Gross Abuse of the First Amendment: The Journal News’ Attack on Gun Owner Privacy

"Here are the names and addresses of people with blood on their hands, Just thought you might be interested."

“Here are the names and addresses of people with blood on their hands. Just thought you might be interested in paying one of them a little visit.”

New York’s Journal News has published a map showing the homes of pistol permit holders in two New York counties. (They are acquiring data for a third.) Now, on the Journal News website, you can click on any of the dots indicating a permit holder and see his name and address—very useful, should you want to go to the owner’s home and kill him, since we all know gun owners have “blood on their hands” after the massacre in Newtown. The Journal News acquired the personal information through the Freedom of Information Act.

A story like this one renders me depressed, confused and lost. It should not be unnecessary for me or anyone to explain what is wrong with this conduct, and yet not only has a media organization done it, but many Americans undoubtedly will cheer them on. If people can’t figure out on their own what is wrong with this—the ethical offense is “publicizing citizens’ names and addresses in an attempt to intimidate them and expose them to harassment for exercising their legal, Constitutionally protected rights in a responsible fashion”— I suspect that it is a waste of time trying to enlighten them.

Still, the raw excess of arrogance, recklessness, self-righteousness, unfairness—-the list of appropriate adjectives is almost endless—exhibited by such a journalistic attack on privacy is stunning, and the breach of journalistic ethics it represents leaves me numb. The Journal News is publishing information that is in no way news or critical public information. It is doing so to punish and shame individuals for their demonstrated support of the Second Amendment, and thus using the press’s special privileges under the First Amendment to burden and threaten citizens for exercising their own First Amendment right to express their beliefs and opinions, and act on them within the law.  Awful.

That constitutes a disgrace to journalism, as well as First Amendment abuse. When some anti-gun fanatic murders one of the innocent citizens on the Journal News map, I expect there will be high-fives all around in the news room for a mission accomplished. The paper will be just as culpable if the targeted gun owner dispatches his gun-hating assailant with a well-placed bullet right between the eyes, demonstrating why he acquired his permit in the first place.  Either way, it will be the Journal News with “blood on its hands.”

_________________________________________

Pointer and Graphic: The Blaze

Facts: Journal News

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

39 thoughts on “Gross Abuse of the First Amendment: The Journal News’ Attack on Gun Owner Privacy

  1. Admittedly, I’m on the “right to bear arms” side of this discussion. So, from that viewpoint, this “soon to be train wreck” has me chuckling.

    1) The irony of using gun violence on law abiding gun owners amuses me from an editorial perspective.

    2) Who targets an armed person? Wouldn’t the assailant have to be on this list as well then?

    3) The common theme in this list will likely be “retired, former, or active law enforcement officers”.

    4) I would rather be on this list to advertise that I own a gun to deter robbers than to be omitted from this list to save face with my neighbors.

    5) I don’t own a firearm nor any permits related to firearms but I support everyone who does all the same. I can’t be the only person like this, so for every dot you see on the map, there’s bound to be support around them.

    Mostly, I think this paper had an intent with this exercise, and I think it backfires in their face on many levels.

  2. Would the media published a map showing the homes of every single soldier in the U.S. Army in retaliation for the Kandahar massacre?

    Would the media have posted a map showing the homes of every Houston PD officer in the aftermath of the killing of Pedro Navarro-Oregon? Or every NYPD officer in the aftermath of the killing of Amadou Diallo?

    They have sown the wind, and we should make them reap the whirlwind. We should publish a map showing the homes of every employee who works at New York’s Journal News. They need payback with usurious interest!

    • 1. Probably not.

      2. Certainly, to both.

      3. No need, the article author’s address and phone number, a map, and a picture of her house were published within hours of the original article.

      She’s also a gun owner.

  3. The idiots are diluting and destroying any valid discussion about the more extreme weapons like machine gun/assault rifles that really aren’t that useful for hunting white tail or defending your family. This kind to irresponsible crap is a drop back to ‘end justifies the means’ which is endemic for far too many people. These people must think saving the schoolchildren justifies putting any children in those listed homes at risk is justified.
    I think we’ve reached the point where parents have not been taught to reason by their parents or school, so they pass that brain-fart to their kids. How can we try to teach that next generation that there are consequences for your actions? (personally, I’d love to see more games deal with consequences for actions like cheating and doing whatever it takes) And teach empathy maybe too? I remember the ‘walk a mile in his moccasins’ when I was young as a lesson…

    • You’ve already lost credibility amongst the gun rights crowd by using terminology such as “assault rifles”. You want gun control people to even get a hearing with gun rights people? Certainly don’t use arbitrarily assigned terminology that is already steeped with vilifying connotations.

  4. Ethically wrong, legally okay. I’m only saying this because some people have been asking for a required list, and that’s both ethically wrong and legally wrong.

    • Legally OK, yes. Spike Lee trying to publish George Zimmerman’s address was also legally OK. Still really bad conduct, but flag that dichotomy any time you like, tgt—it can’t be repeated too often, because an amazing number of people just never get it.

      • I wonder, though, WAS this legal? The article was published with malicious intent. It wasn’t merely an “FYI” (and even that would be shaky, in my opinion). It appears that the information was published with the intent to cause people harm.

        IANAL, but my understanding is that 1st amendment protections DO have limits. For example, may I publish a full name/address list of all of the jurors and witnesses involved in an organized crime trial? How about I indicate that the crime boss’ family “pay them a little visit”?

  5. Since when does the Freedom of Information Act allow someone to request and receive any form of Personally Identifiable Information on people who do not work for the government?!?

    Can I make a FOIA request to the IRS for everyone’s Social Security numbers and salaries.

    Something stinks here. In fact, I suspect that FOIA was NOT how they got that list at all.

    –Dwayne

    • Since when does the Freedom of Information Act allow someone to request and receive any form of Personally Identifiable Information on people who do not work for the government?!?

      One possible defense for FOIA applying to gun permits is that New York is a may-issue state.

      This means officials in charge of handing out gun permits do not deny permits merely because applicants meet a certain set of criteria established by statute. Officials have discretion to deny permits even if there is no statutory bar to the applicant obtaining a permit.

      Such discretion can invite abuse. Officials may choose to issue permits only to celebrities, the rich, and the politically-connected. Some may even deny permits to those who are not white. Others have pointed this out.

      We did not need the addresses of permit holders. What we did need to know was:

      Were they celebrities?

      Were they politicians or immediate relatives?

      Were they major donors to incumbent politicians, political parties, or PAC’s?

      And most importantly:

      Were they politicians who have a track record of favoring strict gun control laws?

      That is what we needed to know, not their home addresses and phone numbers. Of course, even if a newspaper were to list the names and cities or towns of residence of politicians who favor stricter gun controls and who have pistol permits, it would still go too far to publish their home addresses, let alone post them on an interactive map.

  6. If any act of violence is committed against those people on the list- regardless of whether there’s an obvious connection to the article or not- the Journal-News should be forced to pay an endemnity to the victims.

      • And just what is that supposed to mean? Are you inferring that abortionists are just as likely to be at risk of life? That ignores quite a bit, as well as being a false analogy and an attempt to divert the issue. We’re talking about printing out the names and addresses of people who own firearms in a certain area and, concurrently, of all the others who don’t. It shouldn’t be hard for anyone to see the inherent risks this poses for every person in that area, much less the ethical violations that it poses. This is scarcely worthy of debate… or so it would have initially seemed!

        • I’m saying that it doesn’t matter what legal conduct is called out. I’m making sure you’re being consistent and not arguing for two different standards. There is no false analogy or attempt to divert the issue. There’s no need to talk about whether you find performing abortions to be right or wrong.

          So long as you agree that posting of abortion doctors’ names and addresses on hit sites is wrong, then there’s no issue. If you deny this, then you’re currently engaged in special pleading.

          • Insofar as it comes to someone posting the names and addresses of certain groups of people- and in a newspaper, no less- as an obvious intimidation measure, we are agreed. However, your post also attempted to create a moral equivalence between the two groups. There is none. Incidents of violence against abortionists- even the most spectacularly evil of them- can be stuck on the head of a pin. Violence against licensed gun owners (many of whom are current or retired law enforcement officers) is a very real danger. Likewise is the possibility of crime against every other household which has concurrently been identified as being without firearms.

            Thus, what the News Journal did endangered (for different reasons) every household in that two county area. Abortionists (despite their murderous calling) still have the same right to life and liberty as anyone. In sheer numbers, however, they are miniscule in comparison with gun owners alone. AND they are far less liable to crime on the basis of their profession. Nor has anyone, to my knowledge, seriously attempted to publish their places of residence on a countywide effort to the entire world.

            • First, there was no attempt to create a moral equivalence between gun owners and performers of abortion, just a moral equivalence between those that publish information on gun owners and those the publish information on performers of abortion. Abortion providers were picked specifically because I know you have a problem with them. It’s easy to condemn unethical attacks on those we like. It’s harder to condemn similar attacks on those we dislike.

              Second, the threat of violence against performers of abortion is much higher than that against owners of guns. Pretty much every abortion provider has received individual true-threats. The same isn’t true for gun owners. How many gun owners have been targetted and killed solely because they owned a gun?

              Here are a couple useful links for you:

              http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/violence/history_violence.html
              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-abortion_violence

              Third, just because there are less of them, does not make improper attacks on them any less unethical. I’d actually say that going after a small group is worse than going after a large group. The smaller group is more at risk for danger, and any intimidation of them has a much deeper affect on their group.

              • Obviously, I think posting the addresses of any controversial and/or law-abiding groups is despicable and indefensible. By the way, the gun permit holders addresses was condemned by an ex-burglar-consultant to NY police, because he said it was boon to both burglars wanting to seal guns, and burglars wanting ti avoid being shot. One of the addresses on the list was in fact the object of a recent burglary attempt.

                • Jack,

                  I had no doubts about your beliefs. It’s just sometimes easier to make general points with SMP when we actually agree on the specific topic.

                  Honestly, the burglar angle, while important, is a drop in the bucket to me for why this behavior is wrong. Well, it’s more like a bucket in the ocean, Still plenty to soak you, but the ocean was already full.

              • 1. Strawman!!
                2. Nonsense. Your own choice of links alone makes that evident.
                3. Nobody said it did make it less ethical. Your argument that a smaller group is inherently at greater risk is sheer hooey on the face of it.

                • 1. What strawman? You said I was attempting to create a moral equivalence between X and Y. I explained how I was not doing such. Where did I misrepresent your argument.
                  2. What’s wrong with my statement? My links show that there have been numerous attacks and threats on abortion providers solely because they provide abortions.
                  3. You made the argument the small number of abortion providers means targetting them is less unethical:

                  “Abortionists (despite their murderous calling) still have the same right to life and liberty as anyone. In sheer numbers, however, they are miniscule in comparison with gun owners alone. AND they are far less liable to crime on the basis of their profession.”

                  Translation: ” It’s bad when any is dox’ed, but t’s less of a problem (less unethical) when abortion providers are dox’ed because there are (1) less of them and (2) they are less likely to be attacked.” If you did not mean to make that argument, please clarify what you were trying to say.

                  Also, you forgot to say what’s wrong with my argument that going after a smaller group is worse than going after a large group.

                  • 1. Using abortionists as a rejoinder for those who exercise their constitutional rights to self defense… as well as those who do not so choose.
                    2. Your sources are tainted, TGT!! These guys scream and moan everytime a prolifer passes them on the sidewalk.
                    3. You’re twisting my words in your usual outrageous manner. I made the self-evident point that many more people were placed at inherent risk of criminal activity or retaliation from various sources by having this personal information made public. I likewise made the point that neither is ethical. So what’s your beef?

                    • 1. Now THIS is a strawman. I didn’t suggest anywhere that doxxing the gun owners was okay based on a belief that it’s okay to dox abortion providers.
                      1b. Even if I had done the above, it wouldn’t be a strawman as there was no misrepresentation of your argument alleged.
                      1c. You still haven’t responded to anything I actually said as part of the “first”.

                      2. If you can refute the numbers, refute them. It looks like you are biased and refuse to believe your opponents could possibly be telling the truth.

                      3. I agree that many more people were put in danger from this larger doxxing. If you weren’t going a step farther and saying that made this doxxing worse than the doxxing of abortion providers, then how was it relevant?

                    • 1. I’m not sure what the “no” was in reference to, but the only thing I put on the same moral level was doxxing gun owners and doxxing abortion providers. If I say that violating the free speech rights of Fred Phelps is wrong just like violating the free speech rights of SMP and Ampersand, I’m not equating you or Barry with Fred Phelps.
                      2. What refutation? You don’t like the source of the information, therefore the information must be wrong. That’s not valid.
                      3. I don’t see a change in my point. I interpreted your comment and attacked what I thought was a valid interpretation. You have now said that you didn’t mean what I originally thought, and I’m attacking your clarification.

                    • 1. The implication was pretty overt!
                      2. Doesn’t it strike you that those sources would be pretty grossly biased from the onset?
                      3. In other words, you don’t know what the hell your saying now.

                    • 1. Then you’re an idiot.
                      2. No. Wikipedia doesn’t scream bias to me. NAF is a partisan group, so I wouldn’t take pronouncements at their word, but I would look at their stats, and there, they appear to be solid. Can you point to something that they fabricated. I’m pretty sure all of those murders did take place. That you immediately discounted the information based on the source instead of actually looking for problems says that your are not being fair.
                      3. Really? A 12 year old should be able to understand what I just said. This is just another dodge. If you weren’t saying that the publication of abortion providers addresses is less unethical than the publication of gun owner addresses, then what was your point of: “Abortionists (despite their murderous calling) still have the same right to life and liberty as anyone. In sheer numbers, however, they are miniscule in comparison with gun owners alone. AND they are far less liable to crime on the basis of their profession.””

  7. Just as a point of fact, there is a lot of information that is available, not only to the media, but to individuals as well, through either public records research or Freedom of Information Law requests. Those who filed for bankruptcy, owe back taxes, purchased property, got arrested, got married, got divorced, etc. If there is a license required, it will be filed with the property government agency and more times than not, available to others who seek it.

  8. This just blows my mind. It indicates how wicked and incompetent some elements of the anti-gun crowd can be.

    I say incompetent because my understanding is the list indicates *legal* holders of *handgun permits*. Note the use of the words *legal* and *handgun*.

    Therefore, the list would NOT indicate:
    – Illegal, or possible “grey market” handgun holders. I.E. they bought their gun(s) before moving to the indicated jurisdiction.
    – Any long-gun owner, either legal, illegal, or grey market. A *handgun permit* would not be indicated for a semi-automatic rifle.

    If anything, this vile act ADVANCES the pro-gun cause, as an incident such as this lends weight to the argument that guns should NOT be registered as such a list will be abused.

    • It’s reasonable if your starting point is that guns, ergo gun possession, legal or not, are per se evil. Remember, kids have been punished in schools for drawing guns, and pointing their fingers while saying “bang.” How many times have you heard people say, “I hate guns”?

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