The mayor of a Detroit suburb wants to ban the flamethrowers that are manufactured in his city, out of fear that they could cause “catastrophic damage.”
“This has very deadly potential for a deadly disastrous result, with no benefit,” said Mayor James Fouts of Warren, Mich. “I think the biggest fear people have is the fear of being burned alive.”
A startup called The Ion Productions Team manufacturers the XM42 flamethrower in Warren, a city of about 130,000 people that borders Detroit. The handheld devices shoot 25-foot streams of fire and are fueled by attached cans of combustible liquid. Ion started producing them this year and sells them online for $899.
Fouts said he’s concerned the flamethrowers could be acquired by drug dealers, terrorists, mass murderers, robbers, drunks or minors, because there is no age limit or federal oversight.
“What about someone who is under heavy influence of alcohol and he pulls out a flamethrower to impress his friends at a party?” he said.
The laws regulating flamethrowers are patchy. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does not consider them to be guns, so the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not conduct background checks. The state of Maryland bans them outright, and California only issues temporary permits, usually for Hollywood directors. But in most places, there are no laws regarding flamethrower possession.
Ion CEO Chris Byars dismissed Fouts’ concerns. He said no one’s been injured or killed by his product. He said the mayor’s “discriminating” against the responsible consumers who buy his flamethrowers because he’s overly concerned about what “could” happen.
“The mayor is a huge stickler against fireworks and anything too scary for him,” said Byars, in an email. “Anyone can buy a gas can and a set of matches, too, and cause harm. There’s laws on the books already for causing harm to others/property. There’s no need for additional restrictions. Is Mayor Fouts going to prevent kitchen knife ownership because of the chance that a child could use one?”
He said that Ion provides business to other shops in Warren that help with flamethrower production, and that he doubts a possession ban would ever be approved.
But Patrick Green, the city council vice president who first proposed the ban, said it could go into affect as early as next month if the council decides to approve it.
“I only see bad things happening [with flamethrowers,]” said Green, who dismissed the manufacturer’s contention that flamethrowers have practical uses for controlled burns in agriculture. “If it shoots 25 feet, where the heck am I going to use it at? [Warren is] all residential.”
Green and Fouts said they’re hoping a city ban would inspire a “domino effect” among other cities and the state, that would catch the attention of Congress to pass a federal ban.
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