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Fact Check Friday: The Truth About Buying Guns

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Vice President Joe Biden (file / credits: Alex Wong/Getty Images, Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Vice President Joe Biden (file / credits: Alex Wong/Getty Images, Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - With the the renewed debate over gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre, we’re continuing to look at the rhetoric.

With the help of factcheck.org, a nonpartisan non-profit part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, we’re digging for the truth.

It’s what we call Fact Check Friday.

“Today, about 40 percent of guns are purchased without a background check,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

That’s the Democratic party line, uttered by everyone from Gillibrand to President Barack Obama.

Is it true?

“Short answer is we don’t know,” Eugene Kiely, Director at factcheck.org, told WCBS 880’s Wayne Cabot. “What this number comes from is a report nearly two decades old. Even the co-author of the report says he has no idea whether this number, which he says is very old, applies today or not.”

It was from a 1994 phone survey of only a couple hundred people. It was conducted by the Police Foundation and was funded by the U.S. Justice Department.

“It asked only 251 participants how they acquired their guns. So, it’s not even talking about gun sales,” Kiely said.

Is this one of those numbers that is cited so often that it seems to become fact, whether it is or not.

“Yeah, and that’s the point here. We’re not saying it’s wrong. We’re saying we don’t know and neither do the people who are making this claim over and over and over again,” Kiely said.

The exception seems to be Vice President Joe Biden.

“Studies show that up to 40 percent of the people and there’s no, let me be honest with you again, we can’t say with absolute certainty what I’m about to say is correct,” Biden said.

“But he’s the only one we found that put that parameters on it,” Kiely said.

Has nobody actually done the research to update this number?

“You know, a lot of research hasn’t been done, in part because Congress has limited money that it provides for research into gun violence. That is something that needs to change and gun control advocates are pushing for that as well,” Kiely said.