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Can Newspaper Be Sued Over Gun Owner Addresses?

By Andrew Lu on December 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Following the Connecticut school shooting, a New York newspaper published a story this week called "The Gun Owner Next Door: What You Don't Know About the Weapons in Your Neighborhood."

As part of its story, The Journal News included an interactive map that lists the names and addresses of every gun permit holder in two local counties, reports the Associated Press.

Not surprisingly, the gun permit holders who were "outed" by the newspaper were outraged and even claimed their safety had been jeopardized. But did The Journal News violate any laws or the rights of the gun permit holders?

Critics argue that by publishing the map, The Journal News is equating gun permit holders with registered sex offenders or other people who have done something wrong, reports the AP.

Of course, permit holders have done nothing illegal and simply exercised their rights to lawfully obtain a gun permit -- they may not even own a gun. By publishing the map, the newspaper may have damaged the affected individuals' reputations, or even put them at risk for gun theft, critics asserted.

So can the paper be sued for publishing gun permit holders' addresses?

Probably not, a First Amendment lawyer told the AP. That's because the newspaper simply published publicly available information, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. There is no liability for reporting what anyone can look up for themselves, the lawyer said.

By registering for a gun permit in the first place, the permit holders willingly entered the public sphere, the Journal News' lawyers could argue.

While a potential lawsuit may not be successful, those upset with the newspaper's story have found other ways to fire back. For example, one blogger has published a map showing the names and addresses of Journal News staff members who worked on the gun story, The Huffington Post reports.

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