NEW YORK (Reuters) - Authorities in a suburban county north of New York City said on Tuesday they will refuse to release names of local gun permit holders to a newspaper that has been publishing the identities of thousands of license-holding residents.
Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant said he would defy a request for information about pistol permit holders from the White Plains, New York-based Journal News, which has come under criticism for publishing thousands of such identities already.
“There is the rule of law, and there is right and wrong and the Journal News is clearly wrong,” Sant said in a statement. “I could not live with myself if one Putnam pistol permit holder was put in harm’s way, for the sole purpose of selling newspapers.”
The Journal News first published a map listing thousands of pistol permit-holders in Westchester and Rockland counties, just north of New York City, on December 24.
The newspaper’s editors said they sought the information after the December 14 shooting deaths of 26 children and adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which has sparked nationwide debate about gun control.
Angered, state gun-owner groups have called for an advertising boycott of the newspaper until it takes the map and identities off its website.
The newspaper, owned by the Gannett Co., sought the information under the state’s Freedom of Information law. It says the identities are a matter of public record.
Putnam County officials had said they were compiling the names for the newspaper but on Tuesday said instead they would not deliver the information.
The county clerk said he has received hundreds of phone calls urging him not to give the information to the paper.
The county clerk, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and other elected officials were slated to appear on Thursday at a news conference declaring their intentions. Also set to appear is state Sen. Greg Ball, a Patterson, New York, Republican who has said he will introduce legislation to keep permit information private except to prosecutors and police.
A similar bill that he introduced earlier as an assemblyman failed in the state Assembly.
The newspaper’s editors were not available on Tuesday to comment on Putnam’s announcement.
In the original article, the newspaper cited Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, as saying he believed not only should the names and addresses be public, but also other information such as the types or numbers of guns someone owns.
Freeman told the newspaper that government records are presumed public unless their release is specifically barred by statute.
The newspaper’s editor and publisher have said they expected the publication of the information to be controversial.
“But we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,” said Janet Hasson, president and publisher of The Journal News Media Group.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Dan Whitcomb and David Gregorio