Does your neighbor pack heat? How common are firearms in your community? Especially after massacres like last month’s Newtown shootings, those are legitimate questions — ones that a suburban newspaper in New York State tried to answer with an online map of pistol permit-holders in two counties that has provoked a national outcry. Gun owners have accused the Journal News of White Plains of invading their privacy and tarring law-abiding gun owners with a kind of virtual scarlet letter. In the process, some gun advocates fear, the paper has created a roadmap for thieves seeking to steal weapons. The backlash has become so intense the newspaper recently posted armed guards at its office.
The most reasonable critique of the newspaper is that its map doesn’t present a complete picture of the extent of gun ownership in Westchester and Rockland counties. After all, a permit holder might own multiple pistols, or none at all. The map doesn’t include rifles or shotguns, which don’t require permits in New York, and doesn’t account for illegally held weapons.