I see Snopes.com listed as a resource in online debates all the time. A quote from Snopes has somehow been elevated to argument-ending status. Once someone quotes a Snopes.com article, the argument has been won and the opponent has no choice but to retreat to his little troll cave, never to show his face again.
Snopes.com may be useful for debunking goofy chain e-mails and blatant lies, but it is not the beacon of rational, unbiased logic that many make it out to be. One example is this Snopes.com article about the UN Arms Treaty.
In this article, Snopes.com supposedly debunks the rumor that the UN Arms Treaty creates a legal way around the 2nd Amendment. According to Snopes, this “myth” is false.
There are three things to notice here.
1. Snopes.com is taking a side
If you look at the bottom of the article, Snopes insists that there is no such thing as a “legal way around the 2nd Amendment” other than an amendment to the Constitution or a Supreme Court decision that “radically reinterprets how the 2nd Amendment is to be applied.”
I have to give kudos to Snopes for its clever wording that presents opinion masked as fact. Snopes.com is not simply stating a fact here; it is taking a position in the debate. There are two sides to the UN Arms Treaty debate.
One side believes that the UN Arms Treaty represents a threat to the 2nd Amendment. The other side argues that there is no threat. Snopes.com has simply laid forth the latter argument.
The only thing Snopes.com has done here is state (correctly) that there are no legal ways to get around the 2nd Amendment. We can agree on that. But, Snopes.com is taking an opinion when it simply labels our concerns as “false” next to a big red button.
The Treaty Clause in the US Constitution states that international treaties are still subject to the Constitution, but there are plausible scenarios in which international laws do affect gun ownership in the US without actually altering the 2nd Amendment.
That’s the whole reason why we take such issue with this treaty! It’s a highly debatable treaty that many of us believe will indirectly infringe upon the 2nd Amendment.
2. Snopes.com uses two sources to back its opinion
The Snopes.com article lists only two sources at the bottom, both of them Reuters articles. Incidentally, both sources support the Snopes.com position. However, Snopes.com has left out other legitimate sources that oppose the Snopes position.
The closest Snopes.com comes to referencing opposing views is to quote an old e-mail that got passed around the internet for a while. Snopes.com completely ignores the concerns expressed by reputable sources.
This shows us that Snopes.com is arguing its position rather than getting to the bottom of the issue. If Snopes.com was acting as an uninterested fact-checking organization, the article would have addressed the legitimate concerns of gun rights supporters. Instead, Snopes.com cherry picked its sources in order to make a point. That is debating, not fact checking.
3. Snopes.com is missing the point
The Snopes.com article also makes the argument that because this treaty only affects international weapons trade, it has nothing to do with US law and is therefore not a legal way around the 2nd amendment.
If the final UN Treaty makes it more difficult, in any manner, for Americans to purchase firearms, it would serve as a form of gun control without actually amending the Constitution or reinterpreting the 2nd Amendment. If the treaty is ratified, the debate will focus more intently on whether or not this is an infringement on the 2nd Amendment.
For example, there is one portion of the draft that requires all member nations to keep records on “end users” for a minimum of 10 years. If the proposal makes it into the final draft, gun purchases of Americans may be logged by foreign governments. Not only would that likely make it more expensive and complicated to purchase guns, but it would have a chilling effect on gun purchases in the United States.
The final text of the UN Arms Treaty has not yet been finalized, so the above proposal is not inevitable. However, it does show that the primary Snopes position on this issue is debatable and not a simple matter of fact vs. fiction.
Bonus: Supporters of the Treaty
It is also worth noting that Obama, who now supports the treaty after his reelection, has a long history of extreme gun control views. The fact that such a zealous gun control advocate supports this treaty is certainly cause to be concerned about the proposed treaty.
Even more concerning is that Iran was elected to an important post in the UN Arms Treaty conference. Incredibly, Iran will lead the Asian group alongside Japan and South Korea. This comes not long after a UN council report found Iran guilty of illegally transferring guns and bombs to Syria.
When Snopes.com states as fact that there is no reason to worry, it shows that Snopes.com is ignoring legitimate concerns and is therefore biased.