Gun Sales: Will The "Loophole" Close?

60 Minutes: Fear Of Tighter Gun Control May Be Contributing To Big Rise In Gun Sales

CBS All Access
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This story was first published on April 12, 2009. It was updated on July 16, 2009.

In the national debate over the right to bear arms, the election of Barack Obama was seen as a victory for those who want stricter gun controls.

But so far, things haven't worked out that way. The president recently signed a law allowing people to carry loaded guns in national parks.

Membership in the National Rifle Association, the NRA, has been rising and, as 60 Minutes and correspondent Lesley Stahl first reported in April, the financial crisis is having its own rather surprising effect: in past downturns people stocked up on things like canned soups, but this time it's guns. And even as the stock market was plummeting, shares in Smith and Wesson were going through the roof.

When Stahl showed up at the weekend gun show in Richmond, Va., the line to get in went around the building.

"How many guns will be sold at a show like this over a weekend like this?" Stahl asked Philip Van Cleave, the president of Virginia's largest gun-rights group.

"Probably thousands," he estimated.

Van Cleave took 60 Minutes on a tour inside a world that's part arms bazaar, part "Antiques Road Show." And while the memorabilia may not be to everyone's liking - when it came to firearms - there was a perfect gun for every taste.

"They actually made guns in colors. Lot of women like pink guns," Van Cleave told Stahl. "The good thing about a pink gun is a man will never steal it from you."

You could tell gun sales are up because all around the 60 Minutes team, dealers and customers at the show were busy filling out the paperwork needed for FBI background checks. Since November, the number of background checks nationally has jumped over 30 percent compared to last year.

Asked if prices are going up, Van Cleave said, "Yeah, the prices have gone up. In fact a rifle like this, which is $700, probably a year ago would have been about half of that."

One reason, he says, people are willing to dole out the cash during this financial meltdown - is the financial meltdown.

"We're being told all the time that, 'Oh, boy. The economy could just collapse. And we could fall into chaos.' Well, chaos is a good reason to be able to protect yourself," Van Cleave said.

"And this is what are in people's minds and driving them into these shows and gun stores?" Stahl asked.

"It's a form of insurance policy," Van Cleave said. "You could imagine if we truly had a collapse of the economy and it was hard to find food, those that did manage to hang onto food might find themselves in a precarious position."

But the bigger reason for this gun rush is best summed up by one gun show commercial: "Buy! Sell! Trade up and cash in! Celebrate the Second Amendment and get your guns while you still can!"

"While you still can" is code for "Barack Obama wants to take your guns away and re-impose the ban on assault weapons."

"President Obama, when he was a senator in Illinois, pushed for every gun ban he could," Van Cleave claimed.

"I actually heard that ammo was going quickly because people are afraid he's gonna increase taxes on ammunition," Stahl said.

"That's another possibility," Van Cleave said. "Certainly, a gun wouldn't be any good without ammunition."

People are stockpiling bullets. Three hours into the show, empty stock trays piled several feet high. Fear of Obama has actually created a national ammo shortage.

Asked if the gun lobby is whipping up these fears, Van Cleave told Stahl, "I don't know. I don't think so. I think the elections took care of that themselves."

The number of FBI background checks does not reflect all the gun sales, because of something called "the loophole." In Virginia and more than 30 other states, people who aren't gun dealers can sell firearms at gun shows without conducting background checks.

Actually, these private sellers can peddle their guns anywhere: at shows, in their private homes, or out of their cars.

Stahl met Gerald Massengill, the former police superintendent of Virginia, in the parking lot of the gun show. He showed her license plates from up and down the East Coast.

He told Stahl that people come to shows like the one in Virginia because that's where guns are easier to buy.