Written by: John W. Barry
Putnam County officials, who say they will refuse a newspaper’s request to release the names and addresses of residents with pistol permits, would break state law by withholding the data, a state official said.
The opinion, of state Committee on Open Government Executive Director Robert Freeman, came after an announcement Tuesday by state Sen. Greg Ball and two Putnam officials that they would refuse to release the data requested by The Journal News of White Plains, which sought the records under the state Freedom of Information Law.
Putnam County officials in December had told the Journal News that it was compiling the data. Ball, R-Patterson, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant have scheduled a press conference for Thursday to, according to a press release, “announce that Putnam County will not be releasing the records of Putnam pistol permits to The Journal News.” Ball represents Beekman and Pawling in Dutchess, along with eastern Putnam County and northern Westchester.
Ball called the Journal News’ decision to publish the data “asinine” and an invasion of privacy, while Sant said his office has received an onslaught of calls demanding that he not release the data.
But, Freeman said, the law is clear. “The name and address of any gun licensee are public,” he said.
The Journal News Dec. 24 published a story as well as interactive map on its website, www.lohud.com. The map identified the names and addresses of those who legally hold pistol permits in Westchester and Rockland counties. A request also was made to Putnam County at that time.
That map ignited a firestorm of controversy, but also generated support. All three requests for the gun data followed last month’s mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Freeman said The Journal News could appeal a denial, which would be heard within Putnam County government. If a second denial occurred, The Journal News could ask a judge to decide. Freeman said The Wall Street Journal asked New York City officials to turn over similar gun data several years ago. That request was denied — but the state’s highest court later ruled in favor of The Wall Street Journal.
Ball was firm in his position. “I’m proud to stand with Putnam County and proud that Putnam won’t be releasing its pistol permit records,” he said in a statement released by his spokesman. “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. 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…”
In a statement released through Ball’s office, Sant said, “Since The Journal News has published this map, Putnam has received hundreds of calls from Putnam residents urging us not to release these records. I am happy to stand with Senator Greg Ball and protect the law-abiding gun owners here in Putnam County. There is the rule of law, and there is right and wrong and The Journal News is clearly wrong. I could not live with myself if one Putnam pistol permit holder was put in harm’s way, for the sole purpose of selling newspapers. I will stand my ground with Senator Ball to stand up for the citizens of Putnam County and New York State.”
Odell could not be reached for comment.
Journal News President and Publisher Janet Hasson defended her publication Tuesday. “We believe the law is clear that this is public information and the residents of Putnam County are entitled to see it. We’re troubled that county officials have apparently switched their position since we first requested the information.”
Told of Freeman’s determination, Ball, in a statement, said, “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.”
The Poughkeepsie Journal, which like The Journal News is owned by Gannett Co., Inc., did not publish the original Journal News story, nor has it posted the interactive map on its website. (ARTICLE)