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Lawmakers Back Off, Allowing Elon Musk — and His California Customers — to Play With Fire

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An image from Elon Musk's Instagram account showing the flamethrowers. (Instagram)

California lawmakers added fuel to Elon Musk’s entrepreneurial fire last week when they cleared the way for sales of the investor’s newest — and probably hottest — product: personal flamethrowers.

In the coming weeks, some 20,000 people could be walking around with the devices, which resemble toy guns but are capable of emitting flames at least 2 feet long. In California, there will be little to regulate them because lawmakers quietly quashed a bill to rein in recreational fire-spitting.

Let’s back up.

Last December, one of Musk’s companies began selling hats to raise money for its vision of drilling tunnels under urban areas to beat gridlock.

Fired up by a positive public response, Musk promised on Twitter that if his Boring Company sold 50,000 hats, it would also begin selling “The Boring Company flamethrower.” He explained the logic of this merchandising leap in a later tweet: “I know it’s a little off-brand, but kids love it.”


A month later, the company launched a sales page for its flamethrower, and Musk tweeted that the device was a good investment to make in advance of the impending zombie apocalypse. He also posted a video of himself wielding one with the comment, “I want to be clear that a flamethrower is a super terrible idea. Definitely don’t buy one. Unless you like fun.”

Available at the fire-sale price of $500, the stock of 20,000 sold out in just four days.

Enter Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Democrat from Los Angeles. When he first heard about the Boring Company’s scheme, he assumed Musk was kidding. Once he realized the investor was serious, Santiago fired off a press release criticizing his decision to move ahead with sales.

“Jokes or not,” he wrote, “this subject matter, in the wake of the state’s deadliest wildfires in history, is incredibly insensitive, dangerous, and most definitely not funny. Absolutely no public good could come from the sale of this tool.”

Santiago introduced a bill to limit the sale of flamethrowers in California, making it harder for consumers to buy them for recreational use, while allowing them to be used in, for example, industrial and agricultural settings.

Though it was supported by cops and firefighters, Santiago immediately faced opposition from gun rights advocates. The Firearms Policy Coalition criticized lawmakers for trying to regulate the devices and wrote that AB 1949 criminalized nonviolent behavior.

“This bill,” the group wrote, “should be torched.”

Santiago narrowed the scope of his bill from requiring a rigorous permitting system for flamethrowers to simply requiring them to carry a safety label. But even that weakened form of the bill stalled Friday, when it was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, a victim of the notorious “suspense file” process in which legislative leaders often kill bills that could pose an embarrassing vote for the ruling party.

The next day, Musk announced that the flamethrowers are “about to ship,” and that his company will hold “flamethrower pickup parties” in a week or so.

Just in time for fire season to hit California.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics.

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