Newspapers are making news themselves of late. Recently I posted on a string of burglaries that occurred after someone hacked the “Do Not Deliver” list of the Los Angeles Times, which gave burglars a convenient list of who was away from home, and when. It’s reported that as many as 100 of these empty homes were broken into. Today’s story is also about a newspaper, The Journal News, but this time it was the paper itself that created the headlines.
It’s the First Amendment versus the Second Amendment, free speech versus gun rights, after a website exposed names and addresses of people with permits for handguns in some northern [New York City] suburbs. In response to the Newtown school shootings in Connecticut, the Journal News has revealed who has gun permits in Westchester and Rockland [New York] counties.
Reactions from Both Sides of the Argument
Wow – regardless of whether you agree with the paper or not, that was one gutsy move. It wasn’t hard to find people with an opinion on the matter: in fact, it was tough to find anyone who was ambivalent.
The reaction to the project, which includes an article and an interactive map that reveals the names and addresses of people licensed to own handguns, is mixed. “I definitely think it’s a beneficial tool to have,” one man said. “They ought to publish the criminal’s names who’ve committed gun violence,” another man said. “I think it’s a bit disingenuous of the Journal News to say that they are just giving information out here,” Syracuse University’s Hub Brown said. “They were taking a position on guns.”
Who Owns the Guns?
Following the Newtown school shootings, reporters obtained the information by filing a Freedom of Information Act, but on “CBS News This Morning” John Miller said many of these guns belong to law enforcement officers. “If you just take Rockland County, 8,000 either active or retired NYPD officers live there,” Miller said. “Within the law enforcement community they’re saying, ‘In the law of unintended consequences you’re giving people a map to our names and home addresses that’s searchable.’”
More Negative Reviews than Positive?
On a single residential block in Yonkers, four homes show up on the map indicating the residents have a permit for a handgun. One woman who lives on the street said her neighbors who obtained permits shouldn’t be exposed. “Most people who have gone through the process have guns and they’re responsible with them…I think that’s not good,” Sarah DeBlois told CBS 2′s Tony Aiello. The gun permit information is public record, but posting it has sparked quite a public debate. “I think it was a very irresponsible thing for the newspaper to do. They were telling burglars ‘Go to the house next door. They’re not likely to have a gun because they don’t have a permit’” said Larry Pratt with the group Gun Owners of America.
Information That’s Hard to Ignore
Aiello reported that in his Westchester neighborhood, even people who think it was a bad idea to publish this information are using the online map to see if their friends and neighbors have handgun permits. Some are using the map to check, for instance, on addresses where their kids go on playdates. “It feels a little awkward. Whenever there’s a weapon in the house, there’s always the possibility something could happen, something could go wrong,” Yonkers resident Miguel Cuevas told Aiello.
“If you’re a robber looking to burglarize a home where you might steal guns now you a have a map,” Miller said. The Journal News said it’s planning to release a similar map for Putnam County once it retrieves the information requested. The online map only tracks handguns because state law doesn’t require permits for rifles and shotguns.
What Happened Next
Then, as if to underscore the concerns of some over the paper’s actions, burglars did in fact rob one of the homes identified in the map – and the reaction from some quarters was strong indeed. Here’s that news story.
Just when it appeared that the furor over the Journal News’s map of gun-permit holders might just recede a tad, this happens: New York state Sen. Greg Ball, who has been decrying the Journal News for weeks, is alleging that a burglary in White Plains stemmed from the paper’s publication of the names and addresses of permit holders. Here are two paragraphs from Ball’s statement of this afternoon:
Today Senator Greg Ball (Patterson – R, C, I) announced that a burglary has been reported on Davis Ave. in White Plains, New York that evidently ties into The Journal News gun maps. It is reported that the burglar used The Journal News’ interactive gun map to target a home included on the map. Luckily the gun was locked up and no one was hurt.
Paper is to Blame?
“The Journal News has placed the lives of these folks at risk by creating a virtual shopping list for criminals and nut jobs. If the connection is proven, this is further proof that these maps are not only an invasion of privacy but that they present a clear and present danger to law-abiding, private citizens. Former convicts have already testified to the usefulness of the asinine Journal News ‘gun maps’ yet the reckless editors are evidently willing to roll the dice, gambling with the lives of innocent local homeowners,” said Senator Greg Ball.
Details on the Crime
Newsday is all over this turn of events. The perpetrators, reports Newsday, targeted the home’s gun safe. Other details: no guns were taken from the residence; the victim is a man in his 70’s; a suspect has been taken into custody. And perhaps the most explosive bit is that the home was included in the Journal News’s map of registered gun-permit holders in Rockland and Westchester counties, according to Newsday and Ball.
Regardless of how the details shake out, this is a towering media story, primarily for the pickle in which it puts the Journal News. Since the newspaper is under fire for allegedly turning the counties of Westchester and Rockland into a burglar’s paradise, coverage of burglaries becomes a fraught undertaking for the Journal News. Are thieves really targeting homes harboring valuable weaponry, as some have alleged? Are thieves really targeting homes not harboring valuable weaponry, as some have alleged? What obligation does the Journal News have to self-disclose criminal actions involving the residences included in its database?
This story line is particularly interesting to us, since we know all too well that burglars do target guns for theft. In fact, firearms are on the “short list” of things burglars steal the most, along with cash, jewelry, electronics, and prescription drugs. Guns can be easily converted to cash, or – more ominously – may be used in the commission of future residential crimes.
What You Can Do
Of course, the best solution is to have a monitored alarm system in the home – especially one with smarter interactive features. In addition to traditional intrusion detection, today’s most advanced systems can send you a text or email any time a door opens. And many of the gun owners who use these systems place a door contact on their gun cabinet or gun safe: that way, they are notified any time the cabinet or safe is opened, even by a member of the family, such as a child. Now that’s peace of mind.
With a burglary occurring roughly every 14 seconds in the US, more and more homeowners are opting for a safe and reliable way to protect their homes and families. And when they shop online, they look for companies with the most advanced technology and the best reputation. That’s why so many choose FrontPoint. As the leader in wireless home security and the #1 ranked alarm company in the US, FrontPoint knows all about peace of mind: that’s our number one job, to make you feel more secure when you’re at home… or away.