2013-01-02 / Front Page

County to Gannett: You Can't Have Gun Records

Leaders vow a fight to the end to protect Putnam citizens
Douglas Cunningham

Couching the fight as one of right vs. wrong and public safety vs. the publish-at-all-costs desire of an out-of-county newspaper, Putnam County officials on Thursday said they will not release the names and addresses of pistol permit holders.

County Clerk Dennis Sant, County Executive MaryEllen Odell, State Sen. Greg Ball, and Assemblyman Steve Katz at a news conference Thursday about not releasing the names of pistol permit holders to an out-of-county newspaper. Photo/Doug CunninghamCounty Clerk Dennis Sant, County Executive MaryEllen Odell, State Sen. Greg Ball, and Assemblyman Steve Katz at a news conference Thursday about not releasing the names of pistol permit holders to an out-of-county newspaper. Photo/Doug Cunningham

The officials – County Executive MaryEllen Odell, County Clerk Dennis J. Sant, State Sen. Greg Ball and Assemblyman Steve Katz – said that releasing the names would endanger thousands of law-abiding permit holders and needlessly put at risk domestic violence victims, current and retired police officers and other citizens.

The four officials vowed a unified, “shoulder-to-shoulder” defense of the county against the request by the Journal News, a White Plains newspaper owned by Gannett. It has limited circulation in Putnam County and has already published the names and addresses on an interactive map of permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties.

“We intend to take this process to the very end,” said Odell. “Wherever that process leads us.” She said to Putnam residents: “I will not retreat from protecting you, nor will I surrender.”

“I’m a man who follows the rule of law,” said Sant. “We’re not talking about the rule of law any more – we’re talking about the safety of our citizens.”

He said the world has changed in huge ways since the adoption of the state’s open meetings and records law three decades ago: the spread of electronic, online information, social networks like Facebook, the use of Google maps and other programs to pinpoint someone’s address, even their driveway. All of those changes mean that while releasing the records would be legally right, it would be morally wrong  because it would endanger so many, he said.

Sant recounted one phone call he received from a woman who had been stalked for years, had finally found a safe location, and now, two days after the newspaper’s publication of the other names, is receiving hangup phone calls believed to be from the stalker. Said Sant: “She lives in fear for herself and her three daughters.”

Putnam’s refusal to simply go along has drawn nationwide attention, including at least 10 broadcast outlets from New York City and the region who were at Thursday’s noon-time news conference in the historic Putnam Courthouse. It may have been the first Putnam news conference ever in which bystanders and media had to pass through a metal detector. A number of ordinary Putnam residents also attended, including one with a pro-Second Amendment sign she held up. Several who attended also were active members of area fish and game clubs. The bystanders gave the officials several standing ovations during the news conference.

Politically, Putnam’s stand is virtually a guaranteed winner for the officials. Putnam is conservative and the NRA backing is generally important at election time. Ball, in particular, has made much of the gun issue. In his 2010 race, his slogan was usually translated as “God, guns and family.”

“This was a great slap in the face to law-abiding citizens,” Ball said Thursday. “These are tens of thousands of people who did nothing wrong… I stand proudly today as a resident of Putnam County. I will fight with you until hell freezes over, and then we’re going to fight on the ice.”

Ball and Katz both said they will push legislation in Albany to prohibit such disclosures.

“We are now at the intersection of where the law meets morality, what’s right and wrong,” Katz said.  

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