When New York state passed the SAFE Act in January, essentially adopting some of the strictest gun control restrictions in the nation, the legislation created an uproar over a variety of issues.
One of these was public access to gun permit applications. The documents are public, which means anyone can see them.
When a downstate newspaper, shortly after the passage of the law, decided to publish the names of every gun permit holder in a three-county area. Along with angering the community, the question of whether those documents should be public entered the debate.
Currently, gun permit holders have the ability to opt out of having their personal information disclosed for various reasons, including fearing for their safety, being a current or retired law enforcement officer, fearing harassment, serving on a criminal trial or grand jury, witnessing a crime or being under an order of protection.
However, permit holders may also have their zip codes and gender shielded from public disclosure.
We believe that information should remain open for public inspection. We also believe the community has a right to know if there are large numbers of people around them who are living in fear or have been threatened.
Since the passage of the SAFE Act, the governor and state Senate have indicated they are willing to consider several amendments to the law. The New York State Publishers Association has proposed an amendment that would leave zip codes and gender available for public inspection on gun permits. We support that effort.
Unfortunately, the NYPA has been told Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate won't include this provision in any amendments they intend to make, which shows a continued disregard for the public they're sworn to serve.
The original SAFE Act was adopted under the cover of darkness and without any chance for debate or public comment. It's bad enough that state lawmakers kept the public out of that process, but it appears they are continuing to limit people's access to public documents.
We encourage the governor and the state Senate to reconsider and allow zip codes and gender on gun permits to remain available to the public.
We understand that people have a right to their own privacy, and publishing the names of every gun permit holder in a newspaper's readership area can create problems. Just because something can be published doesn't mean it has to.
However, the data the NYPA wants to remain public doesn't expose anyone's name, address or other personal information, so we fail to see what harm it will cause. It gives the public a better idea of how many people living in their communities are registered gun owners without knowing exactly who they are.
Government should be working to become more transparent and not make it harder for the public to stay informed.