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Many handgun permits in N.Y. county have outdated data

9:01 AM, Jan 28, 2013   |    comments
Robert Buckley, vice president of the Affiliated Police Association of Westchester County, speaks at a news conference in White Plains, N.Y., demanding The Journal News take down a map on its website that gives names and addresses of pistol permit holders. (Photo: Jim Fitzgerald, AP)
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NEW CITY, N.Y. -- An interactive map of pistol-permit holders published by The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News in December contained some inaccurate information because of outdated data it received on some permit holders.

The map showed the names and addresses of handgun-permit holders in Rockland and Westchester, N.Y., counties. It ignited a national firestorm that brought criticism from those who felt it demonized legal gun-permit holders and also put them and non-permit-holders in danger. The map data have since been removed from the newspaper's website, but maps of each county remain with large dots to indicate the density of permits in each county.

Mike Smith was shocked to see his home on the online map before it was removed from the website.

He quickly determined his brother-in-law had used Smith's Valley Cottage, N.Y., address when he successfully applied for a handgun license - in 1997, a few months before he moved to Arizona.

Though angry at his brother-in-law, Smith said he also was left fuming about a process that hadn't measured up.

"Nobody ever called and verified the address," Smith said. "They didn't use his driver's license. Could somebody else use my address?"

Smith was among scores of residents who contacted the newspaper last month after it published the interactive map on its website.

He was not alone in requesting that his address be removed from the map on the grounds that it contained inaccurate information.

Rockland County provided the names and addresses for 16,998 permit holders, but County Clerk Paul Piperato categorized the vast majority of those as "historical," with some dating to the 1930s. Only 3,907 permits were considered current. The rest had no activity in at least five years and included people who may have moved, died, sold or given away their guns.

Westchester's data, though not exact, had far more accurate information, and for a good reason. 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.

New gun-control laws enacted in New York this month now require all permits to be renewed every five years.

Communities with stricter rules, such as New York City, can keep their requirements in place.

Jackie Hilly, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said the new law will mean a better chance to identify someone who shouldn't have a gun.

"What you want is a background check on people," Hilly said. "You want current information on the fact that a permit holder is still qualified."

Issuing permits for a lifetime doesn't allow for a check, Hilly said, adding that a person's circumstances can change to include mental illness or conviction of a crime.

Laura Incalcaterra, The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

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