Elon Musk should start behaving like an adult

Tesla CEO Elon Musk during an event at Tesla’s plant in Hawthorne, California. Musk has another innovative product up in his sleeve: a $500 flamethrower.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk during an event at Tesla’s plant in Hawthorne, California. Musk has another innovative product up in his sleeve: a $500 flamethrower. TNS

Let’s hope Elon Musk grows up. The creator of Tesla and SpaceX demonstrated that he’s a self-centered child in a grownup’s body with his reckless pre-sale last month of 20,000 flamethrowers.

That’s right. Flamethrowers. Just what the world needs to be a better place. Not.

While the creator of Tesla and SpaceX deserves much credit as a visionary who has led the way with electric-vehicle development and the next generation of rockets, his fire-producing devices designed to look like military artillery undermine that reputation.

His juvenile Twitter posts and the YouTube video of him running through a hallway waving the flamethrower like a dorky prepubescent playing war only add to the growing public sense that some technology leaders are tone-deaf to the societal effects of their creations.

If they won’t behave like adults, it’s up to the parents in the state Legislature to set boundaries. Lawmakers should rally behind the call by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, to ban the flamethrowers. Quickly.

This isn’t some silly backyard game. Flamethrowers pose a serious danger, as Santiago and Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters, noted in a statement lambasting the idea.

“Joke or not, this subject matter, in the wake of the state’s deadliest wildfires in history, is incredibly insensitive, dangerous, and most definitely not funny,” said Santiago. “Absolutely no public good could come from the sale of this tool.”

It’s not hard to imagine the tragedy that could result. The accidental or deliberate torching of brush that sets off another massive California conflagration. People badly burned while playing with a Musk flamethrower. The kid wounded or killed because he wields the device toward an officer who mistakes it for a gun and shoots.

State law prohibits flamethrowers that “emit or propel a burning stream of combustible or flammable liquid a distance of at least 10 feet.” Musk designed his with a shorter range so they’re not restricted.

When he started hawking them on Twitter, he bragged that the flamethrowers “are guaranteed to liven up any party.” And that “they’re great for roasting nuts.” Such knee-slapping humor.

And, lest there be any doubt of his immaturity, Musk added, “When the zombie apocalypse happens, you'll be glad you bought a flamethrower. Works against hordes of the undead or your money back!”

Musk announced last week that the flamethrowers, which at $500 each have grossed $10 million, are sold out. That suggests there won’t be another sales offering. But with Musk one never knows.

He promises to start shipping them to customers this spring. If he had any sense of decency, he would refund their money and focus on more pressing matters.

Like figuring out how to deliver the estimated 400,000 delayed Tesla Model 3s he has promised buyers who have put down $1,000 deposits.

Editor’s note: Editorials from other newspapers are offered to stimulate debate and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune.