Publishing Private Information in the Aftermath of Sandy Hook

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Shooting, the issue of gun control was given a considerable amount of attention. One publication, The Journal News, actually went so far as to publish a map of with both the names and addresses of people who had registered gun permits.

As New York Times author David Karp mentions in his coverage of the incident, this publication brings about a number of ethical issues. Yes, the American people do have access to information on registered gun permits. Yes, The Journal News did not do anything illegal when they published the map. However, we as journalists have to ask ourselves if the behavior The Journal News exhibited was ethical.

Why? First of all, the map and accompanying article were published at a time when the issue of gun control was very sensitive. Publishing a map declaring to the world the whereabouts of gun owners could put those gun owners in danger.

However, the map can go more ways than one. Now, in addition to information about who does own a gun permit in Westchester County, Pa., citizens also have access to an aggregated collection of the addresses of those people who do not own guns. Does doing so put these citizens in danger? It is an issue that the publication of the map brings to light, and one that must certainly be discussed.

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2 Comments on “Publishing Private Information in the Aftermath of Sandy Hook”

  1. tarwin08 says:

    The Sandy Hook Shooting and this subsequent map published by The Journal News presents a classic example of the conflict between what is legally acceptable and what is ethically acceptable. I would certainly agree that The Journal News overstepped its ethical boundaries. Posting the names of the individuals who had registered for gun permits was completely unnecessary. The Journal News could have been equally as effective in promoting their message had they stopped at simply providing statistics of the number of gun permit owners. Additionally, you pose a great point when you mention that the addresses of those people who do not own guns could be in danger. Even further, the map could also put gun owners in danger
    not necessarily by strict gun-control activists, but also by criminals looking to steal weapons from those respected homes. And of course, the map does not (and cannot) show the number on individuals who illegally own a gun. Thus, while I understand The Journal News’ intention in publishing the map, I would agree with other journalists in that the newspaper did overstep its ethically boundaries. Certainly the gun control issue is one that needs to be addressed, but adding “fuel to the fire” and victimizing lawful gun permit owners is not ethical nor is it good journalism.

  2. tarwin08 says:

    The Sandy Hook Shooting and this subsequent map published by The Journal News presents a classic example of the conflict between what is legally acceptable and what is ethically acceptable. I would certainly agree that The Journal News overstepped its ethical boundaries. Posting the names of the individuals who had registered for gun permits was completely unnecessary. The Journal News could have been equally as effective in promoting their message had they stopped at simply providing statistics of the number of gun permit owners. Additionally, you pose a great point when you mention that the addresses of those people who do not own guns could be in danger. Even further, the map could also put gun owners in danger
    not necessarily by strict gun-control activists, but also by criminals looking to steal weapons from those respected homes. And of course, the map does not (and cannot) show the number on individuals who illegally own a gun. Thus, while I understand The Journal News’ intention in publishing the map, I would agree with other journalists in that the newspaper did overstep its ethically boundaries. Certainly the gun control issue is one that needs to be addressed, but adding “fuel to the fire” and victimizing lawful gun permit owners is not ethical nor is it good journalism.


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