Newspaper removes controversial online database of gun permit holders

The interactive map allowed readers to see the names and addresses of all handgun permit holders in two New York counties.

Story highlights

  • The Journal News unplugs an online map listing gun permit holders
  • The map has served its purpose, publisher says
  • Newspaper said it didn't cower to vocal critics
A New York newspaper removed an interactive map from its website following a public outcry over the revealing of names and addresses of handgun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties, the publisher said Friday.
The newspaper last month defended the online information culled from public records, but The Journal News publisher Janet Hasson on Friday said the map had served its purpose.
The database was published in the wake of the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were killed. The gunman, 20, had earlier killed his mother in their home; he killed himself after the school rampage.
"Today The Journal News has removed the permit data from," Hasson said in a public letter on the website.
The newspaper wasn't caving to public pressure, and the decision wasn't an acknowledgment that it made a mistake, Hasson said. In fact, she said, many community members applauded publication of the permit data.
"Our decision to do so is not a concession to critics that no value was served by the posting of the map in the first place," Hasson said.
"Nor is our decision made because we were intimidated by those who threatened the safety of our staffers. We know our business is a controversial one, and we do not cower," Hasson said.
"But the database has been public for 27 days and we believe those who wanted to view it have done so already. As well, with the passage of time, the data will become outdated and inaccurate," she said.
Hasson acknowledged a legislative climate in New York that favors making private any information about gun permits.
"As a news organization, we are constantly defending the public's right to know," she said. "But we are not deaf to voices who have said that new rules should be set for gun permit data."
The online map allowed readers to zoom in on red dots that indicated which residents were licensed to own pistols or revolvers.
Blue dots indicated permit holders who "have purchased a firearm or updated the information on a permit in the past five years."
The published data outraged many gun permit holders and privacy advocates, who posted angry comments online. Some threatened to cancel their subscriptions or boycott the publication.
At the time, Hasson defended the decision.
"One of our roles is to report publicly available information on timely issues, even when unpopular. We knew 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," she said last month.
On Friday, the newspaper pledged to continue "to report aggressively" on gun ownership and will press its request for data from Putnam County and additional information from Westchester and Rockland counties once it's released publicly.
"And we will keep a snapshot of our map--with all its red dots-- on our website to remind the community that guns are a fact of life we should never forget," Hasson wrote.