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Updated Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 03:08 PM

Officials try to block releasing list of gun owners

By J. DAVID GOODMAN
The New York Times

Less than two weeks after a White Plains, N.Y.-based newspaper published the names and addresses of handgun-permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties, officials in Putnam County say they will block the release of their permit records requested by the newspaper.

County Clerk Dennis Sant said he and other officials were meeting Wednesday to discuss legal options for stopping the release of the permit information.

“In Putnam County, I have over 11,000 pistol permit holders, and I refuse to put their lives and their families’ lives in danger,” he said in a telephone interview. “When these laws were conceived, there was no social media, there was no Google maps.”

The newspaper, The Journal News, drew nationwide attention and online anger after it published a clickable map on its website with the names and addresses of handgun-permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties, in the suburbs north of New York City. The paper had gathered the information from public records.

Despite the backlash — some of it aimed at newspaper employees whose addresses were similarly mapped by bloggers — the paper’s leadership vowed to forge ahead with plans to expand its map to Putnam County.

State Sen. Greg Ball, who represents the area, said he and Sant would hold a news conference Thursday “to announce that Putnam County will not be releasing the records of Putnam pistol permits to The Journal News.”

Ball said the map already published by the paper “unethically reveals homeowners with pistol permits” and that he opposed plans to extend it.

Sant said permit holders were “upstanding citizens,” such as retired police officers and doctors.

It is unclear whether county officials have the authority to block the release. The permits are public records that had been requested by the newspaper using the state Freedom of Information law.

Robert Freeman, of the state Committee on Open Government, said the officials would be breaking the law if they refused to release the records. The name and address of any handgun-permit holder “shall be a public record,” he said, reading a section of New York State law. “In my opinion there is not a lot of room for interpretation.”

The Journal News, a Gannett newspaper covering three counties in the Hudson Valley, ran a story headlined, “The gun owner next door: What you don’t know about the weapons in your neighborhood.”

The story included comments from both sides of the gun-rights debate and presented the data as answering concerns of those who would like to know whether there are guns in their neighborhood. It was published soon after the fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.


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