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Newspaper’s Map of Gun Owners|Has Upstate New York in a Tizzy

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CN) - The Journal News faces a lawsuit from a business that claims the newspaper defamed it in an interactive map it published after the Newtown school massacre, showing names and addresses of licensed handgun owners.

First Impression LLC, a gift shop and interior design firm in Katonah, sued The Journal News, of West Nyack, and its corporate parent, Gannett Co., in Westchester County Court.

The two-page, bare-bones Summons With Notice accuses the newspaper of "falsely, maliciously, recklessly, slanderously, libelously and irresponsibly publicly stating in the interactive website that plaintiff First Impression LLC is a licensed handgun owner."

The newspaper on Dec. 23 published an interactive map of Westchester and Rockland counties, allowing users to "click any dot on the map to see which of their neighbors has a permit for a gun," ABC News reported on Christmas Eve.

"The map sparked more than 500 comments from readers within a day of its appearance on the website, many of them voicing outrage at the paper's decision to make the information public," according to ABC News.

The Journal News map made national headlines, as it seemed an in-your-face response to the Dec. 14 Newtown school massacre. Gun groups were outraged.

The Journal News said the names and addresses of gun owners were compiled from public records.

Responding to the criticism last week, The Journal News quoted its president and publisher, Janet Hasson, as saying, "New York residents have the right to own guns with a permit and they also have a right to access public information."

Editor and news vice president CynDee Royle also defended the paper's actions.

"We knew publication of the database would be controversial, but we felt sharing as much information as we could about gun ownership in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings," Royle said, according to The Journal News.

"People are concerned about who owns guns and how many of them there are in their neighborhoods," she said. "Our Freedom of Information request also sought specifics on how many and what types of weapons people owned. That portion of the request was denied."

Putnam County refused the newspaper's requested for similar information, and it will officially refuse to release the information in a Thursday press conference, the Journal News reported today.

The newspaper claims that withholding the information will violate New York open records law, but a Republican state senator from the area called the Journal News's map "asinine" and an invasion of privacy.

Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant and County Executive Mary Ellen Odell on Thursday will "announce that Putnam County will not be releasing the records of Putnam pistol permits to The Journal News," the newspaper reported this morning, citing a press release from the officials.

But New York Committee on Open Government Executive Director Robert Freeman told the Journal News that "the name and address of any gun licensee are public" and must be released, according to the newspaper's story.

Freeman told the Journal News that New York City refused a similar open records request from The Wall Street Journal a few years ago, but the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Journal.

The Journal News quoted state Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, as saying he was "proud to stand with Putnam County" against release of the records.

"The asinine editors at the Journal News have gone out of their way to place a virtual scarlet letter on law abiding firearm owners throughout the region and I thank God that Putnam County has a clerk with the guts to stand up and draw the line here in Putnam County," Ball said in a statement reported by the Journal News. "This is clearly a violation of privacy, and needs to be corrected immediately. The same elitist eggheads who use their editorial page to coddle terrorists and criminals are now treating law-abiding citizens like level-three sexual predators. Every person with common sense should be offended."

County Clerk Sant told the Journal News that publishing the information would put "pistol permit holders ... in harm's way."

Told that the publisher of the Journal News said that "the law is clear that this is public information and the residents of Putnam County are entitled to see it," Ball told the newspaper in a statement: "The county clerk has my full support to protect these law abiding citizens and if The Journal News thinks they can intimidate Putnam, they are sorely mistaken. Before I waver, the egghead editors at the Journal News can kiss my white, Irish behind."

On New Year's Eve, Politico reported that the Journal News "has hired armed security guards to defend its offices after receiving a torrent of phone calls and emails responding to the paper's publication of the names and addresses of area residents with pistol permits."

Citing a police report obtained by the Rockland County Times, and shared with Politico, the newspaper and website said that the Journal Times has hired a private security firm, whose guards "are armed and will be on site during business hours through at least January 2, 2013."

The Rockland County Times, a competitor of the Journal News, ran its Jan. 1 report under the headline, "The Journal News Is Armed and Dangerous."

The article, by County Times associate publisher and editor Dylan Skriloff, began, "Guns are good for the goose but NOT for the gander."

That, however, seemed to conflate two broad issues: guns and gun control, and public records law.

In its summons and notice, First Impression claims the Journal News caused "customers and clients of First Impression LLC to cease doing business, causing damages in amount to be determined."

First Impression is represented by McDermott and McDermott, of Somers, N.Y.

The Nyacks are on the west side of the Tappan Zee Bridge, north of New York City.

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