Like many hearing news reports that day, I kept choking back emotion as I thought of the lives lost and the innocence of the young victims -- 20 children dead along with six educators was unfathomable. Later on, I found out that the children's names sounded very much like those of my own children, 13 and 8.
My third-grader reacted like many California children his age might, blessed with living on the West Coast. Adults know better that Newtown is Anytown, USA but children don't think the threat is real if they understand how far away California is from Connecticut.
Yet I have lived just outside Connecticut and worked for Gannett Company, which got roundly criticized recently for publishing the names and addresses of gun owners. The Gannett-owned Journal News, headquartered in White Plains, N.Y., used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain data on some 44,000 registered handgun owners in Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam Counties, just north of New York City. It then published that information online using Google Maps to show exactly where those gun owners live.
One such critic was Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla. Normally a supporter of the press and the public's right to know, Tompkins must be joking when he slammed the Journal News for printing the names and addresses of gun owners recently.
My reaction: Tompkins is so caught up in maintaining his 2nd Amendment privilege that he lost sight of what really mattered here.
Doing the right thing as a member of the press is often a thankless job. I for one applaud Managing Editor CynDee Royle, intrepid reporter Dwight R. Worley and their colleagues at the Journal News for being steadfast in the face of rabid gun owners who call for no limits of any kind on gun ownership.
CynDee Royle used to be my editor when I worked for Gannett Company as a staff writer in the '90s at two different newspapers in Wilmington, DE then White Plains, N.Y. I know CynDee to be a caring and responsible person. Gun permits are a matter of public record for a ton of good reasons. Just as when authorities issue driver's licenses, the government even requires gun owners to be photographed. Did Tompkins really stand up for the privacy rights of gun owners? I'm sure Adam Lanza's mother would have supported many of his views. If her son hadn't already shot her to death, too.
I do not think anyone is coming to strip responsible gun owners of their 2nd Amendment rights. But there is no doubt that some limits need to be imposed on the private ownership of assault weapons and semi-automatic firearms. The 2nd Amendment says private citizens have the right to own guns, but it also gives the government the right to regulate them. Some guns that fire multiple shots are not necessary except to wreak widespread killing and chaos in our inner cities and unleash horror in suburbia. The teachers and 6-year-olds murdered in school did not have a prayer against a seemingly mentally deranged Adam Lanza. Neither did his own mother, the gun enthusiast who taught him how to shoot.
Even the president is trying to take some action that will reduce tragedies in places like Newtown, CT; Aurora, CO and Virginia Tech . He has tapped vice president Joe Biden to oversee the effort, he told Meet the Press Sunday morning, calling the incident the worst of his presidency. I know the NRA wants to blame the media, including video games, for such events. By taking what action it could -- letting the public know where there are gun owners and who they are, The Journal News took what minimal action it could in the face of this unbelievable tragedy. Until enough political will is mustered to enact legislation LIMITING gun rights, that's correct Rush Limbaugh, I just said LIMITING these rights, there is little hope of reducing needless slaughter. With new laws, there will be fewer instances where mentally challenged gunmen hit so-called "soft targets" such as schools, shopping centers, movie theaters and other non-violent places.
With reasonable laws, a neighbor of Sandy Hook Elementary School, might never have been thrust into the role of serving as a safe haven for fleeing and traumatized children after one of them said sadly, "We can't go back to school. Our teacher is dead."
The reaction of talk show hosts and other pundits who argue that our schools should become armed camps is totally unnecessary, although many of our high schools around the nation already have become just that.
It's true more and better investigation by journalists is needed so that we can tell the bad gun owners from the good ones. I get that. Not all guns are bad.
Maybe Tompkins could charge the journalists of the Journal News, with going overbroad. Not every every gun owner is about to shoot up a school and many of them resent the implication. However, being part of the press is about cutting through the stranglehold with which the NRA attempts to frighten our politicians from doing the right thing. I am sure members of the public want to know who the private owners of guns are in their community.
Tompkins makes a good point when he discusses how responsible he is with his firearms, how they are kept under lock and key and inaccessible to children who visit him. Bravo. I am very sure that is not the case everywhere guns are being kept.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Randi Weiner wrote the Journal News story. It was actually Dwight R. Worley.