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Facing outcry, Maine newspaper drops request for gun permit info

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People view various newspaper front pages showing President Barack Obama's victory over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on dis
People view various newspaper front pages showing President Barack Obama's victory over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on dis

By Noreen O'Donnell

(Reuters) - A Maine newspaper's request for information about gun permit owners ignited such an outcry among gun-rights advocates and state lawmakers that on Friday the newspaper withdrew it.

In a repeat of an uproar that occurred in a New York City suburb last month, The Bangor Daily News had asked for public records that included the names and addresses of concealed weapon permit holders. Facing fierce criticism, however, it rescinded the request.

"We are disappointed with the reaction to our request, which we felt was with the best intentions to help study issues affecting Maine through an analysis of publicly available data," the newspaper said in an editor's note published on Friday.

"We will continue our reporting, but will use other sources of information to do so," the newspaper said.

Anthony Ronzio, the newspaper's director of news and new media, declined further comment.

But by Thursday, a new group calling itself Celebration Connect sought the same information under Maine's Freedom of Access Act, according to lawmakers. It was unclear what the unknown organization intended to do with the information, the lawmakers said.

In response, Maine's Republican Governor Paul LePage submitted emergency legislation to block the release of names and addresses on the gun permits until the information could permanently be made private.

A Democratic state senator, Troy Jackson, sponsored the legislation, which could be enacted as early as next Tuesday.

LePage, who released a photograph of himself with his own concealed weapon permit, had said he was worried the newspaper's request would incite fear among gun owners and others.

"I hope the Legislature will act quickly to pass this bill and put the concerns of law-abiding Mainers at ease," LePage said in a statement.

The controversy comes as the United States debates additional gun controls following the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults, as well as other mass shootings across the country.

President Barack Obama in his State of the Union Address on Tuesday urged Congress to take up "common-sense" gun control measures, such as expanded background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons.

The Bangor newspaper said it was not intending to publish personal information about Maine permit holders as The Journal News in suburban New York did in December with an online map, which was later removed from the newspaper's website.

New York lawmakers have since voted to give gun permit holders the choice to keep their information private.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, desking by G Crosse)

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