December 27, 2012

(Ralph D. Freso / Reuters)

Veronica Hash resides on an eight-acre spread in Dutchess County, N.Y. She is a registered to own a handgun — something that visitors to the Web site of the Journal News could ascertain with little trouble. Hash’s address is listed on an interactive map of gun-permit owners, based on public records requested by the Journal News, a Gannett property that serves suburban counties around New York City.

The move by the Journal News has prompted a full-throated backlash among those who claim that publishing the addresses of handgun permit holders violates privacy and otherwise serves as an indictment of perfectly legal activity. Hash takes things a step further.

“They’ve put me on the same level as a sex offender,” says the 73-year-old Hash. “If there are sex offenders, you’ve got to know where they are,” she adds, noting that the same rationale appears to have driven publication of information about the permit holders. As for her weapon, Hash notes that there are “all kinds of people wandering the streets. It just gives me a sense of security.” She maintains that she’s “fully instructed” in its use. “Please do not take the only thing that makes me feel relatively secure,” she says.

Commentators on the Internet have suggested that the Journal News may have placed in danger households that do not appear on its interactive map. Hash, though, sees danger for herself as well: “These people, by publishing my name, have made me a target for people who wish to get guns illegally…. What were they thinking? Were they going to shame me out of a gun?”
An attempt by the Erik Wemple Blog to get interviews with Journal News leaders didn’t succeed. Instead, we got pretty much what everyone else got — the following statement from Janet Hasson, president and publisher of the Journal News Media Group:

Frequently, the work of journalists is not popular. One of our roles is to report publicly available information on timely issues, even when unpopular. We knew publication of the database (as well as the accompanying article providing context) would be controversial, but we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.