About a year ago, a company called X-Products released the “Can Cannon”— an upper receiver for AR-15 rifles that, when installed on a lower receiver and loaded with a blank cartridge, could launch a full unopened soft-drink can a claimed 105 yards. The purpose? Well, there may not be much of one, other than novelty and fun. But what’s wrong with that?
Then last September, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives “changed their minds” and decided that anyone who mounted the Can Cannon on an AR-15 rifle lower receiver would have made a short barreled rifle, subject to all the National Firearms Act restrictions on such firearms.
Mounting it on an AR-15 pistol lower receiver would open a different can of worms, by creating what the BATFE now considers to be an “Any Other Weapon” (AOW), also subject to all the legal restrictions imposed on NFA-regulated items.
Interestingly, the Can Cannon is not itself considered illegal to own, buy, sell, or possess—it’s fine until assembled onto a lower receiver. That distinction is rather thin comfort, though, since without the lower receiver, very little that is useful (or even fun or novel) can be done with it.
Actually, it’s a bit worse than that, because if one possesses both the Can Cannon and an AR-15 receiver, the BATFE has a penchant for charging the “offender” with “constructive possession” of the banned item, even if the parts are not assembled together. Meanwhile, X-Products is considering several modifications to make their design comply with the BATFE’s evershifting standards.
“But,” some might ask, “what’s the big deal—it’s not as if effectively banning something that’s little more than an expensive toy seriously affects the right to keep and bear arms, is it?”
And some might point out that what the Can Cannon launches does not have to be a can of soda—someone could improvise an explosive or incendiary device that could be launched from the cannon, and would that not make it a dangerous weapon?
The answer to that second question is indisputably affirmative, and that in turn answers the first question. If it could be used to launch explosive or incendiary grenades (even somewhat crude ones), it becomes a weapon with at least some potential for militia use, and a ban thus constitutes an attack on the Constitutionally guaranteed, fundamental human right of the individual to keep and bear arms.
In addition, any “public safety” justification for a ban is undermined by the fact that it is still legal to purchase and own the device. Anyone inclined to make lethal pyrotechnic projectiles to launch from it for purposes of terror and mayhem is not going to be deterred by the fact that assembling the “cannon” to a lower receiver is illegal.
Speaking of “toys” that have inspired at least talk of new restrictions, a couple of companies have started selling civilian-legal flamethrowers. Ion Productions’ XM42 is capable, according to Ion, of shooting a 25-foot tongue of flame for 35 seconds from a package that weighs only about ten pounds. XMatter’s X15 boasts roughly double the XM42’s range, at the cost of a significantly heavier device.
According to Ars Technica, the mayor of Warren, Michigan wants them banned because of the damage that could be done by such devices “in the wrong hands.” The mayor is apparently silent on his plans for dealing with the interminable list of other legal items that can be used to devastatingly evil effect when in such hands. Another Michigan town, Troy, has introduced a bill that would outlaw flamethrowers within the city.
There is little room for doubt about the author’s views on the legality of the devices, as he calls it “shocking” that they are not federally regulated, while only two states, California and Maryland, have imposed any restrictions of their own.
The article notes the entirely predictable fact that merely raising the specter of a potential ban has triggered demand for the flamethrowers, with the article quoting Ion’s CEO as saying that, “Business is skyrocketing higher than ever due to the discussion on prohibition.”
Again, some might wonder if a ban or some less stringent regulatory scheme would really be all that objectionable, because again, these probably have more potential for fun than serious work. No one wants to use a flamethrower against the burglar in one’s living room, after all.
But again, flamethrowers, although under provisions of the international Inhumane Weapons Convention are no longer used in an anti-personnel role, have a history of very effective (if quite specialized) use in combat, so it’s impossible to entirely dismiss their usefulness.
As Tench Coxe noted not long after the birth of this nation, “Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American … the unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”
That remains as true today as it was in 1788. The Can Cannon and flamethrowers may more closely resemble expensive toys than “terrible implement[s] of the soldier,” but they are certainly not without some potential for the latter role. As such, attempts to restrict the people’s access to them deserve the same kind of righteous outrage that bans of so-called “assault weapons” provoke.