Over the course of 24 hours earlier this week, Elon Musk sold $3.5m worth of ‘party’ flamethrowers. Each flamethrower is worth $500 each, and in action it looks like this:
I dunno about you, but when I heard the phrase ‘Elon Musk selling flamethrowers’ I thought ‘Yeah, sure, like, a little pen-sized firework thing or something though, right?’ But that weapon in Musk’s hands up there totally conforms to my idea of what a flamethrower should look like. It’s not the platonic ideal of a flamethrower—that comes strapped to Hank Scorpio—but it’s not far off. So fair play, Mr. Musk. Fair play.
A year ago, Musk—the South African-American uber-businessman/engineer behind SpaceX and Tesla—was traveling through L.A. (by car—his solar-powered bipedal robot tank was presumably on charge) when he got stuck in a traffic jam. Like most people, he got frustrated by this. Like most people, he thought up elaborate plans for preventing this from happening again in the future:
Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 17, 2016
Unlike most people, he’s Elon Musk, so:
Yeah, while the rest of us pathetic, short-on-cash folk have to be content with stewing in our own filthy rage juices, Musk started a company in an effort to defeat the demon that is traffic ennui. Thus far the company has done not much at all in the way of digging, but last December they did make some hats! Plain black baseball caps with The Boring Company’s logo on it that went for $20 each in an effort to help fundraise. At the time of the hat announcement, Musk jocularly pronounced:
After 50k hats, we will start selling The Boring Company flamethrower— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 11, 2017
Like a lot of people promoting something, Elon Musk made an outlandish promise to deliver something bigger if people bought the thing he was promoting. Like mos—… You know how the rest of that tune goes.
Anyway, the caps sold out, and last Sunday Musk proved true to his (mad) word: The Boring Company started to shift these $500 flamethrowers. They reportedly made 20,000 of them, and within hours the number of orders had started to eat into that stock significantly.
Of course there were some questions over safety and regulation. Questions that Musk himself addressed on Twitter:
ATF says any flamethrower with a flame shorter than 10 ft is A-ok. Our design is max fun for least danger. I’d be way more scared of a steak knife.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 28, 2018
The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), however, soon said in response to Musk that they were unsure why he said what he said. According to NBC the AFT said:
The domestic production and possession [of flamethrowers] are not regulated by the Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act, so we have no regulatory function in that matter.
So the ATF wasn’t gonna stop him. Not their job. All clear then for a flamethrower party at Musk’s house? BBYOF.
Not quite, as Musk’s plan to shift these toys may have hit a speed bump—at least in his home state—as California Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) pretty swiftly said that he would be introducing legislation to block their sale:
The legality in other U.S. states is up for debate.
As far as The Boring Company’s fire sale (haaaaaa!) goes, 10,000 units have been ordered. Shipping is apparently to begin in the Spring.
As The Verge notes, however:
Musk is also known for messing with reporters and the public on Twitter. He said last month that SpaceX intends to send Musk’s Tesla Roadster to space, told The Verge that the plan was “totally made up,” but then actually followed through with preliminary planning to send the vehicle in the payload of the maiden voyage of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
So while things do look pretty serious, there may well be an element of mischief in Musk’s telling of this story. It might all be a prank, or it might be the beginning of a killer Spring Break season this year. We’ll have to wait and see.