BY MICHAEL RICONDA
The Rockland County Legislature approved several resolutions addressing gun control and the recent controversy surrounding the Journal News’ publication of gun owners’ personal information at its 5 p.m. meeting on January 8, 2013.
The committee voted almost unanimously to pass two resolutions, one urging the state legislature to introduce and pass bills to amend State Penal Law Section 400 and another condemning the paper for publishing the names and addresses of handgun permit-holders in Rockland County.
The legislature strongly criticized the Journal News for the decision, noting that while the paper was legally-entitled to the move through First Amendment protections, the highly-sensitive information also posed a security risk. If amended, state law will prohibit such disclosures of pistol licensing records, but will leave other records unaffected.
Criticism had been levied during the public comment section of the meeting that the Journal News was protected by the First Amendment and any law prohibiting the publication of certain information could be construed as a violation of the freedom of the press. Legislator Alden Wolfe disagreed, stating that it is not unusual to balance public interest with the transparency of government records.
“I don’t particularly buy the slippery slope argument because I think this is a dialogue that always will happen as to determining if this is something in the public interest,” Legislator Wolfe said.
Legislator Aron Wieder agreed, adding that the paper’s decision not only endangered the public, but also distracted from other important issues surrounding gun control.
“I feel that with the tragedy that happened in Newtown, the publishing of this map took away from the public discussion that needs to take place on assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and so on,” Wieder said.
County Sheriff Louis Falco was present to support the resolutions, emphasizing that the map was both a public safety and law enforcement concern because the information allows home invaders to pinpoint vulnerable households and placed law enforcement officers, many of whom have weapons in their homes, at risk.
“Because there’s a legal right to do it does not mean that it’s right to do,” Falco said.
The resolution requesting a change in state law passed unanimously, while the vote condemning the Journal News was opposed only by Chairwoman Harriet Cornell. Cornell objected to the dramatic use of “condemnation” as a legislative tactic, though she also supported the request to change state law and disagreed with the Journal News’ decision to publish and keep the information up on its website.
In addition to addressing the Journal News, the committee approved a program which will provide free cable locks to Rockland County gun owners, tools which will be distributed by police to encourage gun safety and responsible gun storage.
The cable locks, which have been provided through private donations, will be available on a first-come-first-serve basis. After the distribution of the initial 1,600 sets outlined in the bill, the Sheriff’s Department may explore the possibility of obtaining more free locks through a federal program known as Project Child Safe.