Elon Musk‘s The Boring Company has sold at least 17,000 flamethrowers in less than one week. But the popular product is stirring up legal concerns.
While the product is for sale internationally, the rules surrounding its use are somewhat ambiguous in Canada.
What is a flamethrower?
A flamethrower is a weapon that sprays fire. The incendiary device can be used as a firearm and cause serious damage and have been used during wars.
Different versions of the products can also be used for agricultural purposes and controlled burning. For example, it can be used to melt ice or snow.
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Rules in Canada
Fady Mansour, a criminal lawyer at Ottawa-based firm Edelson & Friedman LLP, told Global News that Musk’s flamethrowers are technically legal in Canada.
“You’re prohibited from possessing certain class of firearms, and firearms are defined in the Criminal Code and other places as something that has a barrel and discharges a projectile,” he explained. “This has a barrel but does not have a projectile, it doesn’t have a bullet of any sort that actually comes out of the barrel.”
Mansour added that while possessing flamethrowers is not a crime, it can be used as a weapon and lead to illegal activity.
But there are some nuances. The lawyer explains that police officers may not be aware that flamethrowers are legal, which can lead to arrest or charges, although they would eventually be cleared.
“It’s such a unique thing, and on its appearance, it would appear quite scary,” Mansour said. “Whenever there is ambiguity in the law like this, where people don’t know, sometimes you see cases where people get charged.”
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Mansour said that flamethrowers, such as the ones Musk is selling, are not prohibited because they haven’t been mainstream or caused a problem yet. If or when that does happen, there may be changes to limit them.
“Because we are constantly creating new weapons, the law kind of doesn’t catch up.”
The lawyer noted that while commercial flamethrowers are legal, there are prohibitions on military-grade versions.
In an email to Global News Wednesday, the Canada Border Service Agency confirmed that non-military flamethrowers can be imported into the country.
“There are no import restrictions on flamethrowers that are classified as non-military and do not meet the definition of a prohibited weapon,” the email read.
“In most instances, these tools are generally used by various commercial industry for agriculture (controlled burns), roofing companies (for heating tar), snow removal, insect removal (caterpillar tents).”
In a separate statement, the Department of Justice Canada added that each case involving a flamethrower is subject to different treatment.
“Whether it meets the definition of prohibited weapon is made on a case-by-case basis by a technical expert, most commonly by Customs officials upon the importation into Canada,” a government spokesperson wrote.
U.S. laws on flamethrowers
Musk claimed in a tweet that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was “A-ok,” because it doesn’t light more than 10-feet-long. But the bureau told NBC News that it doesn’t regulate flamethrowers.
Corneiro added that she does not know who regulates the torches.
Miguel Santiago, a state assemblyman in California, tweeted Monday that he is “outraged” by Musk’s product.
“If this is a joke, then it’s a terribly insensitive one given that we’re coming off of the worst wildfire season in history,” he said, adding that he will introduce legislation to block the product’s sale.
Musk boasting product’s rapid sales
While the flamethrowers have led to criticism, Musk seems to be enjoying the attention the products have received.
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The billionaire, who is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is selling the products through his tunnel-digging company, Boring Co. It has a total of 20,000 of the product, and Musk has been tweeting about their rapid sale.
The product is listed as the “world’s safest flamethrower” on the website, with the caveat that fire extinguishers are sold separately.
— With a file from Global News reporter Rebecca Joseph