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Why The Government Can’t Stop Elon Musk’s Flamethrower, According To A Former ATF Weapons Expert
Ever since billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled his slick new commercial flamethrower for the low, low price of $500, Americans have been scrambling to stake their claim to the incendiary gadget. By Feb. 1, Musk’s Boring Company announced it had sold a whopping 20,000 flamethrowers. "When the zombie apocalypse happens, you'll be glad you bought a flamethrower," Musk joked on Twitter. "Works against hordes of the undead or your money back!"
Whether or not the Boring Company flamethrower actually constitutes a proper incendiary cannon is a matter of debate. Indeed, footage of prototypes in action is more reminiscent of an oversized butane-jet lighter than the fiery liquid mixture of nitrogen propellant and gasoline that defined the Army’s M2 flamethrower during the Vietnam War.
Regardless, lawmakers are already looking to rain on your future fiery parade. As flamethrower pre-orders were burning up the Boring Company website, New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to effectively ban the purchase or possession of any sort of incendiary flame cannon by civilians.
H. R. 4901, also known as the “Flamethrowers? Really? Act,” would solve the legal ambiguity surrounding Boring Company’s new gadget by amending Title 18 of the U.S. Code to include a federal definition of a “flamethrower” as “any non-stationary or transportable device designed or intended to ignite and then emit or propel a burning stream of a combustible or flammable substance a distance of at least 6 feet.”
If passed, the legislation would effectively stick flamethrowers into the U.S. criminal code of the federal government. Sounds serious, right? Maybe not: According to Rick Vasquez, a retired Marine Corps master sergeant and former weapons technology specialist at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, it’s unlikely Congress will ever manage to legally stamp out the civilian flamethrower.
“I’m very pro-gun, even though I worked for the ATF, and I’m very pro-Second Amendment, but even I don’t see any federal law going forward on this,” Vasquez told Task & Purpose. “If [Congress] is going to actually pass legislation on [flamethrowers], they have to regulate them as firearms. And that means they need to change the definition of what actually constitutes a ‘firearm’ before they can even think about regulating them.”
It’s not that the federal government is helpless to act: As a law enforcement organ of the Department of Justice, the ATF can issue its own rules and regulations without the direct input of Congress. Indeed, the National Firearms Act, first passed in 1934 in response to the rise of organized crime during Prohibition, was designed to bring items detailed under Title 18 under the regulatory supervision of the ATF — especially in interstate cases, where the federal government had clear jurisdiction.
Weapons experts demonstrate how M2-Flamethrowers were once used to destroy Japanese bunkers June 7, 2014, during World War II Weekend in Reading, Pa.U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. David Bessey
But the NFA is technically part of tax law under Title 26, the Internal Revenue Code, and the ATF can’t technically regulate flamethrowers until there’s a distinct legal definition of the item. And for decades, there was never a need for that, since the only flamethrowers circulated on the commercial market after World War II were the M2 variants eyed by collectors and history buffs.
A change to the NFA tax provision may require a new flamethrower definition in the U.S. criminal code, but in the current political climate, lawmakers will have a significantly easier time amending the tax code to update the NFA than getting anywhere near anything related to guns in the U.S. code. “Nothing is difficult if Congress wants to pass a new law, and according to this administration, there will be no new firearms laws,” Vasquez told Task & purpose. “Changing the NFA wouldn’t be difficult because, as we just saw, changing the tax code isn’t as difficult as amending gun laws.”
On a purely legislative level, Vasquez is absolutely right: Rep. Engel introduced virtually the exact same legislation back in January 2016, only to see the bill smothered to death in committee. “This bill is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist,” Firearms Industry Consulting Group lawyer Joshua Prince told Guns.com at the time, adding that Engel “appear[ed] completely unaware of the lawful uses of flamethrowers” like controlled burns.
The fervor around the Boring Company flamethrower appears to have challenged that calculus. While Maryland and California are the only states with restrictions on the books, lawmakers in the wildfire-ravaged Golden State are already moving to ban the incendiaries outright. “We don’t allow people to walk in off the street and purchase military-grade tanks or armor-piercing ammunition,” Los Angeles assemblyman Miguel Santiago said in a Jan. 28 statement. “I cannot even begin to imagine the problems a flamethrower would cause firefighters and police officers alike.”
It’s exactly this reason that a federal ban is ill-advised, Vasquez says. If it’s a question of public safety, you can do plenty more damage with household objects than the piddling flame of Musk’s Boring Company flamethrower, and an overly broad ban would end up having unintended consequences.
His assessment of the Musk flamethrower echoes that of other flamethrower enthusiasts: You face more of a threat from a teen boy in the throes of adolescent pyromania with a lighter and can of hairspray than your local hipster with the high-tech gadget. So why adopt a ban on the former that would put regulatory restrictions on the latter.
“For one thing, what’s [someone] gonna do, run into a crowd and burn people?” Vasquez said of Musk’s flamethrower. “Why wouldn’t he just fill a Super Soaker with gasoline and spray everybody and throw a lighter on ‘em? Just think about one of those pressurized garden sprayers filled with kerosene so it doesn’t degrade the O-ring. That’s 10 times more dangerous than what [Musk] has, and there are too many other items like it.”
“When I first saw one, I just started laughing,” Vasquez said of Musk’s flamethrower. “What are these guys going to think of next?”
An Austrian soldier was apparently killed by two military working dogs that he was charged with feeding, the Austrian Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday.
She's photographed every major war of the last 20 years. Marine Corps boot camp was something else entirely
Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario has seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya, and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.
Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.
The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.
Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead
"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.
They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.
As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.
But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.
Federal court judge Reggie Walton in Washington D.C. has ruled Hoda Muthana, a young woman who left her family in Hoover, Alabama, to join ISIS, is not a U.S. citizen, her attorneys told AL.com Thursday.
The ruling means the government does not recognize her a citizen of the United States, even though she was born in the U.S.
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- The Marine Corps could train as many as eight co-ed companies at boot camp each year, and the general overseeing the effort is hitting back against those complaining that the move is lowering training standards.
"Get over it," Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the head of Training and Education Command told Military.com on Thursday. "We're still making Marines like we used to. That has not changed."
Mullen, a career infantry officer who has led troops in combat — including in Fallujah, Iraq — said Marines have likely been complaining about falling standards since 1775.
"I'm assuming that the second Marine walking into Tun Tavern was like 'You know ... our standards have gone down. They're just not the same as it they used to be,'" Mullen said, referring to the service's famous birthplace. "That has always been going on in the history of the Marine Corps."