Don’t hide public information

In December, The Journal News, a Gannett-owned newspaper serving Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties, published maps online that allowed people to zoom in on a neighborhood within Westchester and Rockland counties to see the names and addresses of people who are licensed to own handguns.

The names and addresses of people with gun permits are public information that should be available to anyone under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

While The Leader-Herald wouldn’t publish the names and addresses of handgun owners without strong reasons, we stand squarely behind anyone’s request to obtain the information.

Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant, County Executive MaryEllen Odell and District Attorney Adam B. Levy all said they did not support releasing the information to the newspaper. The clerk said he would not fulfill the paper’s request.

The officials claim the issue is a public-safety concern, not a public right-to-know case.

State Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, said a recent burglary at a house in White Plains was triggered by the house’s presence on the map, but police there say that’s speculation.

Despite the public-safety claim, government officials have no right to ignore the state’s public information laws.

When the government begins ignoring the laws, every citizen in the state should be concerned, regardless of whether they agree with the newspaper’s use of the information.

A lot of public information is sensitive. Some examples: the salaries of public employees; the names and addresses of people filing for divorce; the names of people having trouble paying their tax bills; and the names and addresses of registered sex offenders. If federal or state laws were to keep that information secret, the public’s freedom would be threatened.

Names and addresses of gun permit holders have been considered public record for decades. Anyone who wants access to this information should be able to obtain it.

Putnam County is wrong to fight the release of the records. We would hope the county ultimately would lose its case in a legal challenge.

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