Led by State Sen. Greg Ball, Putnam County officials are announcing that they will withhold records documenting the names and addresses of residents who possess pistol permits.
What some officials say they 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, filed a request for the information. A map naming Rockland and Westchester folks with gun permits was posted on the paper's website Dec. 22.
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 County Clerk Dennis 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 not 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 the information has 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 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 shooting that left 26 dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School reignited the national discussion on gun control and gun laws. The Journal News ignited a separate firestorm when it published, as it had in 2006, a database report of gun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties.