Elon Musk

Politicians, Media Freak Out Over Elon Musk's Flamethrowers

Just because something looks like a gun doesn't mean it needs to be regulated like one.

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Flamethrower ad
Instagram/@elonmusk

Firearm regulation often has more to do with a weapon's looks than its lethality. Nothing illustrates this better than the sudden freakout over Elon Musk's new flamethrower venture.

Musk's Boring Company started taking preorders of its $500 "world's safest" flamethrowers this past weekend. Musk claims to have already sold some 15,000 units, which he promises to ship come the spring.

The sudden success of this high-octane novelty item has provoked panic among politicians and a gun-skeptical media, who were aghast to learn that neither the federal government nor 48 of the states have any laws on the books regarding flamethrowers.

California—where Musk's Boring Company is headquartered—is one of the two exceptions. It requires a permit from a fire marshal for flamethrowers that can shoot fire over 10 feet. Musk's product falls well short of that range, as evidenced by this video of the billionaire having the time of his life.

Nevertheless, California Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D–Los Angeles) is already promising to block their sale, declaring in a press release that selling flamethrowers is NOT funny. "I cannot even begin to imagine the problems a flamethrower would cause firefighters and police officers alike," he says.

The Washington Post has taken a similar line, devoting a good portion of its write-up of Musk's new business venture to the nation's lax regulation of flamethrowers. "Despite being phased out by the Defense Department decades ago, flamethrowers are unregulated in almost every state," the article notes, adding that "for thousands of years, weapons able to harness the power of fire offered users a gruesome advantage during combat."

The Post has actually been raising the alarm on the dangers of flamethrower freedom for some time, fretting in 2015 that "the flamethrowers now on the market are all ordered online, so there's no way of knowing whether a minor, a convicted criminal or a mentally unstable person is behind the credit card number."

That same year, Rep. Eliot Engel (D–N.Y.) introduced the "Flamethrowers? Really? Act" which would have prohibited the possession of flamethrowers. The bill was never assigned to a committee.

Despite the lack of regulation of flamethrowers, their use in the commission of crimes is exceedingly rare. The 2015 Washington Post story notably mentions no crimes committed with a flamethrower.

A schizophrenic man did kill several students with a homemade flamethrower in a suburb of Cologne, Germany, in 1964. In 1995, a British teacher attacked his pupils with a flamethrower, seriously burning three. So far I have found no such examples in the United States.

Indeed, almost any violent crime one might conceivably use a flamethrower to commit, from a school shooting to a liquor store robbery, would be far better accomplished with a traditional firearm. Such guns are cheaper, more lethal, and more easily concealed, and they have far better range and accuracy. If criminals ditched firearms for flamethrowers, it would probably produce a net gain for public safety.

Flamethrowers do of course pose a fire hazard, in the same way a blow torch or a deep fryer might. That may well be a reason to subject them to fire control regulations. It does not follow that they would need to be subject to firearm regulations. Just because something looks like a gun doesn't mean it needs to be subject to gun control.

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  1. Musk’s Boring Company started taking preorders of its $500 “world’s safest” flamethrowers this past weekend. Musk claims to have already sold some 15,000 units, which he promises to ship come the spring

    After his Tesla fuck-up (how far behind on pre-orders are they now?), anybody pre-ordering anything from Musk deserves to get ripped off.

    1. His “flamethrower” is either an oversized blowtorch, or an undersized weed burner (Here’s one rated at 500,000 BTU https://www.harborfreight.com/ propane-torch-with-push- button-igniter-61595.html). Or maybe a really oversized cigarette lighter.

      Never heard of a flamethrower than didn’t shoot a stream of ignitable liquid.

      1. I watched the video; $500 for that? There are more economical versions like the Greenwood Portable Propane Torch at Harbor Freight $29.95 you mention. You supply your own propane tank, but those are cheaper than $470. These are used for burning tree stumps, weeds, brush, kudzu, etc., and to melt ice and soften asphalt pavement for repair. I have heard of a few homebuilts designed to shoot a stream of flaming liquid, probably for people with a stubborn pokeweed problem.

        Flamethrowers more dangerous than Musk’s toy have been around for years, yet the op-ed and political anti-weapon crusaders just now discover them and have a moral panick attack? This reminds me of the Massachusetts proposal to require licenses for machettes to counter their use by MS13 gangs. You would have been required to prove you owned a yard with weeds to qualify.

  2. A pumpsprayer full of gasoline works better. You soak somebody down with gasoline, they ain’t sticking around to see if you’ve got a light.

    1. Build a man a fire and you’ll keep him warm for a day. Set a man on fire and you’ll keep him warm for the rest of his life.

    2. Speaking from personal experience, being soaked in gasoline burns like hell even without lighting it.

      1. You never talk about that time you got kidnapped by Reservoir Dogs.

      2. Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?

  3. California Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D?Los Angeles) is already promising to block their sale, declaring in a press release that selling flamethrowers is NOT funny. “I cannot even begin to imagine the problems a flamethrower would cause firefighters and police officers alike,” he says.

    I find his lack of imagination funny.

    1. Firefighters? Well, it might give them more business…

      1. To quote Fire Marshall Bill “LET ME SHOW YOU SOMETHING!”

        1. Put your pants up, Fire Marshal Bill.

  4. Never settle with words what you can accomplish with a flamethrower.

    1. What if you are highly skilled at dishing out sick burns, like me?

      1. Every one liner would be 3x more effective if it was followed by a thick stream of bone cindering fire.

  5. Are the flamethrowers even a real thing? It came across like a joking “Spaceballs” reference to me.

    1. Flamethrowers were first deployed during WWI, but more extensively used in WWII and Vietnam.

      1. I didn’t mean “are flamethrowers in general real”. I mean “are the branded flamethrowers Elon Musk is showing real”.

        1. The branded flamethrowers Musk is showing are nothing more than a slightly modified $40 weed burner like this one. Of course he could have them built from parts readily available in any hardware store. 1x bottle attachment, 1x grill igniter, a bit of metal tubing, & you’d have to mock up some sort of simple flame holder at the end but it isn’t hard.

          Or spend $40 in the yard tools aisle and cannibalize some toy space gun and viola! You’ve got something to twist the panties of any politician looking to get an interview on TV.

    2. Another racist comment from Stormfront dragon.

  6. That same year, Rep. Eliot Engel (D?N.Y.) introduced the “Flamethrowers? Really? Act”

    As the only libertarian here, I would stand against this bill. But for the sake of intellectual honesty I will admit that’s a pretty good name for a bill.

    1. From the always unassailable “Are you serious?!” line of reasoning.

  7. The world is not a Lethal Weapon movie.

    1. More of a Boyz n’ the Hood cut up with Wolf of Wall Street.

      1. Sooo, Pulp Fiction?

  8. “Despite being phased out by the Defense Department decades ago, flamethrowers are unregulated in almost every state,” the article notes, adding that “for thousands of years, weapons able to harness the power of fire offered users a gruesome advantage during combat.”

    He doesn’t think that if the DoD has ‘phased them out’ that maybe the latter part isn’t true anymore.

    Also, its not *that* hard to make a real one. Pressurized lawn sprayer canister and some heat resistant fittings and you’re good to go.

    1. Flame weapons are still extremely useful and do still provide users a gruesome advantage during combat. In fact the Russians have several versions of flame weapons in their inventory that they still actively use. The only reason the US doesn’t use them is because they are considered “cruel” and we are squeamish about things like that.

      Remember, as General Sherman said “War is hell.”

      1. Most flamethrowers don’t throw flame, they throw flammable liquids and gel. Which is nasty if you get some on you. That’s why it’s considered cruel. At least with a bullet you can pretend that the enemy dies instantly.

        1. From what I underrstand, their primary use was not to burn enemy soldiers but to asphyxiate them in a bunker by burning away the local oxygen. Which does not sound anymore pleasant.

    2. How about one of those stainless two gallon or so pressureised liquid fire extinguisher? Fill it with petrol, pressurise it, fit one of those red button barbecue igniters, and you’d not only have a great flamethrower, it would be stealth.. WHO would ever guess your “fire extinguisher” was actually a firestarter?

  9. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of instructables and youtube videos on how to build your own out of basic parts. This really is one of the stupidest freakouts in history.

  10. Of course California already had a law against flamethrowers. Of course.

    1. Luckily for Musk, this isn’t technically a flamethrower. It’s a propane torch, like the kind that you can buy at any hardware store, that happens to looks like a rifle.

  11. “the flamethrowers now on the market are all ordered online, so there’s no way of knowing whether a minor, a convicted criminal or a mentally unstable person is behind the credit card number.”

    Someone should educate this genius about this one weird trick called the black market.

  12. Nobody needs fire.

    1. Go buy a propane torch at the Depot.

  13. Every Home Depot in Cali sells propane torches which is what this is in a fancy airsoft shell.

  14. Obviously, we need common sense flamethrower control.

    1. of COURSE…… we MUST assure they are properly calibrated, matching the quantity of fuel dispensed wth the range and size of the intended target. Thus whenever anyone attempts to USE one, their intentions will be faithfully executed. And maybe their targets as well.

      “you’ll burn your eye out” must never become a reality. The public deserve nothing less.

      1. If it save the life of just one moron…

  15. Few things are more fun than watching nannies shit their pants over something. We call our BBQ lighter a “flamethrower” in my house.

  16. The idea that regulations need to specify stuff in detail is profoundly wrong. The whole issue of regulation itself aside, this is the reason we end up with massive bureaucracties. And it’s even worse in Europe with its “everything not specifically permitted is banned by default mentality”.

    Instead of banning flamethrowers, just ban setting other people and their property on fire. Problem solved. We don’t need local, state, and national regulations on flamethrowers, all we need is a local fire marshal to do his job. If a couple of nerds start futzing around with these “toys” in the city park, there’s no need to panic over the lack of specific prohibitions or wring hands over the specific lengths of flame provided. Just have the fire marshal ticket people for reckless behavior.

  17. Every one of these burns hydrocarbons. So much for musk’s global warming concern.

    1. Guess he better come out with a hydrogen-oxygen version!

      1. I thought dihydrogen monoxide vapor was identified as a greenhouse gas.

  18. “for thousands of years, weapons able to harness the power of fire offered users a gruesome advantage during combat”

    You know what other weapons offered users an advantage during combat for thousands of years…?

    1. All of them.

      1. That is pretty much the definition of a “weapon”.

    2. Ballistic cows?

  19. Indeed, almost any violent crime one might conceivably use a flamethrower to commit, from a school shooting to a liquor store robbery, would be far better accomplished with a traditional firearm. Such guns are cheaper, more lethal, and more easily concealed, and they have far better range and accuracy. If criminals ditched firearms for flamethrowers, it would probably produce a net gain for public safety.

    A lot of this is questionable.

    Obviously criminals can’t carry proper flamethrowers around with them (other than the “aerosol and lighter” kind, which are a little awkward to “quick-draw”), but given that they (street hoods) are uniformly terrible shots (whereas “missing” with a flamethrower at domestic ranges is, I presume, a good bit harder), and that burn wounds are very hard to treat, I don’t know that flamethrowers really would be that much less lethal than guns for a lot of kinds of attack. Obviously it is at least possible to kill several kids with one, as this very article points out.

    Basically the only real limitation is fuel: you could never have a Nice or Mandalay Bay level killing with a flamethrower because you can only carry so much of it…

    …unless you hooked it up to a fuel tank in a car and blasted fire out the window at passersby on the sidewalks. Which would also render bollards and other vehicles barriers completely useless.

    Huh. Prolly gonna get arrested for posting that…

    1. and as a reallly fun added at extra cost accessory, a separate tank of fuel, size per user’s choice, that would effectively become a fairly significant explosive, to be detonated by default should the perp in the car be neutralised.

  20. These stupid politicians think that we cannot make our own weapons like bombs and flamethrowers. We don’t need your permission politicians.

  21. They want disarm us in the face of the impending Xenomorph invasion. They’ve been bought by Weyland-Yutari!

      1. Dammit.

  22. There are some things better left to flamethrowers.

  23. Remember, this is the same state that wants to make it criminal offense to give a “unsolicited” straw to a person. They want to put someone in jail for giving a straw to a person who did not ask for it when dining. Nothing out of California surprises me anymore.

  24. Given that Musk has built Tesla off the subsidies from the #ProgressiveUtopia that is California, I, for one, am glad that it looks like he’s about to get the full Sacramento treatment.

  25. It’s not a flamethrower whatever it may be marketed as. This is a flamethrower:

    http://bit.ly/2nrMtmB

    Elon’s selling a glorified butane torch. Good for paint-stripping a house or caramelising a very large pudding.

    1. Or perhaps disinfecting the “deuce bombs” now legally allowed to be deposited on the streets in Denver. Where it is a crime to borrow a shop-vac from a neighbour. Since you can’t borrow your neighbour’s shopvac to clean up the droppings left by homeless/alien invaders, now, thanks to Musk, one can now carry about upon his person the best means of dealing with such unwanted issues.

      1. No shit, really? I’ll bet the vacuum rental industry is loving that set of laws. Have a large influx of Lost Angeles politicians wind up in Denver lately?

      2. I had to fact check that one.
        Evan Marsters, “7 crazy Colorado laws you don’t want to be caught breaking”, Denver 7 abc, 7 Oct 2016.
        “It is illegal to lend a vacuum to a next-door neighbor, but it’s perfectly okay to lend a vacuum to a friend down the street.”
        Simple work-around. You loan the vacuum cleaner to a friend down the street; your friend loans the vacuum cleaner to your next-door neighbor.

  26. I can’t imagine many practical applications for this thing, and as thoroughly cool as that short wide burst of blue flame is, seems like touching it off just to see that would get old pretty quick. Better show it off to your friends individually, ’cause that’s most of the use you’ll ever get out of it unless you’ve got a REALLY specific YouTube channel.

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