Gun laws and book bans: How to find the missing context

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.

Two claims are presented here. First, the tweet says that seniors in high school are able to carry guns without a permit. Second, the tweet claims that To Kill A Mockingbird is banned in Oklahoma high schools.

Here’s how we fact-checked it.

Look at the source

The tweet comes from Jennifer Joy, who, according to her bio, is a volunteer for Moms Demand Action, a group that uses donations and volunteers to fight gun violence in America. According to its website, the group’s mission is to “pass stronger gun laws” and “close the loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families.”

By checking out the person’s bio, you can learn if they might have biases. If you find out that a writer might hold certain opinions, it doesn’t necessarily mean their information is incorrect, but it can be a red flag. If someone is trying to convince you to agree with them, they might manipulate evidence or stretch the truth. So, we should be cautious of this tweet when first reading it because we know Jennifer Joy has a certain point of view. Therefore, I continued looking into Joy’s tweet, employing a healthy dose of skepticism.

Do a keyword search

One of the easiest ways to fact check something is to use a keyword search, more commonly known as a Google search. I typed this question into the search box: “Can high school seniors in Oklahoma carry AR-15s without permits?”

Use the About This Result tool

Joy’s tweet came up first, but I scrolled down to two other links that looked relevant. One result was from Giffords Law Center and the other was from the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. Here’s a tip. Google has a tool called About This Result. Just click on the three dots next to the source and you can get information about the suggested sites. This tool helps you make a more informed decision about what results will be most useful to you before you even click on the site – again helping you determine if they might be biased.

The information I got from About This Result indicated that the Giffords Law Center was an advocacy and research organization that was focused on promoting gun control while the NRA Institute for Legislative Action was committed to protecting gun rights, both of which could have certain biases.

Therefore, we practiced the media lit type of click restraint and kept scrolling. Eventually, we found a story from COCO 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 soul carry guns without a permit, but they are never allowed to carry weapons on school grounds.

I then switched over to the claim that To Kill A Mockingbird was banned in Oklahoma high schools. I did another keyword search, entering the phrase “To Kill A Mockingbird banned Oklahoma”. An article from the local NBC station KFOR in Edmond, Okla., popped up, providing a list of banned books from PEN America. This list showed that only one district in Oklahoma, the city of Edmond, has banned To Kill A Mockingbird. Therefore, it is true that the book has been banned in Oklahoma, but only in one out of the 509 public school districts in the state.

Rating

Needs Context. While the statement in the Tweet is true, there is some information that is being left out. Yes, Oklahoma seniors in high school can carry AR-15s without a permit. However, they must be 18-years-old and have served in the US military. Furthermore, To Kill A Mockingbird is banned in Oklahoma, but only in one school district, not the entire state.

Here are some things to remember whenever you read a post on social media:

  • Make sure you are aware of who the source is and if they might have any biases. Use the Google About This Result tool to evaluate any sites that you visit. Knowing a source has a bias doesn’t necessarily mean their information is false, but it could be a red flag.
  • When reading about topics like gun violence that might evoke a strong reaction, it’s easy to lead with your emotions and share immediately. Instead, if you see a post that makes you feel strongly about something, take a second, collect yourself, and double-check that you have all the information before reposting to your friends.

ATTENTION TEACHERS: This fact-check is featured in a free, one-hour lesson plan about how social media posts about controversial topics may sometimes lack context – and how to find the missing context. the lesson “Gun Laws and Book Bans – How to Find Missing Context,” is available here through PBS LearningMedia, and includes a lesson summary and a handout, among other resources.

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