When an unbiased fact-check still misses the mark

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

I think most of us are kind of sick of fact-checkers. Once, it was the domain of sites that investigated urban legends and viral chain emails about weird events. It told you if these things were accurate or not, so you could determine whether or not to share them.

These days, though, they’re a partisan weapon used to keep half of the population in the dark and to feed into the biases of the other half.

As you can tell, I’m not a fan.

However, a good, unbiased fact-check is a thing of beauty…if they get the points right.

Take this one, that is actually unbiased.

A Twitter user recently posted, “Seniors in high school in Oklahoma can carry an AR-15 without a permit but are banned from reading To Kill a Mockingbird.”

This tweet went viral, inspiring conversations about gun rights as well as the restrictions on literature in some school districts. When discussing controversial information, such as book bans and gun laws, it is easy for misinformation to spread or for context to be lost.

Now, the original tweet is lunacy.

However, the fact-checker here isn’t a gun person. They outline their process in determining the reality–something I actually appreciate–and while they appear to enter the situation with an open mind, there are still problems.

Let me start with the last part of the original tweet.

While the writer fact-checks this one and notes that it’s only one school district in Oklahoma that has banned To Kill a Mockingbird, I need to point out that there’s a huge difference between “we don’t want this in our library” and “you shall not read this upon pain of death.”

But what about the gun thing?

Well, here’s what the fact-checker found:

Therefore, we practiced the media lit tip of click restraint and kept scrolling. Eventually, we found a story from KOCO 5 News, an ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City. The story said that 18-year-olds who were serving or had served in the military are able to carry a gun without a permit in Oklahoma. So, technically, seniors in high school can carry guns without a permit, but they are never allowed to carry weapons on school grounds.

Ironically, while the finding here actually debunks the claim, it’s also glaringly wrong.

See, say what you want about the tweeter in question–and she’s a Moms Demand Action member, so, yeah–but they don’t usually make those kinds of mistakes on gun laws. They might misrepresent them like she does in this tweet, but they tend to at least be familiar with what’s on the books.

And in Oklahoma, what the fact-checker is describing, is their constitutional carry law.

However, AR-15s are long guns. Those have never required a permit and people aged 18 and over can lawfully buy them in that state.

“So the Moms Demand Action woman was right?”

Not really.

You see, her point was that a book was prohibited to someone who could just waltz all over the place with an AR-15. That’s not remotely true.

While a school district “banned” the book, no one is actually prohibited from reading it themselves. They can check it out at the public library, for example, or buy a copy at a bookstore. They can’t get it at their school library in that one particular county.

See, the tweeter wanted to present it as if freedom isn’t really a thing when it is. An 18-year-old high school senior can walk around with an AR-15 if they want, but not read a book. Only, they can read it. Just because one avenue for obtaining that book is closed to them, it doesn’t mean they’re not free to read what they want to read.

As for the fact-checker, I applaud them for actually entering this with an open mind and looking for unbiased facts–she ignored both the NRA and Giffords, after all–but I suggest that next time, they dig a little deeper into the laws in question. Permitless carry has been the law in many states with regard to long guns for generations.

Then again, noting the language the person you’re fact-checking–“read” versus “check out from the school library,” for example–might be a good idea too.