For lock picking enthusiasts and survivalists alike, the legality of lock picks is a tricky subject. The good news is that in most of the United States and many countries around the world, the sale, transfer, and possession of lock picking tools is not illegal.
The language we use to discuss the legality of lock picking can be a breeding ground for misunderstanding, so let’s take a moment to clarify what we mean by some of the phrases we use.
Not illegal: There are no specific laws rendering illegal the sale, transfer, and/or possession of lock picking tools.
Prima facie evidence: The mere possession of lock picking tools is considered intent to break the law. It is illegal to possess lock picking tools in these states.
Must show intent: The mere possession of lock picking tools is legal; intent to break the law with the tools must be shown before possession of lock picking tools can be considered a crime.
It is legal to pick any lock that you have received permission from the lock’s owner to pick. It is also legal to pick any lock that belongs to you. Picking locks that do not belong to you and/or that you do not have permission to pick is illegal.
So let’s get down to it: where can and can’t you legally possess lock picking tools? The following states have laws that explicitly consider possession of lock picks prima facie evidence:
If you possess lock picking tools in any of these states, you can be charged with intent to commit a crime. Whether you actually do intend to break the law is irrelevant.
West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Indiana have no specific laws about possession of lock picking tools. Therefore in those states possession is not illegal. The remaining 41 states all have laws rendering the possession of lock picking tools legal, with the inclusion that intent to break the law must be shown before the possessor can be charged with a crime. The language here regarding “intent” is deliberately murky, to allow for a lot of wiggle room among a wide range of possible scenarios. Your local law enforcement and governing body will have the final say on what constitutes intent.
The best ways to avoid running into a snag with the law are:
For links and further information please visit our Guidelines page.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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