RTDNA Urges NY to Restore Access to Public Records

January 16, 2013 05:00

The Radio-Television Digital News Association is calling on New York lawmakers and Governor Andrew Cuomo to restore automatic public access to the state’s gun permit records.

Portions of New York’s new gun control law (Senate Bill 2230/Assembly Bill 2388), adopted by the legislature and signed by Cuomo this week, will require journalists and other citizens to seek special permission from either local public officials or the courts in order to access the records, which until now had been available without such restrictions.

The provisions were included in the legislation after a suburban New York City newspaper and its website, as part of its coverage in the aftermath of the December 14 school shooting in nearby Newtown, Connecticut, published the names and addresses of gun permit holders in two Lower Hudson Valley counties. The publication of the names and addresses provoked the ire of some New York state lawmakers who believed it violated gun permit owners’ rights to privacy and security.

“This is clearly a wild overreaction to the decision to publish the names,” said Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director. “Closing off public records is an excessive and inappropriate response, and we respectfully urge Governor Cuomo and New York legislators to restore the public’s access to this information.”

That stated, RTDNA believes the controversy could be used as a catalyst for dialog to determine ways to balance the rights of people to access important public information and the obligation of journalists to report on stories of vital interest in a responsible way.

“This situation can, and should, be the subject of a vigorous debate over journalistic ethics, principles and purpose,” said RTDNA Chairman Vincent Duffy. “It most definitely should not be the vehicle for state lawmakers, caught up in the emotion and volatility of the national gun control discussion, to drop a veil of secrecy over records the public has always had a right to see.”