David R. Henderson  

Betting: Automatic Weapons vs. Rental Cars

Murphy on Frum and Global Warm... Pre-Assimilation...

One thing my co-blogger Bryan and I agree on is that proposing a bet is a good way of making people fess up to whether they're really confident, especially about their extreme statements. Bryan might have said it differently than what I just said but when I do a search on his posts and put in the word "bet," I get over 200 posts. I gave up after looking through the six or seven most likely. In any case, I think I've said it clearly enough.

One amusing anecdote before I get to the more serious issue. A few days after the November election, I ran into a student I'm fond of who I knew wanted badly for Obama to lose. He, like me, was not a fan of Romney, but he badly wanted Obama to lose. But, he said, at least the good news is that whoever the Republicans nominate in 2016 will win against whoever the Democrats nominate. "Really?", I said. "Yes," he said. "OK," I said, "let's bet $50 and you give me 4 to 1 odds." "No," he said. "OK," I said, "3 to 1." "No," he said again. "What odds will you offer?" I asked. "Even odds," he replied. "No," I said, "at even odds, I think you've got a good bet."

Now to the more serious issue. On the Jim Lehrer Newshour yesterday, pundit Mark Shields said:

And the reality is that in the United States of America in 2012, it's easier in many states to rent an automobile -- to buy an automatic weapon than it is to rent an automobile.

In the comments, "Gringao" proposed a clever bet:
I'll tell you what, Mr. Shields, I'll make you a bet: You go buy an automatic weapon and I'll go rent a car. Then we'll present the receipts to see who has done it more quickly. The quicker transaction gets $100,000 from the slower. Deal?

And then the coup de grace:
Are these the cognitive elite I keep hearing about?

Indeed. People who want to be serious about these deadly serious issues should be at least somewhat informed.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (22 to date)
Alexandre Padilla writes:

Indeed the key adjective is automatic. I am not an expert but I would argue that buying an automatic weapon is almost impossible as they are not readily available. You can't also trust Wikipedia but it says that automatic weapons tend to be restricted to the military and the police.

Mr. Shields probably meant semi-automatic.

This being said, if you are under-25 years old, in US, it's very hard to rent a car. Car rental companies traditionally refuse to rent cars to people under 25.

bryan willman writes:

To actually buy ANY gun in the US requires filling out a long form and having your ID checked by the feds.

To rent a car often requires nothing more than a credit card and driver's license.

If you are wanted for a serious crime, and try to buy a gun, you will most likely be caught. Gun dealers tell me this actually happens.

If you are wanted for a serious crime, you can most likely rent a car and drive off before anybody notices.

Harold Cockerill writes:

I would think that for a criminal buying an automatic weapon (machine gun)would be a fairly quick process as there would be no background check or paperwork.For an honest citizen the process is expensive and time consuming. A lengthy ATF check and heavy transfer taxes are required.

For most of those advocating tougher gun laws being accurate about the reality of laws and crime statistics is irrelevant. They aren't really worried about criminals having guns, it's the honest people that scare them.

happyjuggler0 writes:

Alexandre Padilla writes: Mr. Shields probably meant semi-automatic.

Or perhaps he is one of those people that thinks it is easy to buy a gun that sprays bullets at the pull of a trigger like he sees in Hollywood movies.

In that case he meant automatic, not semi-automatic.

I also suspect he doesn't know the difference, just like most blowhard anti-gun zealots.

Peter H writes:

For me, getting the gun would be easier, as I'm under 25 and I only have a debit (not credit) card.

tim writes:

Lets look at this a different way:

I can buy a gun or a car from a private citizen with the same amount of effort. Although with the car I have to register the sale with the state. With a gun I don't need too in most states.

I can also borrow a gun or a car with the exact same amount of effort.

Trespassers W writes:


Why would you look at it a different way? The claim in question was ludicrous. Why waste your time turning it into an entirely different claim?


No, he didn't mean semi-automatic. Nobody with the most basic understanding of firearms would say such a thing by accident. He's either ignorant or dishonest.

Marcus writes:

[Comment removed for ad hominem remarks. --Econlib Ed.]

Mark_H writes:

I own a good number of guns, and I hang out and speak with gun owners a lot. "Automatic" is often synonymous with "semi-automatic."

If I said I bought an "auto" handgun, everybody I run with would know I meant--a semi-automatic, as opposed to a revolver or single shot.

Just wanted to throw that out there. And as somebody who has bought a number of guns, it almost certainly takes more time to legally acquire a gun than to rent a car unless you're too young, as another commenter stated, to get a rental.

Ted Levy writes:

I'm not sure this example shows as much as David H. thinks it does.

While I agree with DH and BC on the importance of getting people to bet on their predictions, I think one first has to determine if the apparent claim is a real prediction.

I think this particular example shows only that Shields

  • a) likely doesn't know the difference between an automatic and semi-automatic weapon, and had he known would probably have made his claim about semi-automatics, and

  • b) is speaking poetically to merely say, "X is very easy to do [and easier than I think it should be]." ("X is easier to do than A, and we all know how easy A is to do, so X is very easy to do.") [where X = "buy gun" and A = "rent car"]

In this particular example, Shields' thought is shoddy; he is both ignorant of the difficulty people face if they are younger than 25 or without credit cards (because Shields doesn't interact with many such individuals, so they don't count for him), and also ignorant of the difficulties and time delays associated with purchasing semi-auto guns, because of course he never does so.

But in all seriousness, if you asked him to bet, he'd not hem and haw and rethink his calculations only to realize he may have erred, he'd merely point out that everyone understood he was exaggerating to make a point.

calder writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

shecky writes:

I'm also guessing he meant a semi automatic. Or perhaps he meant a .45 automatic, which he might have been acquainted with as a Marine back then, which is a semi automatic despite often referred to as a automatic.

I can appreciate his point. In many (most?) states, it really isn't all that difficult to buy a firearm from a brick and mortar dealer. Faster than renting a car? Possible, I suppose.

Eelco Hoogendoorn writes:

MY first reaction; the man has a point. Not about buying guns (no experience on the matter), but on hiring cars.

Ive only rented a car once in the states, so I am not sure this generalizes. But why my european perspective, I do wonder: is there an economic reason as to why renting a car has to take the better part of an hour?

Youd say its a matter of scanning your drivers licence, and handing over the keys. But somehow the process involves a ton of entering information into computers by hand, and asking of irrelevant questions. God forbit there is actually a line of people in front of you...

Often, I have considered the transaction costs far higher than the actual rental cost. Is there a good reason for that?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Eelco Hoogendorn,
On renting cars, I can only speak from experience. I rent cars about 5 times a year and always reserve in advance. I would say that once I get to the front of the queue, the median time it takes is about 6 or 7 minutes.

Mike W writes:

Some interesting facts on federal gun control issues:


Also on public opinion re: gun control:


Mark Shields probably has not read either.

Ben Hughes writes:

With some rental car companies, you don't even need to speak to a human. There are kiosks where you can rent (reservation or not) and be walking towards your car in 45 seconds.

Dan writes:

Unless it has a manual transmission, a rental car _is_ an automatic weapon (against pedestrians)

Joe Cushing writes:

Assuming he meant semi, I'd say the two transactions take about the same amount of time. I just witnessed two gun transactions. One was mine and one was a person I know. In both cases we had the weapon picked out before going to the store and did not need any help from the clerk in picking the weapon out.

In my case, the transaction took about 45 minutes. It took me about 5 minutes to fill out the paperwork, the clerk about 1 minute to look it over, and about another minute to call it in. I'm not sure what the rest of the time was for but it seemed to be that the clerks were distracted as they attempted to multitask several customers.

In the other case, we had to take a number when we got to the store. I'm not sure how long it took but I'd guess it was about an hour or so. The thing is, guns are wildly popular now and the queues to buy them can get quite long.

I'm not sure there is any meaning in any of this talk. I guess the guy is saying that it should take a long time to buy a gun, in case you are mad when you do it, so you have time to calm down. What is he getting at? How long does it take to buy a pair of shoes?

Justin Rietz writes:

Perhaps a more interesting comparison might be how long it would take to rent an expensive automatic (or semi-automatic) weapon and not tell the owner where you are going, just that you will bring the gun back in about two weeks, give or take a week.

Arthur_500 writes:

Alas, if only it were true. Not only are automatic weapons limited in availability - driving up prices - but then we have to wait for the tax stamp. After paying for the stamp you will wait for 6-9 months.

Regarding the election bet, I would take the bet. Not because the Republicans have their act together or are in any way more competent than the Democrats. The reason I would take the bet is that after 8 years of one party it is difficult to get another person from that party elected.

Which brings us to questions about policy. The reason we want a middle of the road policy is that when the Democrats do get out of power, and it will happen one day, they will cry that the extremists are tearing apart the fabric of the country. Hmmm where have I heard that before.

Regretfully, sheep never learn. Humans are at least as stupid as sheep.

guthrie writes:

@Ted Levy, so let’s grant Shields was exaggerating. Does hyperbole belong in this discussion? Is it appropriate to exaggerate so wildly if one wishes to be taken seriously when discussing these matters?

I think Dan makes a good point. What is the ratio between the number of children killed yearly by cars (rental or otherwise) to those killed by automatic weapons?

Peter writes:

It should also be pointed out it really depends what state you live in. You aren't buying a gun (even long guns) legally in Hawaii in less than two weeks, most likely three or four. First you have to stand in line for three hours just to apply to get a permit to buy a firearm, then another three hours to two weeks later to pick up that permit, and then another three hours after you bought your weapon to register it. You also have to do this per weapon and within a certain time period (i.e. purchase thirty days from time of permit issue).

PS: Don't ask why you have to stand in line for three hours, etc .... they intentionally make process onerous is the answer given failure to comply means either you can't buy a firearm (failure to get a purchase permit) or commit a crime (you have a strict 72 hour registration window after purchase, i.e. don't buy on a Friday as you HAVE to be there Monday .. it's not business days even though they aren't open oh the holidays or weekend).

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