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Putnam Denies Newspaper Request for Names, Addresses of Gun Permit Holders

One source says the information has been considered public since at least 1965.

Led by State Sen. Greg Ball, Putnam officials are announcing that they will withhold records documenting the names and addresses of residents who possess pistol permits.

What some officials consider "standing up" for Putnam residents is a move that violates the law—and could lead to a court battle—according to Robert Freeman, executive director for the state Committee on Open Government.

The Journal News, a Gannett newspaper, had filed a request for the information. 

The shooting that left 26 dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School had reignited the national discussion on gun control and gun laws. The Journal News ignited a separate firestorm Dec. 22 when it published, as it had in 2006, a database report of gun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. 

Since then, county leaders have received "hundreds of calls from Putnam residents" urging them "not to release these records," County Clerk Dennis Sant is quoted as saying in a statement given to Patch by Ball's office.

Ball is scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday with County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Sant "to announce that Putnam County will not be releasing the records of Putnam pistol permits to the Journal News."

This story, by John W. Barry of the Poughkeepsie Journal, appearing on LoHud.com, states that Putnam officials said in December they were compiling the data. 

Neither Odell nor Sant were available for comment the morning of Jan. 2.

Freeman has heard from big-name news agencies such as the Today Show inquiring about this situation, and whether the law leaves any room for interpretation. He said he had not been in touch with any Putnam officials. 

"My hope is, of course, that someone will actually look at the law instead of being a renegade unit of government," Freeman said, adding that names and addresses of gun permit holders have been considered public record since at least 1965.

According to Ball, the map The Journal News posted was unethical—and "every person with common sense should be offended."

“I’m proud to stand with Putnam County and proud that Putnam won’t be releasing its pistol permit records," he said in a statement. "The asinine editors at The Journal News have gone out of their way to place a virtual scarlet letter on law abiding firearm owners throughout the region and I thank God that Putnam County has a clerk with the guts to stand up and draw the line here in Putnam County. This is clearly a violation of privacy, and needs to be corrected immediately."

Ball blogged about the issue on Patch Dec. 26.

Freeman said the law is just like any other, one that may be unpopular, like speed limits, but should be followed. To him, that's the "essence of civilized society"—following laws, "whether you like them or not."

"If we don’t like a particular law, what do we do? We make our case to our elected representativess and might engage in efforts to change the law," he said. "It seems to me that, unless that happens, we have to comply."

Yet here, he said, "You have a state senator saying 'I don't care what the law says.' Is that the best of role models?"

Once a request for records under the Freedom of Information Law has been denied, the applicant may appeal the decision with the head of the agency. If that request is also shot down, the matter could go to court. 

It's not uncommon for government agencies to go against the law and deny such requests, Freeman told Patch. In fact, it "happens every day." But more often, the opposite happens.

"Government agencies disclose every day over and over and over again," he said."But there are occasions when, at least in my view, government agencies may fail to comply with the law."

In the statement released by Ball's office, Sant said he's protecting "the law-abiding gun owners here in Putnam County." 

“There is the rule of law, and there is right and wrong and The Journal News is clearly wrong," he said. "I could not live with myself if one Putnam pistol permit holder was put in harm’s way, for the sole purpose of selling newspapers."

The Journal News has fielded many calls, emails, questions and comments since the report's publication. Go here to read the FAQ it published in response.

Mario A. Zeoli January 03, 2013 at 05:06 PM
Thank You Senator Greg Ball & Mary Ellen Odell for standing up is right. I understand the right to public knowledge laws, but your posting where weapons can be found!!!! It's like mapping out a candy store for the bad guys & girls!!!! Citizens who posses firearms legally, have been obeying the ruled & regulations, are good neighbors & friends, should not be posted on ANY LISTS where they might be a potential Target for the bad people looking to get GUNS! WHY WOULD ANY PERSON REGARDLESS OF WHO THEY ARE & WHAT POSITION THEY HOLD WANT TO LIST GOOD PEOPLE ON A LIST WHERE THEY CAN BE TARGETS FOR A TRAGEDY WAITING TO HAPPEN?!!! B&E!!! BREAKING & ENTERING!! NOW THIS LAW ABIDING CITIZEN SHOOTS A MUT COMING INTO HIS HOME TO PROTECT HIS FAMILY, HIMSELF, PROPERTY, & HIS CASTLE NOW HAS TO DEAL WITH COURT, LAWYERS, JUDGES, FINANCIAL PROBLEMS, ETC. IT'S A TRAIN WRECK WAITING TO HAPPEN!!! HOW DARE THE JOURNAL WANT TO PUSH FOR THIS? LAWS ARE MADE TO PROTECT THE GOOD & HONEST PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTRY!!! NOT THE PERPS, THE LIBERALS, AND NO COMMON SENSE PEOPLE!!! SHAME ON THOSE WANTING THIS LIST!! A CIVIL WAR WAITING TO HAPPEN!!! LIST THE MUTS WHO LIVE AMONG US WHO DID SOME HARD TIME FOR VIOLENT CRIMES AND SEE HOE FAST THEY CRY THAT THIER RIGHTS WERE VIOLATED!!
Edward Sion January 04, 2013 at 05:14 AM
Not only does this provide a map for the criminals, but it can lead to other problems. For example what if a person who has a firearm legally does not get along with their neighbor. Now this neighbor can make a false complaint that he/she was threatened with a gun when no such threat occurred. Given the environment right now about guns and the people who own them they will be guilty.
Peter Carey January 04, 2013 at 02:23 PM
Robert Freeman of the State Committee on Open Government can kiss my rear end. The safety and the will of citizens is the paramount issue here and the safety of even one person supersedes his precious little Freedom Of Information Law that was written decades ago by know it all liberals who don't believe the laws apply to them. By the way a growing number of residents do not want the info published and the will of the people is what this country is about not what a few jerks want because they want free publicity, like the Journal news didn't know this would be controversial and get them headlines all over the country. If anyone believes the reason they printed was so "people would know where the guns are" then they are as stupid as the editors of the JN
Ashley Tarr January 04, 2013 at 09:52 PM
Thanks for the thought, Carolyn. Putnam officials made it clear yesterday (http://patch.com/A-0MZp) that they were not releasing the information. However, this snippet of the FAQ related to the map (posted on LoHud.com, and linked to in the above story) may help: "Why are some of the dots on the map outside Rockland or Westchester county? The person listed has a permit to have a gun within the county, but lives elsewhere."
MARILYN January 06, 2013 at 08:11 PM
Well said! And Thank you Putnam County for standing up for us!

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