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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

NY Times Loses Bid for Gun License Records

MANHATTAN (CN) - The New York Times cannot force police to reveal the home addresses of handgun owners and hate crime victims, a state appeals court ruled.

Well before the Journal News controversially published an interactive map of gun owners based in Westchester and Rockland counties, the Times had petitioned the New York City Police Department under Freedom of Information Law to divulge similar information.

New York County Supreme Court Judge Jane Solomon ordered the city to send the newspaper a redacted version of a database, listing the names and addresses of residents who owned handguns in November 2011.

Solomon denied another request for an electronic copy of the NYPD's crime incident database.

Almost exactly one year later, a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School sparked debate about whether to publicize the private information of gun owners.

Amid that controversy, a unanimous the First Judicial Department of the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division scaled back the disclosure Solomon had mandated.

"The court erred in ordering respondent to release the home addresses of handgun licensees in electronic form," the unsigned Tuesday order states.

Though the city's penal law designates license information as a "public record," FOIL's privacy and safety exemptions could prevent disclosure of some of the information on these forms, the court found.

"Nor, since the zip codes of the license holders were disclosed, would the additional disclosure of their exact street addresses appear 'to further the policies of FOIL, which are to assist the public in formulating intelligent, informed choices with respect to both the direction and scope of governmental activities,'" the order states.

Upholding the denial of the crime victim database, the panel stated: "Even the partial disclosure of an address can reveal the identity of a victim, if, for example, he or she resides in a single family house or is the only member of a particular minority group who resides in a small apartment building. Moreover, respondent's expert's testimony regarding the sensitivity of hate crime victims and their frequent desire to remain private about the incidents was not controverted."

The appellate court also overruled Solomon in finding that the Times exhausted its administrative remedies for accessing this information.

In another section of the same order, the court revived a bid from the Times to access a New York City Police Department database of residents targeted by the stop-and-frisk program.

That database was submitted as evidence in a federal class action lawsuit , Floyd v. City of New York, which seeks to end alleged racial profiling in the program.

Noting that a state court might not be able to turn over the federal court's evidence, the panel directed the lower court "to determine whether the Floyd database should be released, and if so, under what conditions."

In a statement, city lawyer Michael Cardozo hailed the ruling as striking an "appropriate balance between privacy and safety concerns versus the public's right to know."

New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Courthouse News that the newspaper is evaluating the decision and "considering our legal next steps."

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