Police Abuse

Gravity Knives, Bump Stocks, and Lawless Law Enforcement

New York cops and the president arbitrarily turn legal products into contraband.


When Joseph Cracco bought his folding knife about a decade ago, he had no reason to think he was breaking the law. Nor did Damien Guedes when he bought a bump stock for his AR-15 rifle in 2014.

Both products were subsequently transformed into contraband—not by legislators but by law enforcement officials. The way that happened shows how easily policies aimed at promoting public safety can make all of us less secure by undermining the rule of law.

Last week Cracco, a Manhattan sous chef, won a federal lawsuit he filed after he was arrested for violating New York's 1958 ban on "gravity knives." That law makes it a misdemeanor to possess "any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever or other device."

For years Cracco had been using his Spyderco Endura 4 folding knife, the sort of tool that is sold openly by retailers in New York City and throughout the state, for mundane tasks like opening boxes and bottles. On a Friday afternoon in October 2013, Cracco was standing on a subway platform, heading home to Connecticut, when a police officer spotted the knife clipped to his pants pocket and subjected it to the NYPD's notorious "wrist flick test."

According to Cracco and a co-worker who was with him, it took the cop four or five tries before he managed to swing the blade fully open with one hand—a feat that Cracco himself had never attempted. Cracco thus joined the thousands of New Yorkers who are arrested each year for carrying the tools of their trades or hobbies.

"Because the wrist flick test is a functional one, it is difficult if not impossible for a person who wishes to possess a folding knife to determine whether or not the knife is illegal," U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty noted in a March 27 decision declaring the gravity knife ban "unconstitutionally vague" as applied to Cracco. "People should be able to tell whether their conduct is lawful or unlawful."

That bedrock principle of due process was even more flagrantly violated by the ban on "bump-stock-type devices" that took effect last week. The ban, which Donald Trump decided to unilaterally impose after such devices were used by the perpetrator of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, turned peaceful, law-abiding gun owners into felons for owning products that had been repeatedly deemed legal by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) during the Obama administration.

Bump stocks facilitate a fast rifle shooting technique in which the shooter pushes the gun forward so that the trigger is activated by a stationary finger, at which point recoil energy causes the gun to slide backward, resetting the trigger. Contradicting what the ATF had consistently told bump stock manufacturers and members of Congress, the Trump administration declared that rifles equipped with these accessories are illegal machine guns.

As Damien Guedes and other bump stock owners point out in their challenge to the ban, that conclusion is plainly at odds with the legal definition of a machine gun, which requires that the weapon fire "automatically" and "more than one shot" by "a single function of the trigger." Bump firing is not automatic, since it requires the shooter's active intervention, and it entails resetting the trigger after each round, as with any semi-automatic weapon.

The question raised by Guedes' lawsuit is not whether banning bump stocks is a good idea. The question is whether bump stocks are already banned.

By pretending they are, Trump is usurping congressional authority and criminalizing conduct that everyone thought was legal until he arbitrarily decreed that it wasn't. Like the cop who decided that Joseph Cracco's pocket tool was a forbidden weapon, the president is making up the law on the fly.

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  2. Going back to the policy itself… Exactly what do they think they are accomplishing by banning “gravity knives”. Or switchblades for that matter?

    My guess would be that over 99% of people who carry such a knife, even a switchblade, do so because it is cool, interesting or convenient, not because it makes it an exceptionally dangerous weapon.

    If I wanted to commit knife-based crimes, I think I could come up with a much better tool for the job. A good old Bowie knife would do the trick, just fine. Much better than a little box-cutter blade on one of those machined-metal flick-knives.

    1. H. L. Mencken once observed that there is a certain sort of policeman whose goal in life is to have a pretext for arresting any citizen at any moment. I think that’s what you see here, and with ‘Sobriety Checkpoints’ and the like; the idea that the Citizen can and should be answerable to agents of the State at a moment’s notice, day or night. People who buy into this are especially afraid of knives and guns since such weapons constitute the basic tools for the citizenry to tell obnoxious government stooges to screw off.

    2. I think the whole switchblade/gravity knife thing came about during the 1950s, when the switchblade became popular in fictional depictions of gang members. In addition, a lot of servicemen had come back from Italy with the iconic switchblade. Before that time, most switchblades were made by Schrade, and were utilitarian looking knives.

    3. I’ve carried a pocket knife every day since I was 13. In fact, I own a Spyderco Endura a different color than the one pictured in the link, though I prefer a similar 3″ salt water resistant knife. I keep it quite sharp, but the idea of using it as a weapon? I’d sooner use my cane.

    4. In addition to what C. S. P. stated, the “gravity knife” ban came about from a moral panic in the 1950s, as those knives (similar to WW2 paratrooper knives) became popular. They were new, they were scary, and they were “military style” to boot. Not much has changed today, only the target of the fear

      1. West Side Story, September 1957

    5. Personally, I think this was akin to the banning of sword-canes and along the lines of selectively allowing open carry of firearms. The issue wasn’t so much that you were carrying a knife. The Ka-Bar and various special forces daggers were even seen as venerable objects. The issue was that you were trying to hide the fact that you were carrying a knife. Every upright gentlemen had a pen knife in his pocket and available at a moment’s notice. The only people who would carry a switchblade were trying to take a larger weapon in to a place where such a weapon wasn’t welcome like a church or a school.

      1. That is certainly how the law was sold to the people who voted for it. It ignored some basic facts, however. A knife that can be easily opened with one hand is a useful tool for someone who may be opening boxes in limited space. And the law, of course, completely ignores the simple fact that IF a knife is a weapon, then owning and carrying it is a Constitutional Right.


        Weapon Control Laws are all, at base, designed to keep minorities and the poor in line. And that is how the New York cops have been using them. The sheeple in New York may be inclined to tolerate this kind of paternalistic oversight, but the fact remains, it is unconstitutional, discriminatory, and wrong.

  3. ” . . . shall not be infringed . . . ”

    It ain’t that hard to understand.

    1. Apparently it is. I don’t think they’ve adhered to the letter of that law … well, at least since they passed the 14th.

    2. It isn’t that they don’t understand it, it’s that they don’t want to obey it. It’s the very human impulse to disregard a law or rule that prevents us from doing hat we want. And, per usual, the way to put a stop to it is to call the rule-breakers on their behavior. The problem being that where it is worst (the rind of the country) they have had a long time to get accustomed to nobody challenging them. It’s gonna take a while and a good deal of repetition.

  4. All Arms are protected by the 2nd Amendment.

    Swords, knives, pistols, rifles, tanks, ships, planes, grenades, bombs, mines, spears, and any other Armament that is ever created.

    1. The “letters of marque and reprisal” clause of the Constitution clearly anticipates the private ownership of ships of war to capture enemy vessels.

      1. Not in an unregulated way. A letter of marque and reprisal could be considered a license for private ownership of a ship of war. I rather doubt that clause can be read as allowing private ownership of a ship of war (at least not one that hasn’t been demilitarized) by a private citizen who hasn’t been granted a “letter of marque and reprisal”.

        P.S. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since congress issued a letter of marque and reprisal?

        1. No. A letter of marque and reprisal is a license to *use* a privately owned ship of war to attack ships of a country that’s at war with the issuer. To read it as “allowing private ownership” would imply that one needs a letter of marque and reprisal to build it in the first place, which would completely eliminate the utility of being able to issue them.

    2. It takes a Herculean kind of man to bear a tank, though.

  5. It seems pretty clear that the point of a bump stock is to make a semi automatic gun into an automatic. We can argue about whether or not automatic guns should be legal, but so long as they aren’t, I don’t see why this particular style of automatic weapon should be exempted from the rules.

    1. are you ignorant of simple firearm mechanics, or just trolling?? an automatic firearm repeatedly discharges rounds on a single press of the trigger, until said trigger is released. a bump stock does not, and cannot create that result with a non-automatic firearm action.

      in addition, automatic firearms are legal, with extreme licensing and costs, and are only rarely held by private citizens.

    2. A bump-stock is designed to allow an automatic weapon to be fired more quickly. It doesn’t make it a machine-gun. Say that it does and the next step for the gun-grabbers will be to try to outlaw automatic weapons; that is guns that automatically reload themselves from a magazine, not guns that fire continuously from a single pull on the trigger.

      If they want to do that, they must amend the Constitution. in fact, they should have amended the Constitution before they put the existing restrictions on machine-guns. That they don’t do so is a sign that they are, at base, scofflaws. They do not believe that ANY Constitutional Rights must be respected…except when they demand it expedient to do so. Such people cannot be trusted.

    3. By that logic my belt loop makes a semiautomatic gun into an automatic. Should we ban pants next?

  6. there are so many layers of idiocy to the bump stock nonsense that it is hard to unpeel. the thing that keeps really chapping me about the whole fight, though, is that one doesn’t need a bump stock to bump fire. it is a simple technique that is assisted by the stock, but perfectly possible (and pretty easy with minimal practice) without. so what are we “banning” again??

    1. Scary stuff.

    2. There are youtube videos showing rubber bands and belt loops being used to do the same thing.

      – however –

      The “trigger pull thing” is nonsense. MaDuce does not have a trigger. Are you saying she ain’t fully automatic?

      1. The Browning M2 does have a trigger.

        1a : a piece (such as a lever) connected with a catch or detent as a means of releasing it
        especially : the part of the action moved by the finger to fire a gun
        b : a similar movable part by which a mechanism is actuated

        As defined by law and regulation, the bump stock does not turn a semi-auto into an automatic. I you don’t like bump stocks, change the law. Nation of laws, not men, and all that jazz.

  7. BATFE’s previous published understanding should estop their enforcement re bump stocks.

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  9. In regards to the gravity knives, the law says centrifugal force, which in the case of a true gravity knife, the application of which should cause the blade to slide outwards from within the handle and lock in place. Or you can simply point the knife down and gravity takes care of it for you. The “wrist flick” isn’t using centrifugal force to open the knife. It’s using the abrupt stopping of the application of centrifugal force to open the knife. Just using centrifugal force would not open most folding knives, but it would open an actual gravity knife. So effectively, the courts are allowing the NYPD to rewrite the rules of physics.

  10. I fired a variety of fully automatic weapons in the Army, both magazine and belt fed.
    I fired a “semi-automatic” rifle equipped with a bump-stock.
    It was fully automatic.
    It was inaccurate and wasteful, but it was most certainly fully automatic.
    Spare me the semantics.

    We can debate the Constitutionality of banning fully automatic weapons from civilian ownership
    but anyone who describes a bump-stock equipped weapon as being semi-automatic is wrong.
    (Note: I changed that from “lying” to “wrong” because some people might just be ignorant.)

    1. No, we are being precise, which with the Law is usually a good idea, unless you want to be ruled by the whim of agents of the State.

      Pulling (or in the case of button-triggers, pushing) the trigger of a firearm with an implement does not mean you are not acting on the trigger to fire the gun, and more than fanning the hammer of an ‘Old West’ six-shooter makes it a machine-gun.

      The gun-grabbers love to muddy the terms applied to firearms; hence the ‘Assault Weapon’ label applied to guns that look similar to Assault Rifles. They mustn’t be allowed to do so, not so much to protect the Second Amendment (I own no guns) but to protect the idea that, no, the State is not allowed to change the meaning of words in common use to get around the restrictions put on its authority by the Constitution.

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