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Saturday, March 23, 2019


That, in a word, is how you feel when someone broadcasts your home address without your knowledge, against your wishes. Your correspondent speaks from experience. Six years ago, when white supremacists published my home address and phone number on their websites, the first thing I felt was vulnerable.

The folks at the Journal News newspaper in New York state would doubtless say it was not their intention to do anything like that when they published online maps of gun ownership in their area. But intention and effect are two completely different things.

The maps show dots covering two suburban New York counties — Westchester and Rockland — like a rash, one for each of the 33,614 persons who is licensed to own a handgun there. Had it been the intention of the paper simply to illustrate the ubiquity of guns, those graphics would have done the job nicely.

But the paper did not stop there. Click on any one dot and up comes the name and home address of the gun owner in question.

Gun owners nationwide have been furious ever since the maps went up a few days before Christmas. They have a right to be.

Mind you, they have no right to send threatening notes, or packets of white powder (later deemed harmless) to the newsroom, no right to harass employees of the newspaper, as some have done. Such behavior lends new meaning to the term “gun nuts.” But, that said, yes, they do have a right to be angry.

The paper has confronted the storm of controversy, including a call for an advertiser boycott, by pointing out that the information it published is not private. As reporter Dwight R. Worley (himself a registered gun owner) noted in an accompanying article, “Anyone can find out the names and addresses of handgun owners in any county with a simple Freedom of Information Law request.”

But that, again, misses the point. There is a qualitative difference between information that is public in the sense that anyone who is so inclined can go dig it out, and information that is public because it has been broadly publicized.

Would you publish a database of people who have filed for bankruptcy? People who have been foreclosed? People who have tax liens? Or would you say this information, while public, has no news value; tells a reader nothing he needs to know and does so at a price of discomfiting some law-abiding citizen, putting their business in the street?

Yes, it can be argued that guns are different because, while legal, they also embody legitimate concerns for personal safety. But it can also be argued that if you really want to know if your neighbor has a gun, you can ask — or, if that is not an option, you can look it up.

The Journal News database seems an act of excess, the sort of thing that is done because it can be done, with little thought given to the consequences of the doing.

And if one consequence is that some New York state gun owners feel exposed, the larger consequence for all of us is a further chipping away of private spaces, a further compromise of the increasingly quaint idea that one has a right to live peacefully and an expectation to not be bothered in so doing.

This is not about freedom of the press or freedom to own guns. It is, rather, about the freedom to be left alone, and whether that’s still sustainable or whether henceforth we must all live exposed. The technology being what it is, it’s worth remembering that the answer to that question, whatever it may be, will be shaped both by journalists and by those who are not.

Consider that, while some gun owners vented their anger by making threats and sending baking soda in the mail, others expressed themselves more pointedly. They posted home addresses for Journal News employees online.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at

(c) 2013 The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Image credit: Screenshot/

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41 responses to “Freedom To Be Left Alone Takes A Hit”

  1. Don’t forget you have these Right to Life nutjobs who post abortion doctors and their name and address online you should have mention that too.

  2. Eleanore Whitaker says:

    Sorry, when you own a lethal weapon, you don’t have a right to be “left alone” unless you are a cop, in the military, live in a remote rural area and need your guns to protect your livestock or you are in a sporting area where hunting is allowed.

    If your need to protect your home and family is such, perhaps it was a bad decision to move to a place where your valuables are under constant attack. Why should any of your neighbors have to worry about your teenage kids going off the deep end and getting into your licensed, permitted, legal lethal weapons cabinet?

    That ruse about going after the mentally ill is just another NRA excuse to avoid the obvious. If they don’t want more gun control. Fine. Then, the quantities of ammo has to be reduced and strictly monitored. No one needs 10,000 rounds of ammunition in their home, especially when there are children present. That’s not ammunition for hunting …it’s for a potential massacre.

    It’s time for those with the puffed out chests, limited brain power and addiction to guns to cease. If they want to test mental stability, start with gun owners. I’d bet 50% of the gun buyers and owners in this country couldn’t pass a mental stability test. Not when you consider their “WE” posturing and intimidation “we’ll get even” tactics when they see their names in print.

    • 13observer says:


      • pattijo2 says:

        No reason to swear. You can make you point without the obscenities or the shouting.

        • Sand_Cat says:

          His “point” is the obscenities and shouting. Most of his posts are obscenities, whether or not he uses any “bad” words.

      • annienoel says:

        have you checked your medication level lately?

      • Progressive Patriot says:

        I’ve been told that underneath anger are often fear and/or hurt.
        What is it you’re afraid of, 130…?

      • jarheadgene says:

        13…If you own a gun, please check your meds after that rant. The article made some very valid points. I was trained to kill, in many ways, without use a firearm, so I really could care less about guns; however, as tragic as the circumstances of these recent mass murders have been, I still believe in the 2nd Ammendment. And I believe in the right to privacy, hopefully there is a civil suit against the “Journal News” as a result of their actions. One of the greatest things about not knowing where the guns are, in any neighborhood, is it makes a burglar think twice. It also keeps foreign armies from a ground assault against America. Please tone it down 13, out of respect, Ms. Whitaker was merely expressing an opinion. You both have the right to free speech…. 1st Ammendment, but let’s do it with some decorum.

      • Jim Myers says:

        Replying to 13observer –


        Look in the mirror. The hatred you show is the main reason we need controls on weapons, ammunition and magazines.

      • metrognome3830 says:

        As the saying goes, “Obscenity is the tool of the ignorant.” You don’t wish to be thought of as ignorant, do you? Why not cool down a bit and compose a more reasoned reply?

      • latebloomingrandma says:

        Anybody think observer should own a bunch of guns???

      • Sand_Cat says:

        Congratulations on another eloquent and informed response.

    • 13observer says:

      So you have a prejudice against the mentally ill! How about blacks and latinos? Do you just tolerate gays or do you wish they were dead? You obviously have many issues about the disadvantaged of deminished capacity!!!!!!!!!!!! How about folks with Alzeimers bet you can’t stand them? How do you feel about overwieght people? Do you just want to STARVE THEM until they are JUST LIKE YOU? You people all want the same, EVERY ONE TO THINK LIKE YOU DO!!!! You could do us all a big favor and do like the gal in the U.K. did after she compromised the Royalty………… KILL YOURSELF!!!! Just don’t do it with a GUN not because it is so messy, but because you aren’t worth wasting a good bullet on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Comrade!

      Where have you been?

      We missed you at the last rally against the Constitution.

      Will you be at the book burning this weekend?

      • ObozoMustGo says:

        Zheet……. bwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!


        Have a nice day!

        “One way to make sure crime doesn’t pay would be to let the government run it.” – Ronald Reagan

    • middleclasstaxpayer says:

      I don’t know if you live in or near a big city, but violent crime & murder with “any” means is at a 30 year low, per FBI stats. However, home invasions are still a possibility anywhere, and folks have a right to protect themselves, and their loved ones, just as you probably protect yourself with insurance. The most “lethal weapen” in every home is the family automobile. We have all heard reports of teens getting into the family car (licensed drivers or not) and killing a car full of friends and/or pedestrians while on a joy ride. A fiream in home is no more dangerous than the 20 gallon propane tank on your deck, which, if mishandled could destroy an entire home, including all the occupants. If you are so paranoid of your neighbors, I would like to suggest that YOU are mentally ill (and potentially dangerous to YOUR neighbors) and that you should be restrained to keep YOU from hurting yourself or worse, others!!!

    • jstsyn says:

      Why don’t you give us your mental stability test scores? We could all use a laugh.

    • metrognome3830 says:

      Sorry, Eleanor, but I have to disagree with you on this point. It was absolutely wrong for the newspaper to publish that list. I’m pretty sure that the overwhelming majority of these gun owners are perfectly fine law-abiding citizens with any number of reasons for owning a firearm. It is not necessary for people who own firearms to be in the military, law enforcement or live in a rural or sporting area. It’s perfectly legal to live in Manhattan, for instance, and still be a hunter (as long as they don’t hunt in Manhattan, of course.) It is just as wrong to be calling for a total ban on guns as it is to espouse total freedom to own any kind of weapon and unlimited ammunition. 50% of gun owners couldn’t pass a mental stability test? I think that’s a bit high. I would reduce that by about half.

      • Sand_Cat says:

        Being a “law-abiding citizen” obsessed with guns says nothing about the danger (or lack thereof) someone represents to his/her neighbors. Many of our mass murderers were probably “law-abiding” until they went out and started shooting.

        Nevertheless, I agree that we should not adopt or condone this favorite tactic of the murderous “right-to-life” movement and other right-wing lunatics.

    • sigrid28 says:

      In the rural area where I lived for eight years, the local paper always printed the names and other information about people who were arrested (before they even went to court) and why, foreclosures, and bankruptcies. Look in the classified section of every large metropolitan newspaper, and you can find such notices. Arrests are on the front pages of these venues. At one time, this small town newspaper even published the names of sellers and buyers of properties–and the price! The publisher even included pictures of both the back and the front of his daughter’s prom dress. I never failed to buy this paper, and I never got used to it.

      No wonder cosmopolitan gun owners were shocked to find themselves identified on a map in the Journal News. My rural neighbors would have been proud, proud as they were of the Confederate flags draped across the rear windows of the cabs of their pick-ups. They would have loved for their names and addresses listed in their small town newspaper, because it gave criminals and others not like themselves ample notice to leave them well enough alone.

    • I served 2 years in Vietnam and was paid by the US government to kill people. Now I just want a simple life and be left alone, so where do my freedoms come into play?
      I know how to use all sorts of weapons, but why should people be made aware of that.
      Sorry I have an IQ of over 140+ and I’m not crazy, but I do get pissed off from you ultra liberals that think that they know what is best for me. Maybe you ought to take the test and find out where you fit sticking your nose into other peoples business. They are the worst kind of people I have met.

      • Sand_Cat says:

        As usual, the pot calls the kettle black. And your IQ has nothing to do with your sanity. There are no “ultra liberals” threatening you; they’re just people who used to be considered moderate conservatives who now look like flaming leftists compared to the current “conservatives.” Your paranoia and fear of imaginary enemies don’t say much for your sanity. I gather you have your own little arsenal, just to make sure you can have a simple life and be left alone, of course.

        Your claim about “sticking your noses into other peoples[sic] business” and the comment about someone’s thinking they know what is best for you are pure projection, assuming you’re not one of those imaginary “ultra liberals.” It is the Right that constantly tries to regulate what people may say, read, write, and think, what sexual positions they may use, whether or not they should have children, and a host of other things which are none of their – should I say “your” – damned business. We “ultra liberals” couldn’t care less about your “business” so long as it doesn’t endanger us and you respect our right to “a simple life and be left alone,” as you put it. Chances are, based on your post, you don’t.

        • Inthenameofliberty says:

          “It is the Right that constantly tries to regulate what people may say, read, write, and think, what sexual positions they may use, whether or not they should have children, and a host of other things which are none of their – should I say “your” – damned business. We “ultra liberals” couldn’t care less about your “business” so long as it doesn’t endanger us and you respect our right to “a simple life and be left alone,” as you put it.”

          What a crock of shit.

  3. Ed says:

    Ummmm. Are these the same people who are all for “government transparency”?

  4. Oh come on, I am a big supporter for more gun control, but posting names not only leads to a privacy issue, but also a safety issue. Conventional wisdom might lead us to believe that the house with the gun would be off limits to crooks; but the opposite is probably the case. They want the guns, they now know where to go to get the guns. Let’s just advertise to all the bad guys where they can go to steal weapons. Posting those names was unnecessary and kind of despicable.

  5. Progressive Patriot says:

    I am definitely for Common Sense Gun Safety Laws. Still, I have to ask, Don’t law abiding citizens have a right to privacy?

  6. Well written, Leonard. I am not one of those anti-government conspiracy theorists, but long experience has taught me not to trust governments and by extension cops. Some well-intentioned do-gooder put these people in harms way from data contained on government databases. THE WEST WAS NOT WON WITH A REGISTERED GUN. A carry permit is essentially registration the way it is done in most jurisdictions. I carried for years (legally) and never had a situation where a firearm became necessary. So I let my permit to carry lapse and hope now that if they come for our guns they forget to look back in the archives.

  7. 113121 says:

    I hope all of you understand this information has been available to anyone for years. That is how they got it with a simple search and really if you don’t approve then you should advocate to change the laws. That said, I like knowing which crazy neighbor has a gun. Privacy is over in any case for all of us. I really don’t see why gun nuts are so special. Yes, gun nuts. If you think everyone should have a gun then you should have no problem with this.

    • metrognome3830 says:

      Unfortunately(?) 113121, the list doesn’t show which ones are crazy. Perhaps a list of crazy people in your neighborhood would be more helpful. Then you could cross-reference it with the list of gun owners. Of course, that list of crazy neighbors may be a little harder to come by. Those pesky privacy laws, you know.

  8. ObozoMustGo says:

    Lenny Pitts…. I could not agree more. The one point that you may wish to add is that the homes in neighborhoods that do not have guns registered to them have just become bigger targets to the slimes of society that now know they can rob a place without fear. You are correct. Actions have consequences. It would be nice if you guys on the left realized that laws can have negative consequences, as well.

    Have a nice day!

    “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” – Milton Friedman in an interview with Richard Heffner

  9. Sand_Cat says:

    This tactic is the standard one of the lunatic right. While in some sense there may be justice in this, I think the sane and reasonable should not use it.

  10. 113121 says:

    Well, let’s think this through for a minute. The place where I am currently typing for instance, my apartment. I can easily be shot and possibly killed by the men living beneath me through the floor the people living next door through the wall and if the man upstairs isn’t careful I can get shot through the ceiling. It’s most likely when I think of my neighbors though that the horrible teabagger family on the other side could shoot me through the window either on purpose or while *cleaning* their gun or a long list of other accidental events. Get real. You’ve never been shot at while going about your normal day have you? Try it, then you can decide if someone was crazy or just stupid if you are still with us.

  11. S-3 says:

    Meh. Anything to stop gun violence… One Step at a time – No sorrow here!

  12. P`tar says:

    I can’t say if this is moral, but, it is perfectly legal. Privacy is a joke now a days.

    I can look up mine and my neighbors properties and learn their names. the lay out of their house, value, taxes, and whether or not the taxes have been paid. For a fee, I can look up most anyone, their addresses, phone numbers, arrest records, what have you.

    Store and credit cards watch what I buy, when and how often and tailor ads to my “preferences.” Internet search engines do the same.

    Paper here still list property transaction with names, addresses and amounts.

    Cameras watch our store, banks, ATMs, intersections. and often our streets.

    About 30 years ago, the Columbus Dispatch (aka The Columbus Disgrace) listed the names and professions of men caught in a importuning sting . A number of the men committed suicide for being exposed as gay. Legal? Yes. Moral? Not at the price of these peoples ruined careers, lost families, and lost lives.

    The solution? There is none. Realise most everything leaves a trail and act appropriately.

  13. ralphkr says:

    As I stated elsewhere, the only thing a list of gun owners accomplishes is to give the gangbangers a shopping list of where to obtain more weaponry. My neighbors certainly know that I have various firearms and I also know which of my armed neighbors can be depended upon for help if needed.

  14. I truly believe publishing gun owners addresses is the best way to stem violence in those areas because it let other gun owners know they live in a Dodge City, eventhough it is not the state of Kansas.

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