Act limits information

National tragedies sometimes spur lawmakers to act on emotion. We are seeing examples of that after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators promptly adopted the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act. Gun owners are complaining about the measure’s threat to Second Amendment rights, but the law also may threaten First Amendment rights.

Part of the measure allows gun permit holders to keep their permit information secret from the public. Lawmakers may have been responding to an incident in which a Gannett-owned newspaper, The Journal News, in December published an online map of people who had handgun permits within Westchester and Rockland counties. The newspaper published information that’s been public for decades in this state. Under the new law, the information no longer is public.

The New York News Publishers Association contends in cases where a gun owner opts to have his or her personal information shielded from public disclosure, the reasons for opting out and basic information such as the person’s ZIP code and gender still should be disclosed. The association points out permit applicants can opt out of having their information disclosed for reasons including fearing for their life or safety, being a current or retired law-enforcement officer, fearing harassment, serving on a criminal trial jury or grand jury, witnessing a crime or being under an order of protection. The association says the public should be able to know if people in their communities are living in fear or have been threatened.

The association proposed an amendment to change the law, and we support it.

The new gun law weakens the state’s Freedom of Information Law. This week, which is Sunshine Week – an annual event promoting the importance of public access to government information – we encourage lawmakers to consider changing the gun law. So far, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate have refused to include the provision proposed by the publishers association in any amendments they plan to make.

The state is continuing on a slippery slope of diminishing public information. The state Senate is even considering a bill that would make hunting, fishing and trapping licenses secret. What’s next?

Everyone in the state should be concerned about this trend toward secrecy.