Making Sense of the Media
4:13 pm
Mon January 14, 2013

Should Newspapers Publish the Names and Addresses of Gun Owners?

The debate over gun violence in America was re-ignited with the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.

Shortly after the shootings, the Journal News in White Plains, N.Y., ran a story with the names and addresses of registered gun owners in the area.

The newspaper said that it felt "sharing the information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings."

However, the newspaper's action caused another firestorm, with one New York State senator immediately proposing to remove the names of registered gun owners from the public record -- making them available only to law enforcement.

To Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's "Sense Making" project, this is what can happen if journalists aren't careful with how they use public records.

"I always tell journalists that just because you can do something, that doesn't mean you should do something," said McBride.

In the case of the Journal News, McBride said just publishing the names and addresses of legal gun owners can be seen as an invasion of privacy. So, she said, there has to be a  higher purpose in their publication.

If, for instance, the Journal News had analyzed the locations of licensed gun owners and crimes rates to see if there were any correlations, or had looked at licensed gun owners and conviction records to see if current licensing is done properly, then, McBride said, the paper might have served the higher calling of journalism.

That higher calling, she said, is to inform the public so they can better participate in the democratic process in an informed way.

Credit The Journal News