Wait, that’s illegal?

Turning the tables with surprisingly legal flamethrowers

More stories from Julia Van Allen

Seeking Solace
May 13, 2019

After a semester of diving into this country’s legal codes and digging up the silliest illegal things I could find, my curiosity is piqued. What’s something that I would expect to be illegal, but is actually allowed? There has to be something, somewhere, that I would say “maybe that wasn’t the best choice” to.

It took a little sleuthing, but folks, I found it.

In the state of California it is illegal to purchase a flamethrower, but not illegal to own one.

That’s right: all the backyard pyromaniacs out there can rejoice. If they want to partake in activities involving an excessive stream of straight unhindered fire, California is the place to be. However, unlike in other states, flamethrowers in California are regulated with a permit system. So those operating flamethrowers can’t be totally free in their choice of fire projectile devices.  

Now, once I read of the legality of flamethrowers in California, I had some questions, as I assume most people would. The laws involving flamethrowers aren’t exactly what comes to mind when I go digging around various state legal codes. However, in the case of owning a flamethrower, it might be apt to know the laws.

According to the California Health and Safety Code, subsection 12750, “(a) “Flamethrowing device” means any nonstationary and transportable device designed or intended to emit or propel a burning stream of combustible or flammable liquid a distance of at least 10 feet. (b) “Permit holder” means a person who holds a flamethrowing device permit issued pursuant to this part.”

What I gather from all of this is the simple acquisition of a permit, or what should be simple, allows for an individual to own and operate a flamethrower. Now, when considering permits for flamethrowers, the price tag attached isn’t cheap. Information provided by the California Fire Marshals put a $425 price tag on a flamethrower permit, which makes my wallet burn.

It seems to me that every aspect to owning a flamethrower comes with a massive price tag. For example, technology magnate Elon Musk sells flamethrowers. Why does the man who co-founded PayPal want to make headway into the flamethrower market? I have no idea. But Musk’s flamethrowers carry the whopping price tag of $500!

I think it’s pertinent to mention the intended uses of these flamethrowing devices. They aren’t meant to be used for free-flowing streams of fire most of the devices listed in the California Health and Safety Code are limited in their firepower, pun most definitely intended.

For example, Musk’s flamethrowers aren’t as powerful as one would expect. They only produce a stream of fire up to 1 foot. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed.

Basically, if a person wants to own and operate a flamethrower of a reasonable size, might I add in California, they’d better be ready to pay for the applicable permit. But hey, on the bright side, those who do have a permit also have the coveted title of pyrotechnic operator license. That, for me at least, is definitely a reason to go to California with a flamethrower.

That is all.

Van Allen can be reached at [email protected].