(File photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
CARMEL, N.Y. - Putnam County officials, who say they will refuse a newspaper's request to release the names and addresses of residents with pistol permits, would break New York law in withholding the data, a state official said.
The opinion from Robert Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government, came after an announcement Tuesday from a state senator and two county officials that they would refuse to release the data requested by The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News, which sought the records under the state Freedom of Information Law.
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Putnam County officials in December said it was compiling the data. Putnam County has about 100,000 residents and is part of the New York metropolitan area.
State Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican from Patterson, N.Y., called the Journal News' decision to publish the data "asinine" and an invasion of privacy. He scheduled a press conference Thursday with Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant to announce the decision.
Sant said his office has received an onslaught of calls demanding that he not release the data.
But Freeman said the law is clear: "The name and address of any gun licensee are public."
On Dec. 23, The Journal News published a report and interactive map, identifying the names and addresses of those who legally hold pistol permits in Westchester and Rockland counties. At that time, a request also was made to Putnam County.
That map ignited a firestorm of controversy but also generated support. All three requests for the gun data followed last month's mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Freeman said The Journal News could appeal a denial, which would be heard within Putnam County government. If a second denial occurred, paper could ask a judge to decide.
The Wall Street Journal asked New York City officials to turn over similar gun data several years ago. Freeman said that request was denied, but the state's highest court later ruled in favor of newspaper.
Ball was firm in his position.
"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."
Sant said he was happy to protect law-abiding gun owners in his county.
"There is the rule of law, and there is right and wrong, and The Journal News is clearly wrong," he said in a statement. "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."
Odell could not be reached for comment.
Journal News President and Publisher Janet Hasson defended her publication Tuesday.
"We believe the law is clear that this is public information, and the residents of Putnam County are entitled to see it. We're troubled that county officials have apparently switched their position since we first requested the information."
The Journal News and USA Today are owned by 11Alive's parent company, Gannett.