I recently saw this video by LockPickingLawyer on Youtube, where he discusses a bicycle lock called the SkunkLock. This bike lock's shackle is filled with a vomit-inducing gas pressurized to 150 PSI. He mentions in the video that this lock would likely be considered illegal in most jurisdictions because it would likely qualify as a "booby trap".

Now I know he's actually a lawyer and I'm... well, not, but I am inclined to question the validity of his statement.

First off, the lock itself has "SKUNKLOCK" in large letters along the lock body, which is a pretty good indication of what the lock does. But okay, I can see a lawyer arguing that it's not really a warning label.

Secondly, at 13 seconds into the video, you can see a proper warning sticker on the shackle of the lock that says WARNING: Do not puncture. Chemicals under pressure..

So given that the lock actually has a warning label on it telling you what will happen if you cut the shackle, doesn't that mean it's not a booby trap? I would think that in order to legally be considered a booby trap, it would need to have an element of surprise.

If it's still considered a booby trap even with the warning label, then wouldn't someone be able to, for example, come into your house, grab a bottle of Pine-Sol (lemon-scented surface cleaner) from your cleaning supplies closet/cabinet, drink it until they vomit, and then accuse you of setting a booby trap?


1 Answer 1


Criminal codes vary, and even federal definitions often only apply in certain limited circumstances, so it's impossible to give a single clear answer to this.

21 USC § 841(d) is very narrowly about booby traps on federal property where controlled substances are being handled, but it gives us one definition of "booby trap" that a lot of states seem to have adopted:

...any concealed or camouflaged device designed to cause bodily injury when triggered by any action of any unsuspecting person making contact with the device. Such term includes guns, ammunition, or explosive devices attached to tripwires or other triggering mechanisms, sharpened stakes, and lines or wires with hooks attached.

California's penal code uses that same definition, with some slight modifications to the wording (they refer to great bodily injury, and change 'making contact' to 'coming across', since light-based triggers may not require contact).

Going by that definition, the Skunklock probably would not count because it isn't designed to cause "great bodily injury", and the warning label probably does give it some protection on the "unsuspecting person" side, since it did clearly state that it's a pressurized device (providing the owner didn't remove or conceal that label).

That said, I don't know that this is a particularly well-explored point of law, so you could possibly be in a big legal mess for a long time, even if it ended up eventually deciding that the device isn't a booby trap, so it might be better to avoid that whole issue.

  • 1
    The chemical in the skunklock is able to harm eyes for a longer time to permanently - which would qualify for great bodily injury.
    – Trish
    Dec 15, 2023 at 1:33
  • Okay that sounds incredibly dangerous. Dec 15, 2023 at 3:02
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    Yeah, based on the wording given above I'd have to agree with your conclusion. It's not concealed or camouflaged, it's not designed to cause bodily harm, and you could argue that there's no trigger mechanism. On the point of eye damage, considering you'd have to use a tool like an angle grinder to cut the shackle, it's unlikely your eyes would be anywhere near it so I think the risk of that is negligible. If you consider the "spirit" of the law, then if the goal is to avoid hurting an unintended target (fire fighter, police, etc), I think this lock would not be considered a booby trap.
    – Gogeta70
    Dec 15, 2023 at 3:30
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    @Gogeta70 The 'spirit' of the law isn't really about innocent victims... The single most famous boobytrap case is Katko v. Briney (1971) where the Iowa supreme court held that deadly force is not justified even on criminal intruders in an unoccupied property. It wasn't about unintended targets -- Briney's trap worked perfectly and did exactly what it was supposed to, to the intended target, and it was still held to be illegal. Dec 15, 2023 at 14:47
  • I find the distinction quite interesting and it's probably not really possible to know the outcome without testing it but again pointing to the wording of "designed to cause bodily harm" It is clearly not designed to cause bodily harm but what if someone is allergic to the gas for example. Would that just be a case of moral luck? And to what end? What if someone is startled by an alarm, trips, and hits their head?
    – jesse_b
    Dec 15, 2023 at 15:52

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