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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Gun Owners Fight|’Outing’ in Newspaper

MANHATTAN (CN) — A gun owners group sued an Upstate New York County in Federal Court, claiming it will violate gun owners' privacy and the Second Amendment if it allows a newspaper to publish identifying information about handgun-permit holders.

Such information already has been published in two adjoining counties, and the defendant clerk of Putnam County denied a Freedom of Information request from a local newspaper, but The Journal News sued the county to compel disclosure and won.

A state appellate court confirmed the ruling, so last week the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association sued the county and its clerk to try to stop publication.

"On December 24, 2012, the people of Westchester and Rockland Counties awoke to find on the website of one of their local newspapers an interactive map that identified, by name and address, every person residing in Westchester and Rockland Counties who possessed a New York permit to own a handgun," the Oct. 19 lawsuit begins. Two John Doe plaintiffs say their privacy will be invaded if the Journal News is allowed to publish their names.

The Journal News, a Gannett newspaper with a circulation of about 164,000, circulates in the three counties of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam, just north of New York City.

The day after the Journal News published the map, a blogger posted the names and addresses of staff members of the Journal News. The newspaper and some of its employees responded by hiring armed guards — a move that gun advocates called hypocritical.

Police officers and victims of crime and domestic abuse then complained to The National Journal that publishing their addresses exposed them to harm, and exposed people who did not own guns to harm, as the newspaper had in effect given burglars a map to unarmed people's houses.

The Journal News removed the map from the internet on Jan. 13, 2013, but it reappeared.

The newspaper is not a party to the new lawsuit, which names only Putnam County and its clerk as defendants.

The Putnam county clerk refused to release the permit holders' information at first, saying it "would constitute an unwarranted invasion of the permit holders' personal privacy."

But The Journal News sued and won, and a state appellate court upheld the ruling in September.

Now the two John Does say they have been "forced to choose between their constitutional right to privacy and their Second Amendment right to bear arms, a result that cannot be squared with the United States Constitution."

Under that New York SAFE Act of 2013, handgun permit-holders can request that information such as their address be withheld from the public record if they believe that "his or her life or safety may be endangered by disclosure" or that "he or she may be subject to unwarranted harassment upon disclosure for such information."

However, "New York severely punishes those who misrepresent safety or harassment," the Does say and the gun association say in the lawsuit.

"New York's law requiring the public release of handgun permit holders' names and addresses has the purpose and the effect of 'outing' handgun permit holders and subjecting them to unwanted public attention and censure by those who oppose gun ownership," the complaint states.

The Does say that disclosure of their names — required by the court order — would harm their standing in the community and violates their constitutional rights.

Neither Doe says he faces specific threats should his permit status be revealed, so neither one qualifies for an exemption.

In fact, Doe 2, a retired police officer, says he does not even have a gun or a permit. He wants a handgun, he says, to protect himself and his family, "but he has refrained from doing so because under New York law his name and address as a handgun permit holder would constitute a public record subject to public disclosure under FOIL ]freedom of information law]."

Both say their status as a handgun permit holder, or not, "is a private, personal matter and that public disclosure of that information would subject the permit holder to unwanted public attention and censure by those in the community who are hostile to guns and gun owners."

They want the Putnam county clerk enjoined from disclosing the information to the newspaper.

They are represented by Charles Cooper with Cooper and Kirk in Washington, D.C.

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