In this article, we examine how students in a general education quantitative literacy course reason with public issues when unprompted to use quantitative reasoning. Michigan State University, like many institutions, not only has a quantitative literacy requirement for all undergraduates but also offers two courses specifically for meeting the requirement. A central goal of the courses is for students to use pertinent mathematical tools in the analysis of public issues. In teaching and observing the course, we found that students often approached public issues in complex ways, calling upon prior knowledge, a sense of justice, or other disciplinary habits. This diverse tool set simultaneously serves as a lever for insight into public issues while also potentially impeding the traditional goal of detached analysis in many mathematics classrooms. Drawing upon interviews with five students as they reasoned with media artifacts concerning public issues, we provide evidence of this tension and highlight possibilities afforded by inviting such a tool kit for full use in a general education quantitative literacy course. Our conclusion is that quantitative literacy courses that focus on public issues appear to be ideal spaces for fostering a host of skills supported in general education courses–not just mathematical content itself.