What is a Bona Fide Locksmith?

If you are interested in lockpicking, you may from time to time see the disclaimer on a website that certain lock picking items will only be sold to “bona fide” locksmiths. The United States Postal Service, for example, considers lock picking tools non-mailable except when they are being shipped to a bona fide locksmith. The question then arises- what does “bona fide” even mean?

    “Bona fide” is a Latin term that literally means “good faith”. In the context of law it essentially means “the real thing, without the intention of defrauding”. A bona fide locksmith is, therefore, a real locksmith. The implication here is that the locksmith in question is certified to the fullest extent required by their jurisdiction. You may quickly find that this is still not enough information, however. The term “bona fide locksmith” is hazy and less specific than it could be, because not every state requires a license to practice as a locksmith. There is a wide variety of voluntary professional certifications available, particularly through Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA). (Voluntary professional certifications like those provided by ALOA are not required by law to practice as a locksmith; rather they work to establish credibility among customers and professional peers.)

    The states that currently require licensing prior to operating as a locksmith are Alabama, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York City, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Please do not consider this list exhaustive or authoritative, and do your own research before purchasing lock picking tools.

    It is worth noting that most states allow possession of lock picking tools by anyone. The issue of being a “bona fide locksmith” most often comes into play when discussing the transfer of said tools using the United States Postal Service. If you buy the tools in person or without using USPS in most states, you are not required to provide proof that you are a bona fide locksmith. Similarly, most online stores will not require you to furnish proof. Some require you to check a box agreeing that you are a bona fide locksmith before they will ship to you for purposes of their own liability. We recommend telling the truth and paying close attention to whether you can legally be considered a “bona fide locksmith” in your state, but among the recreational locksmithing community it’s agreed that there is a lot of wiggle room in this area when it comes to ordering products online for your own personal, legal use.