Journal News publisher Janet Hasson announced Friday evening that her newspaper is removing the infamous interactive gun-map from its website, in order to follow “the spirit” of New York’s new gun control law, which restricts the public availability of gun license data.
Friday afternoon or evening is the traditional time for newsmakers to release information they’d like to see buried in next week’s news cycle.
Hasson said the Journal News does not support the new restrictions on the public availability of gun license data. “While the new law does not require us to remove the data, we believe that doing so complies with its spirit,” she said in a Facebook posting that introduced the longer letter on her newspaper’s website.
She attempted to give reasons why the paper would follow “the spirit” of a regulation they are not required to follow ex post facto, and which they disagree with.
One reason Hasson cited was that with new limits on gun license information imposed under NY SAFE, the map would become outdated. This same concern did not stop the Journal News from publishing the badly inaccurate and outdated Rockland County gun-map.
The publisher also said everyone who wanted to see the map, probably has. However, the Journal News lists their most popular stories on the sidebar of their website, and the interactive gun-map remained their third-most popular feature as of Friday afternoon, indicating a continuing high interest.
Hasson stated the Journal News does not regret their editorial decision, further noting that they stand by the map and do not believe it was a mistake.
Only hours before Hasson made the announcement on the Journal News website, Rockland County Clerk Paul Piperato requested the Journal News “follow the spirit” of the NY SAFE gun control law and take the map down.
On Wednesday a burglary in Rockland County occurred at a home listed on the Journal News gun-map, and two guns were stolen. Over the weekend, another house on the map in White Plains was burglarized, and the gun safe was also targeted.
The news publisher did not mention these incidents in her reasoning for taking down the map.
The Journal News gun-map story had become a national firestorm, attracting unprecedented attention to the editorial staff of the White Plains-based newspaper, and becoming a major facet of the gun control dialogue ongoing through the nation’s media.
The negative feedback became so intense that the Journal News hired armed security for their offices and executive editor’s homes. Guards also were reported to be at Gannett CEO’s Gracia Martore’s home in Virginia.
Without providing examples, Hasson reported in her letter that Journal News executives and staffers received “hundreds of threats.” She boasted “we do not cower.”
In Rockland County, according to a Clarkstown Police Department report, police did not classify any of the letters received by the Journal News as actual threats according to the definition of the law. In Westchester, the Journal News headquarters did receive letters with baking powder and one editor received a letter with fecal matter.
Gun-map feedback erroneously sent to the Rockland County Times shows the nature of some of the letters received by the Journal News.
The Journal News publisher and former Detroit-area news executive Hasson promised her readers the newspaper will continue to cover gun issues “aggressively.” The Journal News publisher also claimed the newspaper received a lot of support for their interactive gun-map from certain readers and other like-minded people around the country.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, the Journal News thought the community should know where gun permit holders in their community were, in part to give parents an opportunity make careful decisions about their children’s safety.
The Journal News mapped the public database of permit holders, placing a dot on the address of every permit holder in Westchester and Rockland counties and providing the name and street address of each holder. The dots conveyed a powerful message: gun permit holders are everywhere in our counties.
But public reaction to the posting of names and street addresses was swift and divided. Many in the community expressed their gratitude for The Journal News’ decision to make the information available, but permit holders were outraged at what they considered to be an invasion of privacy. Gun owners from across the country vocally conveyed their anger and accused The Journal News of having exposed permit holders and non-permit holders alike to the risk of burglaries and other crimes. Hundreds of threats were made to Journal News staffers.
So intense was the opposition to our publication of the names and addresses that legislation passed earlier this week in Albany included a provision allowing permit holders to request confidentiality and imposing a 120-day moratorium on the release of permit holder data.
Today The Journal News has removed the permit data from lohud.com. 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. On the contrary, we’ve heard from too many grateful community members to consider our decision to post information contained in the public record to have been a mistake. 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.
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.
Equally important, the legislature has weighed in on the issue and representatives of residents from across the state have said that some New Yorkers who hold gun permits should have the right to keep that information private. As a news organization, we are constantly defending the public’s right to know. Consequently we do not endorse the way the legislature has chosen to limit public access to gun permit data. The statute is very broad and allows anyone who meets certain criteria within qualifying categories to keep their permit information private. When the moratorium concludes, far fewer permit holders will be identifiable, and those who want to know which houses on their block may have guns will not be able to get that information. But we are not deaf to voices who have said that new rules should be set for gun permit data.
Make no mistake, The Journal News will continue to report aggressively on gun ownership. We will continue to pursue our request for data from Putnam County, and will closely analyze the data for Westchester and Rockland counties when it once again becomes publicly available. 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.
President and publisher
Journal News Media Group