In the aftermath following the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., The Journal-News, a Gannett-owned publication in Hudson, N.Y., printed a list with an interactive map of the names and addresses of people licensed to own handguns in Westchester and Rockland counties. The story has since produced an outcry over journalistic responsibility in revealing who does and does not own a weapon.
However, the newspaper is defending its actions and says citizens deserve to know who in their community might possess a handgun. "Sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings."
Others, such as Syracuse University journalism professor Hub Brown, disagree. "Mapping-based journalism is a big trend right now, but we have to be very, very careful about the types of information that we are going to publish here," he told CBS News. "In this case I think that the newspaper has gone a little bit too far in terms of publishing information that actually stigmatizes people."
Brown says the issue may not be a legal issue as it is an ethical one.
"It's not that they can't publish these kinds of things," he said. "The question is what do you publish, at what time, and how does it help your readers? And I don't know if this does. "I think it's a bit disingenuous of the Journal News to say that they are just giving information out here. They were taking a position on guns."
John Miller, a former NYPD spokesman and now CBS News senior correspondent, says serious ramification that could come from the news story is that crooks may target homes of non-gun owners.
"The police chiefs don't like it," Miller said. "Forty percent of the people who are holding these gun permits are either active or retired law enforcement," adding that criminals could use the tool to seek revenge. "These are people who have put people in jail for a long time, these are people who might be targets ... [an] inmate might be looking for a home address and now it's just point and click."
Yet another point brought forth by Peter Roff in a column in U.S. News and World Report focused on the need versus the public's right to know some types of information.
"There is a profound difference between what people, by law, have the right to know and what people should know," writes Roff.
"How many women on the list identified as holding gun permits are, for example, seniors living alone who keep a weapon for self-protection? Or are hiding from an abusive spouse or boyfriend and who are potentially endangered by the paper's publication of their address? Or are active or retired police officials who have something to fear from criminals holding a grudge?"
Nonetheless, The Journal News plans to publish similar information from a third county after the information is compiled.