You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand the legal code or statutes for your state to understand the legality behind Lock picking, lock picks and Locksport.
But not surprisingly some people who are interested in the hobby may be dissuaded by the misinformation and confusion about lock picks being illegal.
After conducting our own thorough research of each states’ laws, codes, and statutes on lock picks, or pick locks as commonly known under legal terms, we have created an easy to digest interpretation of the legality of lock picking.
We are going to walk you through the different ways lock picks are seen by state law.
NOTE: We are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice. If you need legal advice please speak directly with a lawyer.
Are Lockpicks Illegal?
Lock picks used for hobby purposes are not illegal in the United States. But lock picks can be illegal if they are obtained or carried with the intent to break the law or be used in a criminal manner.
All this depends on the country and state so read on for more information.
Understanding Lock Picking Laws in the United States
Let us begin our exploration into the laws surrounding lock picking.
What are lock picks, in the eyes of the law?
Lock picks are tools that can be used to “bypass” a lock and its security features in order to open the lock without the key.
Under the law, lock picks are commonly referenced as picklocks under their states’ legal codes and statutes.
Lock Pick Laws in the US
Most of the states follow this sentence structure as they define the law. So answering the question “are lock picks illegal?” is not as hard as you might think.
Are Lock Picks Burgluray Tools?
Under California Penal Code 466, lock picks are commonly identified as burglary tools along with,
“crow, keybit, crowbar, screwdriver, vise grip pliers, water-pump pliers, slidehammer, slim jim, tension bar, lock pick gun, tubular lock pick, bump key, floor-safe door puller, master key, ceramic or porcelain spark plug chips or pieces, or other instrument or tool with intent feloniously to break or enter into any building, railroad car, aircraft, or vessel, trailer coach, or vehicle as defined in the Vehicle Code”California Penal Code 466
That is an intimidating statement…
In the eyes of the law, lock picks are clearly classified as burglary tools. This is common in every state of the United States.
Seeing lock picks classified similarly as a crowbar and screwdriver and in the same sentence as the words “intent feloniously” is plenty of reason to immediately close your internet browser and clear your search history of terms like “how to open security pinned locks”, Sparrows Tuxedo and Peterson Kiwi.
Notice the language even mentions tension bars, bump keys, and master keys. California law has one of the more comprehensive classifications of burglary tools. It is a great list to reference.
Colorado and Georgia go on to include explosives on their list of burglary tools alongside lock picks.
Despite being understandable, it is frustrating for the tools of our hobby to be classified as such.
The hobby of lock sport is viewed by its biggest fans as a way to appreciate the craftsmanship of lock construction, key structuring, and the ingenious human engineering of striving for precision, art, and security in the most complex yet simplest-to-use assembly possible.
How you Intend to Use Your Lock Picks is Very Important!
Next, let’s read the rest of California Penal Code 466 before we simplify the wording:
“or who shall knowingly make or alter, or shall attempt to make or alter, any key or other instrument named above so that the same will fit or open the lock of a building, railroad car, aircraft, vessel, trailer coach, or vehicle as defined in the Vehicle Code, without being requested to do so by some person having the right to open the same, or who shall make, alter, or repair any instrument or thing, knowing or having reason to believe that it is intended to be used in committing a misdemeanour or felony, is guilty of a misdemeanour. Any of the structures mentioned in Section 459 shall be deemed to be a building within the meaning of this section.”California Penal Code 466
As a layman, my interpretation of the law is as follows: Tools used with the intent of unlawful access is a crime.
We were given a clear list of what is considered such a tool. These tools are similar across all the states we have researched.
We will come back to the word intent.
Unlawful access is entering or attempting to gain entry of property, vehicle, or secured item without the consent of the owner or granted permission from a person of authority.
The intent is the keyword in the wall of legal jumble we are faced with.
I will pick a lock open for a friend after they have given me permission and I have explained the potential damage my sloppy picking may do to their lock.
Merriam-Webster defines “intent” as “the thing you plan to do or achieve”.
The display of potentially misunderstood intent is where I believe people get in trouble.
Behavior such as sneaking around where you are not welcome or expected, evading detection, and or attempting to open locks using “burglary tools” or without the permission of the owner gives off an illicit intent.
You can ignore that last part, “attempting to open locks … without the permission of the owner” and still be in violation of the law. This is due to the behavior of the person carrying the “burglary locks”.
The simple act of possessing lock picks or burglary tools in an area of high theft may be seen as intent in the eyes of the courts.
Creeping around places you should not be while carrying burglary tools such as lock picks, bump keys or master keys will get you in trouble every time.
An additional item to note, you can be found guilty if you know that someone is going to use lock picks or burglary tools to perform burglary, i.e. the state of Kentucky.
During our research, we discovered another way for the law to be presented such that it would cause folks in those states to avoid lock picks and the lock sport hobby.
Lock Picking Laws what is “Prima Facie”?
We need to review this legal phrase that I believe intimidates people into assuming lock picks are illegal. The phrase is prima facie.
This is a Latin phrase that means “at first sight” or “at first view” as defined by the Legal Information Institute from Cornell University.
The states of Mississippi and Virginia use prima facie in their legal code under Burglary; possession of burglary tools.
Lock Picking Law Code for Mississippi
“It is unlawful for any person to have in his possession implements, tools, or instruments designed to aid in the commission of burglary, larceny or robbery; and on the conviction of any person thereof, he shall be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary not exceeding five (5) years, or in the county jail not exceeding one year. The carrying concealed about one’s person, or in one’s baggage, implements, tools, or instruments peculiarly adapted to aid in the commission of burglary, larceny or robbery, shall be prima facie evidence of intention to use them for such purpose.”Mississippi Code Title 97 – CRIMES Chapter 17
In this instance of the law, the lock picks are evidence in themselves of intent to commit burglary at first view.
Regardless, should this end up in court, the plaintiff will be tasked to produce evidence of all claims to support prima facie to the judge and/or jury.
Once again, without showing intent to commit burglary, you are legally allowed to possess lock picks.
However, I would avoid carrying burglary tools as you knowingly commit any other crimes, the prosecution may not take kindly to such behavior and tack on additional charges.
Did you notice the words “carrying concealed” in the Mississippi code?
Mississippi considers items concealed if they are hidden away and out of sight. Such as in your pocket, the trunk of your car, or under a blanket on the back seat of your car. A set of lock picks in a holster on your belt would not be considered a concealed carry as it would be partially visible thus not a concealed carry.
The state of West Virginia does not have a specific law about lock picks or burglary tools but obviously has a well-written law about burglary itself.
How to Own Lock Picks Legally
If you honestly order lock picks with the intent of using them for the sport of lock picking and you have some locks at home for this purpose then you won’t have any issues. This along with evidence that you are part of the community such as the lockpicking subreddit, lockpicking Facebook groups, and other social connections will be good proof you are in fact an enthusiast, not a criminal.
Finally, Just don’t be caught carrying lockpicks when you are sneaking around a building in the dark. Don’t act like you are going to do something wrong and you shouldn’t have any issues.
In conclusion, to answer the question “Are lock picks illegal?” According to our research lock picks are legal in every state in the United States.
The laws about lock picking come down to the person’s intent when carrying lock picks, master keys, bump keys, tensioners, and lock pick guns.
If you want to find the specific law for your state in the US then have a look at this great map of lock picking laws by state made by toool.us
Much like the purpose of ethical computer hacking, we can look at lock picking in a similar light. The goal of ethical computer hacking is to find weaknesses and flaws in the software.
Companies use this knowledge to strengthen their code to protect their customers and their customer’s assets. Sound familiar?
Hobbyist lock pickers may not have the ears of lock manufacturers, but a highly talented lock picker like the LockPickingLawyer can efficiently expose and communicate the vulnerabilities of a lock and its weak points to the manufacturer.
I would be comfortable with an everyday carry, EDC, kit on my person no matter the state I am in. The LockPickingLawyer also has an everyday carry kit and he was a lawyer so he would know if lock picks are illegal.
The law may come across as intimidating and make you feel like you are in the wrong, especially when states use the phrase “prima facie” and burglary tools, but don’t let that spook you away from trying your hand at lock picking.
If you can order it online through the proper channels and have it shipped to your address, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
Like a legend in the hobby frequently left us with, “Stay safe, stay legal.”
Well said, Bosnian Bill, well said.