TODAY   |  February 09, 2012

Loopholes in law make buying deadly weapons easy

TODAY’s national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen exposes how simple it is for criminals and even terrorists to purchase deadly weapons in public places – with no questions asked.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 7:40, this morning we're kicking off a new series called "rossen reports." these stories come out of a new unit led by jeff rossen . we begin with a hidden camera investigation exposing how easy it is for anyone, even criminals, to buy guns. jeff, good morning.

>> good morning to you. and some say this is a major loophole in the law. at gun stores you have to get a background check before you can buy a weapon. but online , in most states, anyone from law-abiding citizens to dangerous criminals, even terrorists, can get just about any weapon they want, no questions asked. our investigation shows the deals going down in broad daylight in suburban mall parking lots . they are some of the most lethal weapons out there. and we were able to buy all of them in a single day. with no background checks , no questions asked. it's this easy. hundreds of thousands of guns for sale, on hundreds of websites. we responded, and set up meetings at popular shopping malls .

>> how much was it that we agreed on?

>> 500.

>> we bought everything. from this police-grade pistol. to this semi automatic assault rifle .

>> what if you went and shot somebody with it?

>> we did it over and over again. our buyer even hinting he's a criminal.

>> no paperwork, no background checks . probably couldn't pass the darn thing, anyway.

>> within hours we bought eight guns.

>> good god.

>> even this 50-caliber weapon, so powerful, it could take down a helicopter.

>> the people you just sold it to could be terrorists and you sold it no questions asked.

>> yeah.

>> remember, at a gun store , a background check is required. but online ? nothing. and believe it or not, in most states -- it's completely legal.

>> is this like a candy store for criminals?

>> it's a weapons bazaar for criminals.

>> nbc hired former ntf adviser to help with our investigation.

>> somebody even with a murder conviction can log on, email someone, meet them in a parking lot and buy an ak-47.

>> 34 people are murdered ever are i day in gun violence , with many of the weapons traced back to private sales just like these.

>> no one should have to die like that. these two women lost their best friend killed by a stalker. this canadian man who crossed into the u.s. bought a gun online in seattle and then shot her 11 times. as she got into her car.

>> no legitimate gun store would have sold this man a gun because he's not a u.s. citizen , he wouldn't have passed a background check . yet he was able to easily buy one online .

>> there's not a doubt in my mind, had this man not been able to buy a gun online , she would still be here.

>> what kind of dangerous weapons could we buy? to find out, we went online and responded to gun ads in phoenix, arizona. within minutes, we had meetings set up. our gun buyers, two arizona security experts we hired. posing as husband and wife. this man is about to sell us a tactical assault rifle. modified to use bullets for an ak-47.

>> come over here real quick and i'll give you the money.

>> we were watching from nearby vans as our buyers paid cash for the guns. no questions asked.

>> hi, jeff rossen with nbc news, you just sold an assault rifle to a couple of people who you have no idea who they are. or what they could do with that gun. they could go rob a bank or hurt somebody. does that ever weigh on you?

>> it does, it does, but at the same time i'm not going to be responsible for what they choose to do with it.

>> for our next meetings, we took it up a notch. telling the seller, point-blank, we probably can't pass a background check . will they still sell us the guns then? we're about to find out. this man is peddling a glock 23 . with hollow-point bullets, made to inflict serious internal damage.

>> we're not going to do any paperwork, no background checks , i probably couldn't pass it, anyway.

>> i shouldn't be selling it to you.

>> well anyway, i appreciate it.

>> we shake on it. he told you he couldn't pass a background checks , did that raise any red flags for you?

>> slightly, but in this economy, when you need the money, you need the money.

>> it's all about the cash. people could get hurt, doth that matter?

>> yes.

>> it didn't matter to you.

>> i need the money.

>> the twists and turns are just beginning. this seller shows up with a tactical shotgun and assault rifle and his 7-year-old son. remember, our buyers could be dangerous felons.

>> i appreciate the fact no paperwork, no background check . 'cuz i probably couldn't pass it anyway, man. now watch as he hands the cash to his boy. jeff rossen with nbc news. how are you?

>> i'm not interested in talking to you.

>> we're just doing a story about online gun sales. he said he couldn't pass a background check and you still sold him the weapon. but the most scary transaction of all came after dark, in this pharmacy parking lot . the online ad was for this 50-caliber sniper rifle . the most powerful gun legally sold in the u.s. bullet range? five miles, it can pierce armored vehicles , even bring down a helicopter.

>> this is set up.

>> but the seller is so laid back, you would think he's hawking a used bicycle.

>> enjoy it, i know you're going to like it.

>> once he got the cash, the gun was ours, no questions asked. but we had some for him. this is the gun of choice for the drug cartels worldwide this gun can take down a helicopter.

>> it can take anything. it's a 50-caliber, i understand.

>> you know how powerful this weapon is.

>> oh, yeah.

>> doesn't it concern you that you have no idea who these people are, they could be dangerous felons, terrorists.

>> i never thought about it, to be honest.

>> and it's happening nationwide. in new york, mayor michael bloomberg led another investigation, buying guns online in 14 states. even after their buyer said they couldn't pass a background check .

>> i don't know what it takes, how many people, who has to get murdered before congress is going to stand up and say enough of this?

>> so what's the government doing about did? it turns out there's a bill that would close this loophole. and require background checks for all gun sales. even online . but that bill has been sitting in committee for nearly a year.

>> maybe your report will motivate people to act.

>> new york senator, chuck schumer is sponsoring the bill.

>> with all due respect, as congress continues to debate this and play politics, authorities say criminals, dangerous criminals in many cases are buying guns online .

>> the nra is one of the most powerful lobbies in washington and despite the overwhelming evidence, that we should do something, which your report buttresses, the odds of us being able to do something are not high.

>> the nra says it opposes the bill because it has many serious flaws. but wouldn't comment about online gun sales. in the past, the nra has fought background checks for any private sales. but victims say, until the law is changed, more innocent people will die.

>> all they care about is profit. profit over lives. and it's wrong.

>> keep in mind, this is legal. and lots of people in this country support private gun sales without background checks . they say it's not about making money or profit, it's about their individual rights . as for the eight guns we bought, we turned them over to the phoenix police department , where matt, that police department will actually destroy them.

>> i mentioned going into the story, it's the first story coming out of this new unit that you've set up. what's the goal of the unit?

>> we know how important these stories are, investigative journalism is incredibly important. we want to focus on consumer investigations, the world of finance, politics, the sky's the limit. we want to do more of these and dig in with hidden camera investigations and whatever else.

>> we've got a website set up so people can get to you and give you story ideas?

>>, it's called rossen reports, click on it and send us whatever ideas you have. nothing is too small.

>> jeff rossen , great story, thanks very much.