In the business of urban survival gear, we frequently receive the comment that handcuff keys are, or should be, illegal for the average citizen to own. There is a lot of confusion about who can and cannot legally purchase and possess a handcuff key. Regarding the question of whether anyone should be allowed to carry a handcuff key, our stance is a resounding yes. Anyone can legally and easily purchase a pair of handcuffs, therefore anyone should be able to legally and easily purchase a handcuff key as well. It’s a simple matter of being prepared for anything.
Legal Gavel and Closed Law Book by Blogtrepreneur is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The legality of handcuff keys is fairly straightforward. With the exception of the state of Florida, which does have some specific restrictions on handcuff key possession, handcuff keys are legal to possess in the United States. Again, with the exception of Florida, there are no Federal or state laws restricting the ownership of handcuff keys. Of course just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s always a smart idea. We recommend that if you choose to carry a universal handcuff key on your person and you find yourself in a brush with law enforcement, you immediately inform them of the location of the key to avoid the implication of any intent on your part to escape or do harm.
We do not encourage any illegal use of handcuff keys. However, we do believe that all individuals, particularly law enforcement, military, and security professionals but not excluding prepared citizens, have the right to purchase, own, and carry a universal handcuff key in the interest of self-preservation. Handcuff keys are legal and easy to obtain and carry. There is nothing to lose from being prepared, there is everything to lose if you are not.
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.
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.
When Can You Be Legally Handcuffed?
Ask the average law-abiding American citizen when they can be placed in handcuffs legally and you’ll probably be met with a blank stare, followed by “uh, when you break the law?” Naturally, it isn’t always as black-and-white as that.
When you decide to keep a handcuff key on your person for a SHTF event, the possibility of societal collapse, and everyday preparedness, it’s essential that you know your rights. The following are situations in which you can be legally handcuffed by law enforcement. We do not advise attempting to escape in these situations, even if you question the legality of your detainment. If you feel that your civil rights have been violated, contact a civil rights attorney.
The primary law to be aware of is the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. We could take pages and pages discussing what warrants an “unreasonable” search or seizure; ultimately that will be up to the officer in the moment and is likely to vary from person to person. With this in mind:
According to a training bulletin from the Los Angeles Police Department:
“The principle reason for handcuffing an arrestee is to maintain control of the individual and to minimize the possibility of a situation escalating to a point that would necessitate using a higher level of force or restraint. The decision to use restraining procedures and devices depends on common sense and good judgment.”
Law enforcement can make a case that any of the above situations warranted handcuffing you.
What About Citizen’s Arrest?
Citizen’s arrest began as a common law that allowed for citizens to make a warrantless arrest for crimes such as prostitution and gambling. Most states have since codified those common laws, and they vary widely by state. All states require that a citizen can only legally arrest an individual if the crime happened in their presence. This extends to merchants, who enjoy in most states the ability to detain a suspected shoplifter until law enforcement arrives.
A handcuff key is an important part of your everyday carry, but should not be used when you have been detained by law enforcement, especially considering the lack of rigidity surrounding the legality of detainment. It will be easier for an officer to defend their choice to handcuff you than it will be for you to defend your choice to escape custody. It is much wiser to seek professional legal counsel if you feel your civil rights have been violated.
It’s true that, aside from law enforcement and military personnel, the individuals you are most likely to find in possession of a handcuff key are the bad guys. But beware of drawing fallacious conclusions: possession of a handcuff key does not a criminal make. It simply follows that those who are most likely to desire a secret way of escape are those who have something they feel the need to escape from: i.e. jail time.
Because of this notion, we often receive earnest questioning from people who wonder why in the world we would market a tiny inconspicuous handcuff key to the general public. They are sure that the majority of our clientele must be those who would do harm to the good guys. While we acquiesce that products falling into the “wrong hands” is an unfortunate reality of the marketplace (and one that we do not condone), consider the fact that handcuffs also can also be purchased by anyone.
Take, for example, the very recent story of a Los Angeles couple who were detained in their own home by home invaders in ski masks. The couple was detained not with rope, wire, zip ties, or any other shady tool to which we may erroneously assume the bad guys are limited. They used regular old handcuffs. Fortunately the couple was not harmed in this case by the trespassers brandishing a screwdriver and a handgun- merely robbed. No one would suggest that they should have freed themselves, should they have had the means, while the invaders were in their home, but who knows how long they had to wait, and scream for help, and pray that the thieves didn’t return while they sat helplessly cuffed?
Choosing to possess a universal handcuff key as part of your everyday carry is not an immediate sign of a criminal, or even of a paranoid person. It’s the choice of someone who knows how frequently the bad guys use handcuffs, and who chooses to do everything in their power to be ready, should the worst-case-scenario happen. It’s about taking responsibility for your life into your own hands, rather than putting it into the hands of someone who would do you harm.
Why should a universal handcuff key be made available for everyone to purchase? While handcuffs themselves are in use by Law Enforcement Officers in order to protect and serve our communities, they can be legally purchased by anyone. It only takes a few minutes to place an order online and obtain the exact same handcuffs used by Law Enforcement nationwide.
If anyone can easily own a handcuff then why would it be illegal to own a handcuff key? It is not. In fact, there is no Federal or state law restricting ownership of handcuff keys.
While there are too many situations to list in which a Universal Handcuff Key could come in handy, the legality of its use is important to consider. If you are legally detained by a Law Enforcement officer and utilize a handcuff key, shim or other implement to remove the hand cuffs then you are crossing the chasm of legality. By doing so you have exponentially increased the risk to the arresting officer, and their potential response to your self-induced "freedom" may be commensurate. Along those same lines, it would be wise to notify an arresting officer of a Universal Handcuff Key on your person to avoid any ambiguity regarding your intent to escape or do harm.
So then why would anybody want to own or carry a Universal Handcuff Key? If you're a criminal, or plan on committing criminal acts, then you should not put yourself or any public servant's life in danger by having one. If you're a Law Enforcement Officer, Active-duty Military, Private Security, or other first responder then you should always have a backup universal handcuff key- for countless reasons. If you're a law-abiding citizen with common sense and want to be prepared for the unexpected event which may require its use then you also should own one.
In conclusion, handcuffs are prolific devices that can be purchased by anyone, including criminals. We do not encourage illegal use of our product, but firmly believe that a citizen has every right to own our product and make the decision on when they use it.
Notice to Florida Residents:
In the State of Florida there are some specific restrictions on handcuff key possession that prevent them from being carried by a person in a manner that could indicate an intent to prevent discovery by a law enforcement officer, unless you yourself are a law enforcement or security officer. You can find out more on this Florida State government website: http://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2011/843.021
Disclaimer: The TIHK is only to be used to counter illegal detainment and in accordance with all local, state and federal laws by trained law enforcement, military and security professionals. Improper use by civilians is not endorsed or encouraged. Use of the product is at your own personal risk and discretion.
Last Updated: October 10, 2017
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