Watch out for flamethrower bearing BBQers this summer. Elon Musk, the attention-grabbing entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX, has fired up Twitter and legions of his loyal followers with a brand-spanking new toy — a commercially available flamethrower.

The Future Is Flamethrower?

Musk’s flamethrower has already become a hit. Pre-sales have quickly sold out online. There’s no word about future flamethrowers hitting the market, so this might be a gag gift or the start of a new trend. But it raises interesting legal questions which, yes, we’re here to blog about.

It’s Easier to Buy a Flamethrower Than a Gun

You might be surprised to learn that only two states regulate flamethrowers. California requires flamethrower users and buyers to have a permit, while Maryland bans them entirely. But you shouldn’t be too surprised. There’s never been a wave of flamethrower-related violence to spur states and Congress to enact flamethrower laws. Hence their absence.

That might change soon, however. California is already rumbling about a ban on flamethrower sales, and we’d expect other states to follow if necessary.

Use Your Flamethrower Wisely

What’s always prohibited are crimes — no matter what’s used to commit them. Most criminal laws criminalize actions – murder, kidnapping, assault, etc. — and “add on” counts or prison time for using prohibited items.

Those definitions are flexible: a car can be deadly weapon, as can be a surgeon’s hands. A flamethrower might pose an interesting case for an appellate court someday, but it’s not something we’d expect to be a winning argument.

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