By Peter Holley / The Washington Post
Tesla chief executive and inventor Elon Musk has tried his hand at building underground transportation, revolutionizing space technology and bringing electric vehicles to the masses.
So why fully unleash his inner adolescent and give flamethrowers a go?
The Boring Company — the same outlet Musk founded to disrupt traffic congestion with tunneling — began selling flamethrowers this weekend at $500 a pop.
“Guaranteed to liven up any party!” the company’s website mischievously proclaims. “World’s safest flamethrower!”
When it comes to sales, however, the handheld fire-breather is no joke. In a little over 48 hours, according to Musk’s Twitter account, the Boring Company has cleared at least $3.5 million worth of flamethrowers, with 7,000 sold.
If it feels like some sort of running gag, that’s because it started out as one, with Musk noting last year that the company would begin hawking flamethrowers once it had sold 50,000 hats.
Nearly two months later, a seemingly playful joke turned oddly real with Musk noting that a flamethrower could come in handy. He tweeted on Jan. 28: “When the zombie apocalypse happens, you’ll be glad you bought a flamethrower. Works against hordes of the undead or your money back!”
“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.”
What does someone not dislodging enemy soldiers from spider holes in WWII’s Pacific theater do with a flamethrower in 2018?
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 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.”