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Are Lockpicks Illegal in California? This article will tell you.Are Lockpicks Illegal in California? To answer the question specifically, we need to start by looking at California Penal Code 466. Without boring you to death with the actual text, essentially what it tells us is that if you have anything in your possession with intent to use it to illegally gain entry to a thing than you are breaking the law, and will be charged with a misdemeanor of having burglary tools. That “anything” could be lockpicks, for sure, or it could be a rock. It all comes down to proving intent.

So, are lockpicks illegal in California? The short answer is no. The long answer is that if you are illegally using those picks to gain entry to a building, vehicle, or anything else, then yes.

This bit is important

Burglary is only one illegal activity that can be done with lockpicks. Before you run off thinking you have had your question answered, protect yourself a bit more by reading the rest.

It is important that we touch on the rest of the California locksmith laws, so that we can fully understand the scope of California Penal Code 466 as it relates to using lockpicks.

What is a Locksmith?

Let’s start with what exactly California considers a “locksmith” to be.

Locksmith: “Locksmith” means any person who, for any consideration or compensation whatsoever, engages, directly or indirectly and as a primary or secondary object, in the business of rekeying, installing, repairing, opening, modifying locks, or who originates keys for locks … A “locksmith” does not mean a person whose activities are limited to making a duplicate key from an existing key.

Let’s break this down a bit. Basically, what they’re saying is, if you perform locksmithing tasks above and beyond simple duplicating of keys, you are a locksmith. For the purposes of this question, let’s look at the italicized section above (italics are mine). In this case, it could be considered locksmithing to open locks for pay. To do this, however, one must have a license. This is the key. Without a license, then yes, lockpicks are illegal in California.

Background Checks and Education

One of the things required to get a locksmith license in California is a background check. That involves two sets of fingerprints, a statement as to whether you have ever been arrested or convicted of a misdemeanor, as well as a statement as to whether you have ever been convicted of a felony. That’s a lot.

If you ever want to become a locksmith though, it’s important to keep reading, because that statement of conviction could bite you in the rear if you’re ever arrested for using your lockpicks illegally.

On the bright side, there aren’t any defined education requirements in California, so let’s move on.


Licenses are valid for 2 years, and have an application and licensing fee of around $75.

It is stipulated, also, that a locksmith must obtain a signed work order before proceeding with work. It’s a hoop that you might not consider, unless you have trained as a proper locksmith. This is good, it gets us closer to our question “Are lockpicks illegal in California?” How? Because it shows that before you can use your locksmithing skill, you have to obtain information about the owner, and get their signed permission to do work. This would imply the above, that you are doing work for compensation. Hence the work order.

So, are lockpicks illegal in California?

No, lockpicks themselves are not immediately illegal in California. The issue arises when you use those lockpicks outside of a hobbyist setting. If you ever plan to use your lockpicks to open a lock for money, you need to get yourself a locksmithing license. That said, locksmithing licenses in California aren’t that expensive, and are relatively simple to qualify for. If you are a skilled lock-picker you may consider getting your license just to cover yourself.

Keep your picks in your pocket, and don’t go messing around with your neighbor’s locks, and you should be fine. If you don’t already have picks, you can pick a good starter set up here. If you’re interested in going deeper than just locksport, we have detailed instructions for what it takes to become a full fledged locksmith in California, as well as our 6 week course to help you along the way.

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