When the Journal News published a map showing the location of all households in their corner of New York, gun-rights activists vehemently criticized the decision as irresponsible, one that put the entire community in danger. As it turns out, they underestimated just how irresponsible the Journal News decision was. The map wildly overstated the number of active gun permits, and it turns out the newspaper didn’t bother to verify any of their information (via Instapundit):
The newspaper map of one New York county’s pistol permits was riddled with problems, thanks to inaccurate data in official records, acknowledges the paper that published it. Just 3,907 of the 16,998 permit-holding households displayed on the Journal News‘ Rockland County map were current; the rest were classified as “historical,” with no updates in the past five years, explains Rockland’s county clerk. Some permits were issued as long ago as the 1930s; owners could have moved, ditched their guns, or died since then.
The Journal News offers this lame rationale:
Until this month, only Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau counties required permits to be renewed every five years; New York City requires an update every three years.
Every other county in New York — including Rockland — issued permits that were good for a person’s lifetime, and though it was the responsibility of the permit holder to update his information, many simply did not, Piperato said.
Yes, you see, it was the responsibility of the gun owner to update records, even though they might have died in the interim. It certainly wasn’t the Journal News’ responsibility to actually verify that the data was correct, or that they weren’t working with data from, say, the 1930s. Verification and research into what data actually means is so passé, especially when a newspaper can put people’s lives at risk to make a political point — and at the same time come up with a cool graphic.
Tech Crunch advises next time to talk with the data geeks first before publishing, and not the other way around:
While there’s a reasonable debate about whether gun permit ownership should be public information, there is no upside to transparency when it endangers the wrong citizens. Apparently, in Rockland County, the vast majority of the 16,998 permit holders were considered “historic,” some dating back to the 1930′s. Only 3,907 (22%) were current.
Transparency of government records is still a recent development; the advancement of technology hasn’t kept pace with clunky record keeping, giving overzealous journalists more offensive power than citizens have defensive power.
Perhaps, next time, we should reach out to the data geeks in charge of the information and see how accurate our conclusions might be.
You know what also might work? Dumping the cheap activism and actually producing journalism and objective news reporting.