Eliot Engel, a Democratic congressman from New York, is a big Saturday Night Live fan and an even bigger fan of former "Weekend Update" anchor Seth Meyers. He also thinks flamethrowers are dangerous. These are the salient facts behind what is surely the best-named legislation in the history of the U.S. Congress -- a bill (H.R. 4009) recently introduced by Engel called the "Flamethrowers? Really? Act." The bill, which would regulate flamethrowers like machine guns, came about after Engel discovered that flamethrowers are unregulated in all but two states, Maryland and California. You can even order them through the mail, a fact that left Engel incredulous. "It's not something I'd thought about before," he admitted, "because you'd just assume -- right? -- that flamethrowers would be regulated. It just causes you to scratch your head and say, 'Really?'"
Ordinarily, one might not necessarily connect flamethrowers with contemporary American politics, but the devices have come up more than once lately.
Last summer, for example, Rand Paul put together some online videos in which he literally destroyed the U.S. tax code. Unconcerned with appearing presidential, the Kentucky Republican invited people to vote on their preferred method of attack: chainsaw, wood chipper, or flamethrower. (If you're curious, the chainsaw was the most popular.)
The senator's campaign hasn't gone especially well, but the political relevance of flamethrowers has endured. Bloomberg Politics' Josh Green published this eye-opening report yesterday:
The "Really?" part of the equation may have been inspired by the Seth Meyers bit, but none of this is a joke. Obtaining an unregulated flamethrower is, in reality, surprisingly easy throughout most of the country, so the New York Democrat introduced legislation to add some federal restrictions. "Qualified law enforcement officers" would be exempt.
As of this morning, the "Flamethrowers? Really? Act" of 2016 -- easily this Congress' best legislative name -- is pending at the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, after having been introduced in mid-November.
It's picked up three co-sponsors -- Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), and James McGovern (D-Mass.) -- which probably won't be enough to get congressional leaders' attention, and in a Republican-led chamber, the bill's prospects are poor.
But I'd nevertheless be interested in hearing from the NRA and its Republican allies about Americans' constitutional right to an unregulated flamethrower.