5:48 pm Jan. 8, 2013
At Gawker today, reporter John Cook published a list of the names of gun-permit holders in New York City.
It's not a new list; he writes that he obtained it back in 2010 from the New York Police Department in response to a Freedom of Information Law request.
But it has come in handy as Gawker weighs in on the controversy over the recent publication of the names and addresses of gun-permit holders in Rockland and Westchester counties by the Journal News.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the face of the today's gun-control movement, doesn't quite know how to feel about the whole thing.
"Well, it is public information," he said last week, during his regular Friday morning radio show. "The public owns that data. On the other hand, I'm not so sure I think we should go publish everybody's tax return."
But what exactly did he mean by "public data"?
"We were asked, as I remember, years ago, for permits, addresses and we said 'no' here in the city," said Bloomberg. "And I think ... it was probably the right decision."
Cook wrote that the list he got "contains only the names, and not the addresses, of the licensees," and though he argued that both were supposed to be public information based on Article 400 of the Penal Code, that the "only way to get the associated addresses from the NYPD, as the law requires, would be to take them to court, which no one has apparently done."
Actually someone has. Though the New York Times hasn't acknowledged as much in its coverage of the issue, in 2010, three New York Times reporters sued the New York Police Department over what it described as the department's failure to comply with state law requiring public access to information, including the addresses of gun-permit holders in New York City.
“We’ve become increasingly concerned over the last two years about a growing lack of transparency at the N.Y.P.D.,” David McCraw, a lawyer for the newspaper, said at the time. “Information that was once released is now withheld. Disclosures that could be made quickly are put on hold for months.”
Among the reporters who filed suit was Jo Craven McGinty.
According to the lawsuit, in May of 2010, McGinty filed a Freedom of Information Law request for an electronic copy of the database containing names and addresses of all gun permit holders who live in New York City.
The NYPD gave her the names, too, but refused to give her the accompanying addresses, arguing that doing so might endanger the life or safety of permit-holders.
In court, the police department also argued that the law allowed it to withhold the addresses if it believed that they would be used for fund-raising or commercial purposes.
McGinty went on to submit an affidavit affirming that she did not intend to use the names or addresses for solicitation or fund-raising purposes, nor would she give the information to anyone with that intention.
The judge argued that others could use the published data for those purposes if it were published, which complicated the issue; ultimately, she ruled that the list should be released to the Times, but that some redactions could be allowed:
Inasmuch as the Times could not control the use to which others might put the addresses requested from the NYPD, were the Times to place them on the Internet, Ms. McGinty‘s affidavit, in effect, bars the Times from putting the addresses on line. Accordingly, the Times is entitled to have the residential addresses of gun licensees in searchable electronic form, as already redacted to delete the names and addresses of retired law enforcement officers and several current or former civilian government employees. Petitioners have not opposed such redaction.
The NYPD appealed the verdict, and the case was argued before the appellate division in May, and is awaiting a decision. If another decision comes down against the NYPD, it's likely to go to the Court of Appeals.
The Times rarely, if ever, publishes raw data, and it had no intention of publishing the addresses of the permit holders, someone at the newspaper told me, when I called to ask about the suit.
Eileen Murphy, a Times spokeswoman, wrote in an email: "The suit is on appeal at the Appellate Division so we really can’t comment further."
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