Sunday, January 13, 2013

Irresponsible Journalism Fixes No Ills

So most of you have heard this news story by now.  The Journal News, a Gannett- publication newspaper which services the three large counties north of New York City (Westchester, Rockland and Putnam), published the names of legal gun owners; including their addresses and phone numbers.  They also put online an interactive map with pins showing the exact location of these people, just like you can find for pedophiles and convicted felons who live near you.

Public reaction ranged from a few, who thought this was a great service, to a majority who recognized this as irresponsible journalism at its worst.  One of the people on the list was Judge Jeanine Pirro, herself a legal gun owner.  Now anyone who was ever convicted in her court or sentenced by her to serve prison terms for their crimes has her address and telephone number and her exact location on a map.  She was furious and lashed out at the paper's publisher, Janet Hasson, president of The Journal New Media Group, and CynDee Royle, the editor and vice-president of The Journal News.  Her comments were printed in many other newspapers and aired on Fox News.

Hasson and Royle made brief statements defending their right to do what they did, but offering no reason for why they did it other than, "Our readers are understandably interested to know about guns in their neighborhoods."  And now, as Judge Pirro seeks a meeting with either one or both, they both have refused to discuss it.

One of the great freedoms we enjoy in this country is a Free Press.  It is guaranteed in our Constitution under the 1st Amendment.  It is a freedom enjoyed by very few countries in the world and defended regularly in our courts.  It is a good thing and we need it. But with that sovereign right comes great responsibility.  In the case of The Journal News, not only did they abrogate their responsibility, but trampled the Constitutional rights of thousands of individuals who not only have an expectation of privacy but a right to privacy, protected by the 4th Amendment.  Unfortunately, that Amendment applies only to federal and state government agencies.  It does not apply to private citizens or organizations. 

The information published by The Journal News is a matter of public record.  Remember, these are government-licensed gun owners.  Under the Freedom of Information Act, the newspaper had lawful access to the information and chose to reveal it to their readers. But should they have?

Let me respond to three people who commented favorably about the list and the map:

- "The gun permit maps are an effective way of showing how horribly widespread gun ownership is."

DUH?  You don't need a map, let alone specific names, addresses and phone numbers, to know that.  There are some 315 million legal guns in the United States.  That is one for nearly every man, woman and child in the country. And you needed a map to figure out there might be a gun or two on your block?

- "Please thank them.  This could be a turning point.  I do not want my daughter playing in a house with guns."

Then go to the parents of all your daughter's friends and ask them if they have guns in their homes.  Tell them either they have to give up their guns or your daughter will no longer be able to play with their child(ren).  When they tell you where to stick your nose after you get it out of their business, you can go home and tell your daughter that she can no longer play with 47 % of her friends because that is the number of households in this country that have one or more guns in their homes.

- "LOVE the gun license map!  Excellent information to anyone concerned with who they live around!"

While we are at it, would you like an interactive map of all the Jews in your neighborhood, like the Nazi's provided to concerned German citizens in the 1930's.  Or how about a listing of chain saw owners?  Texas residents concerned about those particular massacres would be interested I am sure.  Would you like a map of gays and lesbians?  You know, I am not wild about flaming liberals, so if they are in the majority in my neighborhood, I am getting the heck outta here!

"Armed" with this list of gun-owners and their addresses, is it a possibility that criminals in search of a legally registered weapon might now know exactly where they might find one?  Could this list allow intended burglars (or rapists or whatever) to know which homes on the block are not armed and target those homes instead?  Is it possible we have put these legal gun owners, who have broken no laws, have submitted to background checks and waiting periods, have, in some instances, been fingerprinted and registered and who are presumably responsible people, at risk of being ridiculed at least and targeted for vigilante abuse at worst?

If one of the gun-owners on that list is the recipient of a break-in, a burglary, a rape, or some other vile deed, will The Journal News step up to make them whole, assuming they survive the incident?  I don't know but, as a legal gun owner, if some irresponsible newspaper or other media source publishes my name, address or phone number and something nefarious happens because of it, we will find out.  I always wanted to own a piece of the media.


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