By Noreen O'Donnell
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Authorities in a suburban county north of New York City said on Tuesday they would refuse to release names of local gun permit holders to a newspaper that has been publishing the identities of thousands of license-holding residents.
Putnam County Clerk Dennis Sant said he would defy a request for information about pistol permit holders from the White Plains, New York-based Journal News, which has come under criticism for publishing thousands of such identities already.
"There is the rule of law, and there is right and wrong and the Journal News is clearly wrong," Sant said in a statement. "I could not live with myself if one Putnam pistol permit holder was put in harm's way, for the sole purpose of selling newspapers."
The Journal News first published a map listing thousands of pistol permit-holders in Westchester and Rockland counties, just north of New York City, on December 24. Both counties provided the information after the newspaper, which is owned by Gannett Co, submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The newspaper's editors said they sought the information after the December 14 shooting deaths of 26 children and adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which has sparked a national debate about gun control.
"We believe the law is clear that this is public information and the residents of Putnam County are entitled to see it," Janet Hasson, president and publisher of The Journal News Media Group, said in a statement on Tuesday.
"We're troubled that county officials have apparently switched their position since we first requested the information," Hasson said.
State gun-owner groups have called for an advertising boycott of the newspaper until it takes the map and identities off its website.
Putnam County officials had said they were compiling the names for the newspaper, but said on Tuesday they would not deliver the information.
The county clerk said he had received hundreds of phone calls urging him not to give the information to the paper.
The clerk, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and other elected officials were scheduled to appear on Thursday at a news conference declaring their intentions. Also set to appear is Republican state Senator Greg Ball, who has said he will introduce legislation to keep permit information private except to prosecutors and police.
A similar bill he introduced earlier as an assemblyman failed in the state Assembly.
In the original article, the newspaper cited Robert Freeman, executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government, as saying he believed that not only should the names and addresses be public, but other information such as the types or numbers of guns someone owns.
Freeman told the newspaper that government records were presumed public unless their release was specifically barred by statute.
The newspaper's editor and publisher have said they expected the publication of the information to be controversial.
"But we felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings," Hasson said.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb, David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)