Journalism is supposed to inform, not inflame, the public. But that old standard has been functionally dead for a long, long time. And that’s especially true when it comes to reporting on guns and the Second Amendment.
It’s been more than a decade, but I still remember like it was yesterday: in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, a newspaper decided to take it upon itself to exact revenge on average lawful gun owners in New York, specifically in Westchester and Rockland counties, based on the theory that lawful New Yorkers with government-granted pistol permits were somehow responsible for what happened in Newtown, Connecticut.
The newspaper in question was The Journal News. They published an online, interactive map containing the names and home addresses of all pistol permit holders licensed in Westchester and Rockland counties. They were totally reckless in doing so and showed complete disregard for the privacy and safety of those citizens. The paper’s publisher openly admitted that she did so because of what happened in Newtown:
“One of our roles is to report publicly available information on timely issues, even when unpopular. We knew publication of the database (as well as the accompanying article providing context) would be controversial, but we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,” she said.
New York pistol permits record the handguns owned by a permit holder, including the serial numbers of guns. The newspaper also tried to publish those but was rebuffed by the County Clerks because releasing that information would have been illegal.
“We were surprised when we weren’t able to obtain information on what kinds and how many weapons people in our market own,” the newspaper said in a statement.
The Journal News even published the names and home addresses of victims of domestic violence and rape survivors. Such was their pigheaded anger at their fellow citizens for daring to exercise their constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.
The pistol permit database was public data. Is it prudent though to make an interactive map and broadcast it out to the whole world? The Federal Election Commission’s individual contributor data is also public. But is it ethical to create an interactive map using Trump donors’ home addresses as happened during the 2020 election cycle?
Ideological warriors don’t care about ethics, and that’s especially true of gun controllers. And if you think past public outrage would teach them to pause and introspect before acting, you would be wrong. Last week, Everytown pulled essentially the same stunt as The Journal News. In a typical hyperbolic and deceptive “report,” Everytown Research included an interactive map of all Federal Firearms Licensees in the country. How reckless is that interactive map? Everytown indicates that in its own report:
Over half of all gun dealers are located in residential communities […]. Residential license holders, some in private homes, do not need to notify neighbors or place signage indicating that they can sell or manufacture guns in their homes.
So Everytown knows very well that they are publishing private home addresses in their interactive map. And what else do they know about these FFLs?
There are roughly five incidents per day where firearms go missing from gun dealers through robbery, burglary, larceny, or other loss. Too often these guns are diverted to the illegal market.
So, they know that guns are stolen from gun dealers, that those stolen guns are diverted to the illegal market, that a lot of FFLs are ordinary people doing business out of their homes, and yet they created an interactive map.
It’s obvious that Everytown’s goal is intimidation and harassment. In the style of Saul Alinsky, they’re picking the target, freezing it, personalizing it, and polarizing it.
Everytown’s behavior is directly comparable to that of The Journal News.
The Journal News let their interactive map stay online for almost a month. As we all know, the Internet is Forever. That data was saved, replicated, and disseminated far and wide. There is a strong indication that The Journal News’ interactive map may have been used to target a gun owner for burglary. Will Everytown’s antics lead to similar burglaries?
In response to The Journal News’ drive-by journalism, the State of New York in its classic effete style, passed a law to let permit holders opt-out of public information disclosures, instead of a default privacy standard with opt-in for those who dare playing fast and loose with unethical journalists.
Other states have gone in a stronger direction and simply nuked carry permits. The very existence of a permit database makes it ripe for accidental disclosure, governmental abuse, theft and unlawful disclosure by hacktivists.
The response to Everytown’s thuggery should be a long-term goal to destroy the FFL regime in its entirety, as more than half the country has done with carry permits. It’s easier said than done, but as long as the FFL regime exists, abuses like this are inevitable.