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Publication Sues Putnam County Over Pistol Permit Info


A newspaper in the Hudson Valley that at the end of last year published an online, interactive gun map with the names and addresses of legal pistol permit holders has sued the lone county that refused to hand over information.

The lawsuit filed by The Journal News also names the county clerk’s office. In December 2012, after the elementary school shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the paper published a gun map with the names and addresses of legal pistol permit holders in Rockland and Westchester Counties, inciting a firestorm of controversy. Putnam County officials, however, did not release such information about their residents, citing concerns about privacy and public safety. Since then, New York has enacted a new law - the SAFE Act – Governor Andrew Cuomo’s gun control legislation that ended up including an opt-out provision for pistol permit holders to keep their names and addresses private.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell declined to comment on the lawsuit per se, but offered the following.

The lawsuit, according to a Journal News article, comes after Putnam County denied two Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL, requests and a subsequent appeal. One such FOIL request, according to the paper, came after a 120-day moratorium for opting out expired May 15. Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant, who declined to comment on pending litigation he had not seen, says the opt-out period is ongoing.

Journal News Media Group President and Publisher Janet Hasson, in an e-mailed statement to WAMC, says, quote, “ We have made multiple requests to Putnam County to provide us the public data and Putnam County has repeatedly refused to make available the database of handgun permit holders in violation of the requirements of New York’s new gun law.  Consequently, The Journal News has filed suit asking a court to order Putnam County to live up to its obligations under the law.”

Robert Freeman is executive director of the Department of State’s Committee on Open Government. He emphasizes that the opt-out provision that came into play earlier this year was not on the books in December –and gave licensees ability to make choices.

Journal News Media Group President Hasson says that in the complaint, The Journal News makes it clear that it does not intend to publish a list of permit holders. The Committee on Open Government’s Freeman says once records are disclosed, that person or entity can do with the records what he or it sees fit.

Again, here’s County Executive Odell.

She says she feels especially strong about protecting her residents’ safety given the following.

But Hasson says the data is essential for journalists to do their jobs, for example, to investigate whether guns involved in crimes are legally or illegally owned.

County Clerk Sant says some 12 to 15 percent of Putnam’s pistol permit holders have opted out, amounting to roughly 2,000 residents.

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