News and Tribune

Columns

January 9, 2013

SUDDEATH: Missing the target

Publishing addresses of gun permit holders over the top

NEW ALBANY — There really are no words to express the horrid travesty that was the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Innocent children lost their lives, their families have been put through hell and a community was scarred by the acts of a gunman who shed blood without a known cause.

But personally, the despicable and heart-wrenching scene that unfolded in Sandy Hook Elementary School does not excuse the lack of journalistic integrity shown by the New York newspaper The Journal News.

Last month, the newspaper published the names and addresses of residents in some of the counties it covers who have handgun permits registered in their names. New York law establishes that such information is public record, and therefore can be obtained and printed for all to see.

But what exactly does such a tactic accomplish, other than maybe garner some attention to the newspaper and create a buzz wielded through shock value?

Make no mistake about it, those gun permit holders followed the law. Had they not, their names wouldn’t be on a record for the whole world to see. Printing their names and addresses after such an unspeakable tragedy pretty much is a backhanded way of demonizing them without even beginning to know their stories.

Do you know of any ladies who own a handgun because they’ve been attacked by a crazed man, or had their houses broken into and their children threatened? I do.

Do you know of any people who possess pistols that have been passed down for generations in their family and hardly ever, if ever, shoot them? I do.

What about ex-military and police officers who are trained firearm handlers? Should we all look at them twice because they own a pistol and have a registered permit to possess it?

This is not a gun control argument for me. Nobody needs banana clips and assault rifles for protection or hunting unless you’re being chased by a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a theme park gone astray.

This is about integrity, common sense and the difference between being a media watchdog and a poodle that wants everybody to notice its coat.

The Journal News did not provide adequate context for such reporting, and instead just left a plethora of people exposed to the agitation of a country that is mourning the loss of so many bright young minds and personalities.

But actually the tables turned, as the newspaper reportedly had to hire a private security firm to patrol its property due to apparent backlash over the gun permit publications.

So at the end of the day, The Journal News turned to guns for protection just like many of the people whose names and addresses they printed without warning.

What if someone wanted to break in a house in these New York counties? Obviously they would just have to check the printed record to see which homes they wanted to veer away from.

I pull public records all the time, from delinquent sewer bills to unpaid parking tickets. To me, the difference in what records we obtain and print compared to what The Journal News did is the names we publish owe public entities money, or have committed crimes.

Some of the reactions to the Newtown tragedy have frankly disgusted me. But it’s really not surprising, we are a knee-jerk society and it’s nothing new.

After Pearl Harbor, we locked up Japanese Americans in relocation camps, though later investigations showed there was little evidence of any disloyalty.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, we sought to have Arabic people detained in airports and searched simply because of their nationality.

Now there’s such a strong sentiment by some against gun owners that it’s almost like we’re so blinded by rage that we’re not using common sense.

According to the FBI, there were 8,563 murders in America in 2011 involving firearms. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, 10,228 people died in 2010 from alcohol-related crashes.

Would it be fair to start printing names and addresses of every person who legally buys a six pack of beer this week? Should my name be published next time I purchase a pack of cigarettes because my secondhand smoke may cause someone cancer?

What is justifiable, and what is playing on the fears of a nation when it comes to media coverage?

In my opinion, printing the names of legal handgun permit holders poses much more of a threat to innocent people than it does to protect them.

— Daniel Suddeath is a Staff Writer at the News and Tribune. Reach him via email at daniel.suddeath@newsandtribune.com.

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