26 December 2012

The 1st Amendment and the 2nd Amendment

The Journal-News, out of White Plains, NY, has published a very detailed interactive map of every resident in their area that is registered to own a gun.  On the surface it is an interesting map. Depending on your expectations, it may show that there are more legal guns (or legal gun owners, to be precise) than you expected in a small neighborhood in Yonkers. Here is a small close-up of the map of pistol owners in Southern Westchester County:

Pretty detailed, right? It might be interesting to make a map of the streets without guns. Or compare a density map of guns with a density map of population or crime. Add schools and you have a different map.

While the website does not give the details of the gun, it does list the name and address of each license holder. Some pro-gun advocates see this, not as a thoughtful mapping of a timely issue, but as intimidation of citizens simply exercising their 2nd Amendment rights. Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds writes, " I guess nobody could object to people putting the newspaper staff’s addresses on the Web now, right?."

The interesting distinction here is that the gun licenses are public records. They have been all along. In theory, anyone could have gone to the courthouse or ATF or whomever, and gotten these seem records themselves. So why is improved access and heightened visibility off public records such an issue? Mappers should be aware of this response because it also happens when someone makes a map of long-public property tax records. Suddenly, this public display of public records feels like a violation of privacy to many. And, yet, mapmakers rarely seem prepared for this backlash (whether it is justified or not).

While geographers have long been aware of mapping as a political act (even unintentional), seom neogeographers are just relearning the lessons of the literature.

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