BY JOHN FEATHERMAN/ Few issues divide Americans like gun control. This political hotbed has turned Americans against each other – pitting conservatives vs. liberals, Republicans vs. Democrats and ruralites vs. urban dwellers. It’s almost safer to make abortion or gay marriage a cocktail party discussion than foray into the forbidden land of semi-automatics and Bushmaster XM-15s.
Besides, most of us have gun-control fatigue. So I’m not going to take sides in this article. Promise!
Instead, I’m going to discuss privacy. Privacy? Whaddya mean?
Well, regardless of where you stand in the debate, if you lived in Rockland or Westchester Co. in New York and you possessed a gun permit, you were listed on an interactive digital map on the Website of Gannett’s Journal News – showing your name and exact home address. The Journal News obtained this information through New York’s Freedom of Information Law. Wasn’t this information private? Nope, not according to the newspaper. Their take, as detailed in a set of frequently asked questions above the map, “There is no right to privacy regarding handgun ownership in New York. State law says that, at a minimum, the names and addresses of all permit holders are public record and must be disclosed.”
Reports have emerged quoting a Rockland Co. clerk as saying that up to 25% of the names and addresses on the map may not even be correct. Some Rockland Co. law-enforcement officials have also expressed concern that criminals and gang members might seek out the addresses of correction officers and other public servants in order to do them harm. Obviously, a primary concern of opponents of this map is that burglars/robbers might use this interactive tool as a treasure map to avoid homes with gun registrants and take their chances on unlisted homes. While the Journal News didn’t give a public reason for producing the map, the paper has been recognized as being a staunch supporter of gun control and was likely encouraging gun-control advocates to begin campaigns targeting the legal owners of firearms.
Currently, there is no law in New York state or in the federal government that prevents gun owner’s names and addresses from being subject to Freedom of Information Act inquiries. As a consequence, this information can be made public in any form – by the government, any organization (public or private), news outlet, blogger or curious individual.
As both a personal-safety issue and a fundamental privacy rights issue, Pennsylvania should take the initiative and pass legislation that will block the release of this highly personal information. Regardless of where you stand on this extremely contentious issue, if the government is required to turn over this obviously private list, it makes you wonder what else is not private.
As an educational and revealing exercise, go ahead and conduct a FOIA on … who else but YOURSELF! Do that by visiting http://www.foia.gov/ for instructions. You may need to invoke the Privacy Act of 1974.
Let me know what you find out about yourself. Maybe, with your permission, we’ll let our readers know what you discovered.