WASHINGTON -- The New York Times on Wednesday morning ran a data-heavy investigative piece on the number of gun sales over the Internet that don't involve screening for potentially illegal buyers.

The piece shines a light on a still relatively young and furtive market where background checks don't have much reach. But the holes in the system shouldn't be too surprising. For several years, private investigations have revealed how patchy the background-check screening process is.

In 2009, the city of New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg undertook a quasi-sting operation to expose the so-called gun show loophole. With hidden cameras, investigators purchased firearms from sellers at gun shows in Ohio, Tennessee, and Nevada. Sometimes they were asked only to show proof that they lived in the state. On other occasions, they weren't screened at all. In one instance, an undercover investigator told a seller that he couldn't pass a background check. He got a gun anyway.

"The idea was to look at private sellers to see how they would behave in a scenario where the purchaser gave them a reason to believe they would be prohibited from buying a gun," said a person involved with the operation, who could speak only on condition of anonymity. "They would say, 'hey, do you do background checks because I don't think I could pass one.' Sixty-three percent of the time, they were willing to sell to someone who they believed couldn't pass a background check."

As the Senate prepares to consider legislation to expand background checks, gun control advocates point to investigations like New York City's and The New York Times' as examples of precisely what needs fixing. The Senate, nevertheless, is not likely to pass the measure. Sixty votes are needed and as of Wednesday morning, only 59 were likely.

Those who conducted the New York City investigation probably won't be surprised by congressional inaction; gun bills are some of the hardest legislative hauls.

After results of the New York study were announced, there was no hearing on the Hill or legislative movement in response. A year and a half later, after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was nearly killed during a shooting at an event in her district, the city did another undercover investigation, this time of gun shows in Arizona. Once again, there was no congressional action.

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  • 1981: The Attempted Assassination Of President Ronald Reagan

    on March 30, 1981, President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, was shot in the head.

  • 1993: The Brady Handgun Violence Act

    The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, mandated that federally licensed dealers complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun. The legislation was named for James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

  • 1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

    The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, instituted a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons, including Uzis and AK-47s. The crime bill also banned the possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. (An exemption was made for weapons and magazines manufactured prior to the ban.)

  • 2004: Law Banning Magazines Holding More Than Ten Rounds Of Ammunition Expires

    In 2004, ten years after it first became law, Congress allowed a provision banning possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition to expire through a sunset provision. Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke told HuffPost that the expiration of this provision meant that Rep. Gabby Giffords's alleged shooter was able to fire off 20-plus shots without reloading (under the former law he would have had only ten).

  • 2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Rules In Favor Of Dick Heller

    In 2007 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to allow Dick Heller, a licensed District police officer, to keep a handgun in his home in Washington, D.C. Following that ruling, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

  • 2008: The NICS Improvement Amendments Act

    Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University, Congress passed legislation to require states provide data on mentally unsound individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with the aim of halting gun purchases by the mentally ill, and others prohibited from possessing firearms. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of 2008.

  • 2008: Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Handgun Ban As Unconstitutional

    In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a lower court ruling the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional in the landmark case <em>District of Columbia v. Heller</em>.

  • Gabrielle Giffords And Trayvon Martin Shootings

    Gun control advocates had high hopes that reform efforts would have increased momentum in the wake of two tragic events that rocked the nation. In January of 2011, Jared Loughner opened fire at an event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killing six and injuring 13, including the congresswoman. Resulting attempts to push gun control legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">proved fruitless</a>, with neither proposal even succeeding in gaining a single GOP co-sponsor. More than a year after that shooting, Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/trayvon-martin" target="_hplink">gunned down</a> by George Zimmerman in an event that some believed would bring increased scrutiny on the nation's Stand Your Ground laws. While there has been increasing discussion over the nature of those statutes, lawmakers were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">quick to concede</a> that they had little faith the event would effectively spur gun control legislation, thanks largely to the National Rifle Association's vast lobbying power. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">here</a>:

  • Colorado Movie Theater Shooting

    In July of 2012, a heavily armed gunman <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/aurora-shooting-movie-theater-batman_n_1688547.html" target="_hplink">opened fire on theatergoers</a> attending a midnight premiere of the final film of the latest Batman trilogy, killing 12 and wounding scores more. The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, allegedly carried out the act with a number of handguns, as well as an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Some lawmakers used the incident, which took place in a state with some of the laxest gun control laws, to bring forth legislation designed to place increased regulations on access to such weapons, but many observers, citing previous experience, were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/batman-shooting_n_1690547.html" target="_hplink">hesitant to say</a> that they would be able to overcome the power of the National Rifle Association and Washington gun lobby.

  • Sikh Temple Shooting

    On August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire on a Sikhs gathered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding four more before turning the gun on himself.