Number of monthly background checks in the first three months of each year since 1998. Source: Wall Street Journal
Number of monthly background checks in the first three months of each year since 1998. Source: Wall Street Journal

President Barack Obama is arguably the nation's top gun salesman. The "Obama surge," as the Wall Street Journal calls it (others call it the "Obama bubble"), appears to have increased gun sales in the U.S. by millions of units over his presidency.

The chart with the Journal story shows the sustained -- and rising -- bump.

Number of monthly background checks in the first three months of each year since 1998. Source: Wall Street Journal
Number of monthly background checks in the first three months of each year since 1998. Source: Wall Street Journal

What the chart doesn’t provide is a reason for the increase. We can probably rule out a couple possibilities. A surge in hunting? Not likely. As Bloomberg News has reported, hunting has been in decline for years. Only about 13.7 million people hunted in 2011, a new low.

How about a crime wave? Nope. Violent crime began declining long before Obama took office and kept on declining through Obama's first term, right into the teeth of the Great Recession. Preliminary numbers for the first half of 2012 do show a slight uptick of 1.2 percent, but it's hardly the stuff of national panic. Even if the increase holds, crime in 2012 will be lower than it was in 2008.

So if hunting and crime are both declining, what is rising? Politics, for one.

Crazy talk has not been in short supply since Obama's first presidential campaign took flight. Talk-radio jocks, the gun lobby and others who invest long in hysteria may preach to the choir, but the choir appears to be increasingly well-armed. Despite survey data indicating a steady decline in the number of households owning guns, the overall quantity of guns keeps rising. (Either a smaller number of people are buying a whole lot more guns, or a large number of gun owners are lying to pollsters, or both.)

But politics -- in particular, a kind of politics that spreads fear -- is not incidental to the gun industry. The Journal quotes Michael O. Fifer, chief executive officer of Sturm, Ruger & Co., lamenting the lack of inventory on hand when Obama's re-election and the massacre last year in Newtown, Connecticut, caused a spike in demand.

"They should have had much more in inventory to take advantage of political opportunities,” he said.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)