January 3, 2013
Handguns and other weapons
The haul from a gun buyback program this month. (Mel Evans / The Associated Press)

Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino was “dumbfounded” when the Journal News published its hyper-controversial map of gun-permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. That map, says Astorino, provides a cheat sheet for burglars throughout the lower Hudson region of New York State.

Prior to its publication, he notes, enterprising criminals would have had to fill out records requests complete with their own names and addresses in order to procure such intelligence. No need at this point: “The newspaper did all the work for them,” says Astorino. Not that Astorino has espied a spike in break-ins since the Journal News map and accompanying story hit the newstream just before Christmas. “The criminals are still deciding which house they’re going to hit,” he says.

Like Poynter’s Al Tompkins as well as the Erik Wemple Blog, Astorino had trouble spotting great journalistic value in the dump of names and addresses orchestrated by the Journal News. “It didn’t seem like it served any rational purpose,” says the county exec.

So what about the laws governing the release of such information? “We’ll definitely have to take a look at that,” says Astorino. Down the road, the county executive notes that “there could be such a backlash that there could be a movement to restrict public records.” When asked about the decision of Putnam County to dis the Journal News’s request for gun permits, Astorino took a hands-off approach: “That’s up to Putnam County to determine whether they have the legal authority to withhold. I’m not going to question what they’re doing,” he says.

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