” added Shaw, author of “License to Steal,” a book about his criminal career.
The only names and addresses they published, of course, were those who actually registered with the government that they own a handgun because those gun owners followed the law and registered the fact that they own a gun. So it is possible to get those names and addresses easily through a FOIA request.
But legal handguns aren’t the ones that commit the great bulk of the gun crimes. Those who intend to commit a crime with a gun are not going to buy their weapon through legitimate means, so their names and addresses wouldn’t necessarily be on the public list. Publishing the names and addresses of all legal handgun owners only serves to aggravate the fears of neighbors who are afraid of guns, and aids and abets real criminals in plotting their next heist. It does not make anyone safer, rather the contrary.
Now the real service, if this newspaper is so enterprising and interested in alerting the public to danger, would be to undertake the intrepid work of outing those who own guns illegally and their suppliers. That work would expose those already breaking laws and who are desirous of guns that are not traceable to them.
It would also be dangerous, whereas just filing a FOIA request for the names of law-abiding folk is easy and safe.
Real steps can be taken to reduce gun crime—indeed, all violent crime—in America. We need a change of heart, a return to a knowledge of and respect for absolute moral truths rather than legal positivism and moral relativism, a clear respect that there is right and wrong—even on small things that may be unpopular to classify that way, and respect for all human life, for starters. But moves like this that unnecessarily exacerbate fears, invade privacy, and expose people in danger are not helpful at all.