The Journal News Gun Owner Database Debacle


Whenever one’s privacy is breached in the public sphere, there’s always that awkward, immediate reaction when the reader asks, “Was that one too far?” Well, it depends on impact and damage; this was a main concern with WikiLeaks – “Did their privacy leaks put anyone in harm’s way?” underlies every controversy they step into. But, with these kinds of situations, that first initial breach is always the deepest.

This is the situation brewing in White Plains. A local suburban newspaper named The Journal News made headlines yesterday by publishing an online map (powered by Google!) of gun owners’ homes in the Tristate area with data obtained through New York State’s Freedom of Information Act. The map was a counterpart to a post-Newtown article by writer Dwight Worley that called for more public information available on those that own firearms.
When the Journal News was first hit by audiences for its decision to publish the map, the President, Janet Hasson, had to take to the paper’s defense. She did so in a statement to Politico, in which she wrote, “We know publication of the database (as well as the accompanying article providing context would be controversial, but we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”
Well, at least she was right about the ‘controversial’ thing.
Gun owners on the Web claimed their privacy had been treated with the same respect as sexual offenders, arguing that their Second Amendment right did not imply an infringement of other rights. Readers shared the same outrage, too.
This backlash culminated in a childish 180: a blogger named Chris Fountain took the matter to the next level of nonsense by publishing another map (powered by Google!); this time, it featured the names and locations of the employees at the The Journal News. “Well, I just thought they were being hypocrites,” Fountain told CNN.
Also, the blogger included a bit from Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles entitled ‘Where the White Women At?’ in his post. Why? “I’ve received e-mails from abused women who were under protective order and in hiding and they’re terribly afraid that now their names and addresses are all over the Internet and accessible through that map,” Fountain continued. Reasonable but that emotional route only goes so far when you do the exact same thing to a different group of people.
If Fountain had pursued a cease-and-desist order for the paper’s article, this weed could have uprooted before growing any further. Instead, the possibility of blowback mentioned before has been doubled in size and breadth. What’s worse than a breach of privacy? A counter-breach of privacy.
Way to keep it civil, guys.