Reformed crooks say the New York newspaper that published a map of names and addresses of gun owners did a great service – to their old cronies in the burglary trade.
The information published online by the Journal-News, a daily paper serving the New York suburbs of Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, could be highly useful to thieves in two ways, former burglars told FoxNews.com. Crooks looking to avoid getting shot now know which targets are soft and those who need weapons know where they can steal them.
"Having a list of who has a gun is like gold - why rob that house when you can hit the one next door, where there are no guns?”
- Walter T. Shaw, former burglar and jewel thief
“That was the most asinine article I’ve ever seen,” said Walter T. Shaw, 65, a former burglar and jewel thief who the FBI blames for more than 3,000 break-ins that netted some $70 million in the 1960s and 1970s. “Having a list of who has a gun is like gold - why rob that house when you can hit the one next door, where there are no guns?
"What they did was insanity," added Shaw, author of "License to Steal," a book about his criminal career.
The newspaper published the online map last month alongside an article titled, "The gun owner next door: What you don't know about the weapons in your neighborhood." The map included the names and addresses of pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
While the paper ostensibly sought to make a point about gun proliferation in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the effort backfired. A blogger reacted with a map showing where key editorial staffers live and some outraged groups have called for a boycott of parent company Gannett’s national advertisers. Ironically, the newspaper has now stationed armed guards outside at least one of its offices.
“They just created an opportunity for some crimes to be committed and I think it’s exceptionally stupid,” said Bob Portenier, 65, a former burglar and armed house robber turned crime prevention consultant.
Professional burglars are always looking for an edge, and like most folks, they read the paper, said Portenier.
“Criminals are always looking for opportunity and words travels through the grapevine—burglars trade secrets and when you see something like that in the paper, that’s is something burglar’s are going to talk about,” Portenier said. “‘Did you see in the paper where all these people have guns and their addresses?’ and that kind of stuff, they’ll say.”
While some burglars may use the newspaper’s information to avoid guns, Portenier said others will target homes with guns. The newspaper’s decision could even lead to legally-owned guns proliferating on the street, he said.
“That’s one of the first things we’d check out—guns are on the top of the list of what you want to steal,” he said. “They can walk out with a shotgun and a couple of handguns and sell them on the street for $300 or $400 a pop. They can sell them to a gangbanger who ends up killing someone."
Frank Abagnale, who was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 film “Catch Me if You Can,” and is perhaps the most famous reformed thief to ever earn a legitimate living by offering the public insight into the criminal mind, called the newspaper’s actions “reprehensible.”
“It is unbelievable that a newspaper or so called journalist would publish the names and addresses of legal gun owners, including federal agents, law enforcement officers and the like,” said Abagnale, who noted that he grew up in the suburban New York area served by the Journal-News. “This would be equivalent to publishing the names of individuals who keep substantial sums of money, jewelry and valuables in their home.”