Seizing on the Colorado theater shooting to push for stricter gun laws, on Monday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie teased an upcoming story: "...an undercover report that reveals just how easy it can be for anyone, even violent criminals, to buy assault weapons, no questions asked." Later introducing the segment, she fretted: "...it turns out Colorado has some of the weakest gun laws in the country." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen began his hidden camera expose of online gun selling by admitting that it had little to do with the circumstances surrounding the Colorado tragedy: "It turns out this shooter, this alleged shooter in Colorado, had no rap sheet, so he was able to buy his guns in a store legally." Rossen quickly added: "But even if he had a violent criminal record he still could have bought them."
In the story that followed, Rossen set up a series of stings to catch people selling guns without background checks in shopping mall parking lots. Once again, that was not the method by which shooting suspect James Holmes obtained his weapons. Even so, Rossen did his best to connect the gun sales to the Colorado shooting: "Holmes opened fire with a stash of guns like these. The same kinds of guns we were able to buy....We bought this handgun, similar to the one Holmes used....And this semi-automatic assault rifle. Holmes used one of these, too."
After grilling several gun sellers, Rossen declared: "Now, as the country mourns this latest massacre in Aurora, the gun debate rages again." A sound bite followed of Dennis Henigan from the anti-gun group, the Brady Campaign: "The reason that that keeps happening over and over again, is traceable directly to the weaknesses in our nation's gun laws."
Rossen ended his report by announcing the villain of the story to viewers: "There is legislation that would make it illegal to buy a gun anywhere without a background check, but it's been sitting in Congress for over a year. The NRA opposes the bill...saying that bill has many serious flaws."
Rossen didn't bother talking to anyone from the National Rifle Association in the report.
On Saturday's Today, correspondent Michael Isikoff similarly attacked the gun rights organization: "But the powerful National Rifle Association has blocked any move for stricter gun laws, meaning that, for now, beefed-up security and greater vigilance may be the best protection against horrific attacks like the one in Aurora."
Here is a full transcript of Rossen's July 23 report:
7:32AM ET TEASE:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And also ahead from here, the new debate over gun laws ignited by that tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Coming up, an undercover report that reveals just how easy it can be for anyone, even violent criminals, to buy assault weapons, no questions asked.
7:36AM ET TEASE:
GUTHRIE: Coming up next, in the wake of the tragic shooting in Colorado, how easy it can be to buy guns without a background check. And it's all legal.
7:40AM ET SEGMENT:
GUTHRIE: This morning on Rossen Reports, gun violence back in the news with the massacre in Aurora. And it turns out Colorado has some of the weakest gun laws in the country. So how easy is it to get an assault weapon? Today national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen and his team went undercover to find out. Jeff, good morning to you.
JEFF ROSSEN: Hey, Savannah, good morning. It turns out this shooter, this alleged shooter in Colorado, had no rap sheet, so he was able to buy his guns in a store legally. But even if he had a violent criminal record he still could have bought them. This morning we're about to show you how easy it is for anyone, even criminals, to buy assault weapons.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Rossen Reports; Can You Buy Assault Weapons With No Background Check?]
Inside this theater, police say James Holmes opened fire with a stash of guns like these. The same kinds of guns we were able to buy. No background check, no questions asked. It's this easy. Hundreds of thousands of guns for sale on hundreds of websites. We responded to gun ads and set up meetings at popular shopping malls.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN A [GUN BUYER]: So how much was it that we agreed on?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN B [GUN SELLER]: Five hundred.
ROSSEN: We bought this handgun, similar to the one Holmes used. He could be a dangerous criminal, yet you still sold him this gun with hollow-point bullets.
MAN B: Absolutely.
ROSSEN: And this semi-automatic assault rifle. Holmes used one of these, too. You sold a man a dangerous weapon. What if he went and shot somebody with it?
Remember, at gun stores background checks are required, but online, nothing. In fact, police say James Holmes bought 6,000 rounds of ammo online. And in most states, like Colorado, it's completely legal. Earlier this year, we went online in Phoenix, Arizona, another state where it's legal. Within minutes we had meetings set up. Our gun buyers, two security experts we hired, posing as husband and wife.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN C [GUN SELLER]: How are you doing?
ROSSEN: Our hidden cameras are rolling as this man pedals a Glock. We even hint we're criminals.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN D [GUN BUYER]: So we're not going to do any paperwork or anything like that? Any background checks?
MAN C: Unless you want to.
MAN D: Because I probably couldn't even pass one anyway.
MAN C: Yeah right, I shouldn't be selling it to you then.
MAN D: Well, anyways, man, I appreciate everything.
MAN C: Absolutely.
ROSSEN: They shake on it. Jeff Rossen with NBC News. And that's our signal. He told you he can't pass a background check. Did that raise any red flags for you?
MAN C: Slightly. But in this economy, when you need the money, you just need the money.
ROSSEN: So it's all about the cash, I mean, people could get hurt, though. Doesn't that matter?
MAN C: Yes.
ROSSEN: But it didn't matter to you?
MAN C: I need the money.
ROSSEN: We could hardly believe it, but the twists and turns are just beginning. This seller shows up with a tactical shotgun, an assault rifle, and his 7-year-old son.
MAN D [GUN BUYER]: I appreciate the fact no paperwork. No background check.
MAN E [GUN SELLER]: Yup, I know, I prefer to do it that way.
MAN D: Because I probably couldn't pass one anyway, man.
MAN E: I hate, I hate the government.
ROSSEN: Now watch as he hands the cash to his boy. Jeff Rossen with NBC News. How are you?
MAN E: I'm not interested in talking to you.
ROSSEN: 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 weapons. 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. It can pierce armored vehicles, even bring down a helicopter. But the seller is so laid back, you'd think he's hawking a used bicycle.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN F [GUN SELLER]: Enjoy it, I know you're going to like it.
ROSSEN: 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. And this gun can take down a helicopter.
MAN F: No, it can take a plane, it can take anything, that's a 50 caliber. I understand.
ROSSEN: Okay, so you know how powerful this weapon is?
MAN F: Oh, yeah.
ROSSEN: Doesn't it concern you that you have no idea who these people are? They could be dangerous felons, or terrorists.
MAN F: No, I never thought about it, to be honest.
ROSSEN: Doesn't concern you?
MAN F: No.
ROSSEN: But now, as the country mourns this latest massacre in Aurora, the gun debate rages again.
DENNIS HENIGAN [BRADY CAMPAIGN]: The reason that that keeps happening over and over again, is traceable directly to the weaknesses in our nation's gun laws. This doesn't have to happen.
ROSSEN: There is legislation that would make it illegal to buy a gun anywhere without a background check, but it's been sitting in Congress for over a year. The NRA opposes the bill, Savannah, saying that bill has many serious flaws.
GUTHRIE: Alright, Jeff Rossen, thanks for the reporting. Appreciate it.