Inventor and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk claims he’s sold thousands of flamethrowers in recent days, turning a online gag into a marketing ploy worth millions.
But a California assemblyman said he plans to introduce legislation to block the distribution of the devices before they end up in customers’ hands.
In an email to The Washington Post, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said he thought the flamethrower idea was a joke when he first heard about it.
Santiago, whose home parish was recently damaged by fire, was surprised anyone would hawk a flamethrower in a state in which devastating fires have recently displaced thousands, causing more than $1 billion in damage. Santiago’s statement said he was in awe of “Musk’s genius,” but believes that the inventor’s gifts and successes mean he has unique responsibilities.
“The State of California and the County and City of Los Angeles have entrusted Mr. Musk to help alleviate a real public policy problem here by executing a tunnel under the City to help alleviate traffic,” the statement said. ” This deviation feels like a complete slap in the face.”
The lawmaker said he can’t imagine the problems a flamethrower would cause firefighters and police officers.
“This subject matter, in the wake of the state’s deadliest wildfires in history, is incredibly insensitive, dangerous, and most definitely not funny,” the statement continued. “Absolutely no public good could come from the sale of this tool. Additionally, if this an elaborate prank, then I have some serious concerns about Mr. Musk and his company collecting sensitive financial information from the number of people who have pre-ordered this product.”
Over the weekend Musk began selling flamethrowers at $500 a pop.
“Guaranteed to liven up any party!” the company’s website mischievously proclaims. “World’s safest flamethrower!”
In a little over 48 hours, according to Musk’s Twitter account, the Boring Company has cleared at least $7.5 million worth of flamethrowers, with 15,000 sold.
Musk noted last year that the company would begin hawking flamethrowers once it had sold 50,000 hats.
Nearly two months later, what seemed like a playful joke turned oddly real, with Musk noting that a flamethrower would come in handy during a zombie apocalypse.
“Don’t do this,” Musk wrote on an Instagram video of him pretending to turn a flamethrower on a camera person. “Also, I want to be clear that a flamethrower is a super terrible idea. Definitely don’t buy one. Unless you like fun.”
Musk claims his flamethrowers — which appear to expel a glowing, meter-long stream of sizzling terror — are good for roasting nuts.
Despite being phased out by the Defense Department decades ago, flamethrowers are unregulated in almost every state.
As The Washington Post’s Jessica Contrera reported in 2015, flamethrowers face limited regulation because they aren’t considered a “firearm,” which — unlike a flamethrower — is defined by its ability to expel a projectile using an explosive.
For thousands of years, weapons able to harness the power of fire offered users a gruesome advantage during combat, Contrera noted:
“With flamethrowers, you had the ability to attack without being attacked,” said Bruce Gudmundsson, a historian at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. Flamethrowers, such as the ones used in world wars I and II, were created by the Germans, but the concept dates back to A.D. 672. That’s when “Greek Fire” was said to have been invented by a man named Kallinikos to defend the Byzantine Empire’s capital of Constantinople, or modern-day Istanbul. His fire siphon would squirt flames from one wooden boat to another.”
The California Health and Safety Codes 12750 to 12761 ban owning or selling a flamethrower without a permit granted by a state fire marshal. But there’s a catch, because the regulation bans unlicensed possession of “any non-stationary and transportable device designed or intended to emit or propel a burning stream of combustible or flammable liquid a distance of at least 10 feet.”
If the demonstrations on social media are any indication, Musk’s flamethrower doesn’t emit a stream of flammable liquid, and its flame falls well short of the 10-foot ban.
The other state with laws regulating flamethrower use: Maryland.
Asked whether the Boring Company’s new device was authentic or, in fact, some sort of early April Fools’ Day joke, a company spokesman insisted that the device was no joke, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
“It is real,” he said. “You can place an order on the website and we will start shipping in the spring.”
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