One week ago, New York State Sen. Greg Ball appeared on Megyn Kelly’s “America Live” program on Fox News to discuss the controversy over the Journal News’s decision to publish the names and addresses of gun permit holders in New York’s Rockland and Westchester counties. A strong opponent of the public release of such information, Ball insisted that “enough is enough.” A representative of the lower Hudson Valley communities catered to by the Journal News, Ball alleged that the Journal News was essentially promoting crime:
We’re talking about thousands of people who live very private lives. Victims of domestic violence, former New York City police officers who have put the worst of the worst behind bars, who are trying to protect and raise their families. Who have now been exposed in a very public way. … We have gotten reports from other states in similar instances where it has led to criminal actions.
(Bold text added to stress a statement that merits a patdown.)
After Ball made that claim, the Erik Wemple Blog checked with his office to ascertain just what “reports” he was referencing. Joe Bachmeier, an aide to Ball, said he had the goods and would get back to me. After not getting anything, this blog issued a second request. Bachmeier responded, “A few people sent us [Facebook] messages with the specific examples” and that he’d retrieve them. Nothing yet.
Another leading source on the hazards posed by the Journal News’s weak journalism is Dennis Sant, the Putnam County clerk. Though the Journal News has requested permit details from Putnam, Sant has made a public affair of denying the request, based on safety concerns. Yesterday the Erik Wemple Blog reached out to Sant to suss out the latest on the public-safety problems posed by the Journal News gun-permit databases. Sant drilled in on two circumstances:
* Inmates at the Rockland County lockup have reportedly taunted corrections officials whose information has surfaced on the Journal News maps. According to Sant, the inmates use Google Earth to gather some intelligence on their supervisors. And they say stuff like, “I know where you live. By the way, your barn in the back yard — I can see you haven’t finished the roof,” notes Sant.
* A woman who was “stalked for a number of years,” says Sant, took great pains to find a “peaceful neighborhood.” Three days after the Journal News story surfaced, he says, the woman, who was in the Journal News database, started to get hangups on her phone late at night. Though the Journal News didn’t publish phone numbers, Sant says its information abetted stalkers. “How much more do you need than name and address and the neighborhood in which they live?” he asks.
Sant says that before reaching his decision on whether to cough up the Putnam County gun records, he waited to see what happened in Westchester and Rockland counties. The backlash, he says, was immediate: “We had over 400 phone calls in my office from residents from the other counties,” he says. Like many county-level officials in the Journal News’s area, Sant claims that the Journal News has provided criminals with a “road map” to their turf.
As for hard evidence of a heightened risk from gun-permit publication, Sant refers to a study that examined the impact of the Memphis Commercial Appeal’s publication of the names and Zip codes of Tennessee’s handgun-carry permit holders. After crunching a whole bunch of numbers — including something called “zip code-specific cubic time fixed effects” — the study reached this conclusion:
Relative to zip codes with the middle number of permits, zip codes with the highest concentration of permits experienced roughly 1.9 fewer burglaries per week/per zip code in the 15 weeks following the publicization of the database, and those with the lowest concentration experienced on average 1.4 more burglaries. Given that, on average, there were 9.7 burglaries per week in each of the top zip codes, our results imply a 20% relative decrease of burglaries in those zip codes.
Another relevant finding of the study vacates a common claim made against the Journal News — namely, that publication of the information makes folks’ gun arsenals a target for theft. Not so: “[O]ne of the main concerns of gun rights protestors (and, indeed, one of the arguments in support of gun owners’ privacy) was that the publication of the database would make it easier for burglars to steal their guns. This should have been reflected in an increase in guns stolen during burglaries in zip codes with more gun permits. However, we do not find such an effect.”
Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University, one of the study’s authors, fielded a question from the Erik Wemple Blog as to whether publication of gun-permit information affects the level of burglary or just the targets of burglary. Acquisti: “For the specific case we examined, we found more precise evidence of a displacement effect caused by the publication of the database than a deterrent effect. In other words, the publication seemed to influence the location of crimes more than their actual level.”
Plowing through the 34-page, data-heavy study represents a therapeutic departure from the demagoguery that has greeted the Journal News story since just after Christmas. Typical of the nonsense was the proclamation of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who earlier this week declared point-blank that “individuals, real people, like Jeanine Pirro, are suffering because of the exposition.”
If we are to trust Acquisti & Co., there may be a far more boring reality, one in which publication of gun permit data gives the holders a slight bit of protection and the rest of the world a slight bit of additional exposure. Is that enough to overturn public-records laws? Your move, Albany.