Is lock picking illegal?
There is no greater question, nor deterrent, for those wishing to how to use a lock pick set than the fear of breaking the law in the process.
And rightfully so. The very nature of lock picking is to subtly bypass locks. So questioning its legality is totally understandable.
So is it illegal to buy a lock pick set?
Buying and owning locksmithing tools is legal in most states and most other countries around the world. Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois, Nevada, Ohio, and Virgin have specific laws directly restricting lock picking tools.
Let's dive a little deeper into what makes them legal in some states and what special rules we need to follow in others.
Or if you are just looking for your local laws, just jump down a little further and check out our interactive map of United States Lock Picking Laws.
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Lock Picking Legality Terms
To truly understand lock picking laws, we have to break down three simple legal definitions that govern the possession of lock picks.
Don't worry they are pretty straightforward:
- Not Illegal: In some states, like North Dakota, there are no specific laws regarding lock picks or locksmithing tools. In these states lock picks are not mentioned by any laws, thus possession of lock picks is not illegal.
- Prima Facie Evidence: Prima Facie is a fancy Latin term that essentially means, "guilty until proven innocent." In states enforcing prima facie evidence, merely possessing lock picks is intent to commit a crime — regardless if you were or not. So if you are caught with lock picks in these states, you may have to prove that you had no intent to use them in a malicious manner. For this reason, we consider them illegal in these states.
- Must Show Intent: In most states, and most of the world, owning lock picks is 100% legal. It is only when you use them in an illegal way that you will find trouble. Lock picks in these states are seen by the law in the same light as a screwdriver or hammer. All of these tools can be used illegally, but until you show intent to use them for criminal purposes, they are just tools.
United States Lock Picking Laws By State
In the US there are several states that have unique laws regarding the possession of lock picks. Three of these states have specific laws directly restricting lock picking tools. These states are:
- Mississippi: Possession of lock picks is legal so long as they are not concealed. However, once you put them in your pocket it becomes intent to commit a crime. If you live in this state and own lock picks, leave them at home.
- Tennessee: Possession of lock picks is legal, however, Tennessee has some very strict laws to prevent locksmith fraud. If you live in this state it is illegal to use your skills for any sort of profit unless you are a licensed locksmith. If you don't have a license be sure to keep it a hobby.
- Illinois: Possession of lock picks is legal, however, the possession of bump keys is illegal.
- Nevada: Illegal; Possession can be prima facie evidence of criminal intent. You may have to prove noncriminal intent.
- Ohio: Illegal; Possession can be prima facie evidence of criminal intent. You may have to prove noncriminal intent.
- Virginia: Illegal; Possession can be prima facie evidence of criminal intent. You may have to prove noncriminal intent.
Here is our interactive map containing current United States lock picking laws. Hover over your state to check the legality of possessing lock picks and click to read relevant law excerpts.
CHOOSE YOUR STATE!
Please note: This chart is specific to lock pick possession. I do my best to represent the current laws on this chart and keep it updated, however, I do not guarantee its accuracy.
So as you can see, in the majority of the United States locks picks are completely legal to purchase and use. So if you were on the fence about picking up your first lock pick set and jumping into this amazing craft due to legal concerns, hopefully, this short little guide was the push you needed.
Remember that the best way to protect yourself from the law is to know the law. Not every cop nor attorney knows every law so knowing your local laws could one day save you from an unfortunate situation.
Also, in general, just don't do anything stupid and follow the golden rules of lock picking. Only pick locks that you personally own or have explicit permission from the owner to pick and you'll likely never have to fear dropping the soap.
The misinformation about lock picking is sadly one of the greatest reasons most don’t undertake this awesome hobby. Be sure to share this post and help crush the misconceptions that keep so many from starting their own lock picking journey!