Freedom of press cannot trump privacy

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.


2 replies
  1. Manny
    Manny says:

    Amen! Very well said. Regardless of what side one is on with respect to the gun debate, this “freedom of press” advance is just plain dumb. I’m sick and tired of journalists feeling so entitled to get a story/report at any cost. What ever happened to respect and decency? For people like this, it’s all about vapid headlines causing potential endangerment in order to get page views and advertising money.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if lawsuits started pouring in, as they should have, if that map wasn’t removed.

  2. Ted Carroll
    Ted Carroll says:

    Great writing here Ms. Mendes. Really great.

    Our house is mapped on The Journal News “gun map.” My son is a sophomore at USC. Here for your readers consideration is a copy of my January 8th 2013 “commentary” on the same subject on the Chappaqua-MountKisco Patch in Westchester County, New York.

    1) I’ve spent my entire professional career in the media and information industry. Have owned multiple TV stations, book publishing companies and newspapers (regional and national).

    2) I personally served as publisher for our multi-state regional newspaper chain when I had to fire bad management. We turned it around and I replaced myself.

    3) The Journal News mgmt here is relatively new and inexperienced. I knew the former publisher. He was good.

    4) I made Gannett an offer for our fund to purchase entire Journal News Group a few years ago when it still owned its White Plains headquarters.

    5) The offer, like everything else Gannett in Arlington VA does, was botched & dismissed.

    6) This weekend, the The Journal News put their 1st significant editorial commentary on this subject – BEHIND THEIR PAYWALL. This was laughable and contemptible.

    7) The editorial says “We did it… to inform readers so they could make informed decisions about their safety and that of their family.”

    8) Alternatively the editorial could read “We did it to inform and SHOW everyone – including criminals – where the hand guns are.”

    9) And yes, that’s MY house on the Journal News map showing no hand guns on prem.

    10) Gannett & Journal News, you are truly inexperienced, irresponsible, numskulls.

    11) Don’t ever let your competitors do the first keystone interviews when your franchise is in jeopardy through mismanagement. Get in front of the story using your own editorial bench or you will be in hiding (in this case literally) for a very long time.

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