Following a huge wave of public outcry and questions over civil liberties, a White Plains, N.Y.-based newspaper named The Journal News removed an interactive map from its website last week that provided the names and addresses of more than 33,000 gun owners in and around the White Plains suburbs.
The decision to create the map was obviously made without thought to the possible consequences, and The Journal News clearly misjudged the wants and wishes of the public when they released this information.
Though several recent gun-related massacres, such as in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn., have put many on edge, this sort of tactic can only make gun owners feel unsafe and uncomfortable. In addition, it has an undoubtedly far-reaching impact on the rest of the community. Not only does it leave those with permits susceptible to open derision and antagonism from those who feel that owning a firearm ought to be banned, it could also endanger those who don’t own firearms for self-defense.
With a detailed list of every resident with a gun, any criminal in Northern New York could have hopped online and essentially made a map of which homeowners can or cannot defend themselves in White Plains. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that though those whom are licensed to own a firearm are required to have no criminal background and must undergo a background check, those who use firearms in criminal cases often attain them through illegal means and remain unregistered.
It’s true that freedom of the press provides the newspaper the legal latitude to report on available public records, but it does not give them the moral right to put people in such a predicament. Though the paper was completely within their rights to print an article on gun safety and the recent shootings, they went too far when they left thousands of citizens exposed to both verbal and physical damage.
By exploiting freedom of speech and of the press, these journalists denied citizens their right to privacy. People deserve to be safe and keep their private affairs private. The confidentiality of personal matters, such as the possession of perfectly legal firearms, is a right all U.S. citizens should have. By abusing their right to a free press, The Journal News has created a new issue that ought to be discussed even more: The right to keep certain information from being exposed to strangers. All citizens deserve to be able to keep their names from being dragged through the mud.
Though the paper certainly got the attention they craved with this publicity stunt, nearly none of it is positive. Gun owners are outraged, feeling undue pressure from others to relinquish what has been a legal right in America for roughly the past 250 years. Those without guns are left just as exposed, though admittedly in a different way.
The responsibility for this debacle lies not only with those who created the map, but also with the newspaper’s chain of command for approving and publishing the personal information of thousands of Americans who were victimized solely because of the paper’s implementation of its First Amendment rights. They seem to have ignored the possible repercussions of their actions and, in turn, left many citizens feeling unsafe and exposed. The release of personal information on a public forum is an erroneous violation of civil liberties, and though the map might have been created under the guise of keeping citizens safe, those living under the law of the U.S. are entitled to certain unalienable rights.
Melissa Mendes is a junior majoring in English.