Was New York's Journal News wrong to publish gun owner names?

The suburban New York newspaper published a map with the names and addresses of gun owners. Did it go too far? Photo: Gun Owner Map / The Journal News

FLORIDA, January 4, 2013 — The Journal News’ decision to not only publish the names of people who have been issued gun permits in New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties, but also to include an interactive map with their addresses, has raised new questions of media responsibility in the gun debate.

The newspaper is based in Westchester County, which is home to many New York City suburbs. Unsurprisingly, the political leanings of this area tend to be quite left-of-center and pro-gun control.

It is interesting to note that the article’s author, Dwight Worley, is, according to the publication, a gun owner:

Editor’s note: Journal News reporter Dwight R. Worley owns a Smith & Wesson 686 .357 Magnum and has had a residence permit in New York City for that weapon since February 2011.

Wherever one stands on gun control, it is difficult to feel sympathy for The Journal News now that it is being hit by the backlash. The Cody Wyoming Network’s publication of key personnel’s home addresses and phone numbers is one such response. 

Google Earth picture of home, with added text (blurred by Communities), of writer Dwight Worley's home. Interesting to note, this writer has a concealed weapon carry permit (Cody Wyoming Network).

Google Earth picture of home, with added text (blurred by Communities), of writer Dwight Worley’s home. Interesting to note, this writer has a concealed weapon carry permit (Cody Wyoming Network).

As far as we know, neither the writer nor the paper broke any state or federal laws in its action. The question is not law, but ethics.

To reveal detailed information about private citizens who have broken no laws and have not given their consent is questionably ethical. The names and addresses of gun permit holders are a matter of public record, but so is the phone book. What is the point the Journal is trying to make here? How does something like this serve the public interest?

By publishing those names and addresses, complete with an interactive map, the Journal is treating gun owners as a presumptive threat to the community, just as papers do when they publish names and addresses of convicted sex offenders. The difference is that the sex offenders have been convicted. Without any solid reason for publishing these names and addresses, such as alerting people that they are in imminent danger, it is difficult to see an ethical journalistic reason to do it.

The author attempts to build a case for releasing this information when, in the article’s opening lines, he reports on an earlier incident where a “mentally disturbed 77-year-old man” shot a Katonah, NY woman.  

Trying to build a better America in which combat-level firearm ownership is not deified is a worthwhile effort. After all, is there honestly a purpose within the bounds of the law for private ownership of automatic weapons (currently illegal), high-capacity clips, or armor-piercing bullets?  

If you are stockpiling heavy artillery, don’t your neighbors have the right to feel wary?

Unfortunately, The Journal News did absolutely nothing to promote the cause of firearms safety or even — if the goal was to warn of heavy assault weaponry in the area — to alert of the presence of those guns. Instead, by publishing the names of people with gun permits, they have agitated the already bitter Second Amendment fundamentalists and provided ample fodder for the critics of modern journalism. 

If a future where gun rights are preserved but modified for the sake of community safety is on the horizon, that is fine. Making life difficult for those who disagree is not. That is simply journalistic bullying.

Indeed, the path toward a Second Amendment interpreted for the twenty-first century is clear to see. That path will not be arrived at by pseudo-journalism or similar cheap tricks. We should let the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government, either in Washington, DC or at the state capitol, handle the matter.

Considering that the principal reason for gun control is to preserve and promote the ideas of a civil society, acting decently in addressing this issue should be no stretch whatsoever. 

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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