The Unintended Consequences of the Journal News’s Gun-Owner Map

As most people know about by now, The Journal News, a small newspaper in New York, recently published an online map that pinpointed the addresses and the names of every owner of a handgun permit in Westchester and Rockland Counties.

The most immediate intent of the map, as indicated by the heading “The Gun Owner Next Door: What You Don’t Know About the Weapons in Your Neighborhood,” was to let those without gun permits know who had guns.

Beyond that, it is unclear what the paper hoped to accomplish. Were they hoping that the people living at the 33,614 marked addressed would receive intimidating threats from their neighbors? Were they hoping that the publication of their addresses would encourage them to get rid of their guns; to turn them in to the government, perhaps?

According to ex-convicts, the publication of the map would have made their jobs much easier back in their days of crime.

Walter T. Shaw, whom the FBI pegged for the break-in and robbery of over 3,000 homes in his life, said of the map, “Having a list of who has a gun is like gold. Why rob that house when you can hit the one next door, where there are no guns?”

But now, the publishers of The Journal News are receiving death threats and otherwise threatening messages. Janet Hasson, the president of the paper, has hypocritically hired armed guards to stand outside the paper’s headquarters. She also said that as journalists, they expect criticism, but added that “in the U.S., journalists should not be threatened.”

Hasson’s home address and phone number have been published online as well, which only seems fair. After all, if she believed no harm could befall those whose names and addresses she published just by publishing them, what harm could befall her simply by publishing her address? (And I can only assume she thought what she did was harmless, otherwise she wouldn’t have done it, right?)

What Hasson fails to understand is that in publishing the addresses of gun-permit holders, she also published the addresses of those without gun permits. In other words, she broadcasted to all of Westchester and Rockland Counties, “Hey, these unmarked houses are not armed. It would be safe to break into any one of them and rob it.”

How irresponsible can a newspaper publisher be? Since she’s the owner of the paper, I don’t know how she can be fired from her job, but she certainly ought to be. She has jeopardized the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

As the New York Times reports, The Journal News‘s circulation has fallen over the last five years from 111,536 to 68,850. Somehow I don’t think this shameful act of hers will help save her paper.