Are lockpicks legal to own? Are lockpicks legal to use? These are questions I hear frequently, and had myself when I was first starting out.
The answer to the question is about as confusing as the question itself. Yes and No.
Why all the confusion? Mainly because it depends on a large number of things. First and foremost, lockpicks are legal on a federal level. So no, you will not be arrested by the FBI for having lockpicks. In fact, they are an essential part of any professional locksmith kit.
Now that you are completely relaxed, the easy to understand parts of the locksmith laws is over. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Are lockpicks legal at the state level?
In the majority of states, lockpicks are completely legal without any mention of it to begin with. The general consensus is that you are completely within your legal rights to own and use any lockpicks as long as you are using them on your own property.
And that doesn’t mean at your house. Your own property is property that you own, or property that you have permission to pick.
Small Note: Don’t pick the lock on your rental property. You can damage the lock, and that is just not cool. If you don’t own it, don’t pick it, unless you’re a professional working on a job.
So I’m good then, right?
There are some specific states that consider the simple possession of lockpicks to be prima facie which seems to be latin for “You are a terrible human being, and I just know you’re up to something. Creeper.”
Prima facie evidence is evidence that basically says you are guilty from the start because obviously you are.
To give you an example of prima facie, imagine walking in on your significant other while they were in the throws of passion with a grapefruit. A very sticky situation, for sure, and prima facie evidence that they are cheating on you with the produce aisle.
Not a good start to breakfast, for sure.
So say no to lockpicks?
Also, this is not necessary.
Imagine your significant other now, and now they have presented you with counter evidence that proves to you that they were simply trying to make a fruit salad while naked, and you walked in while the weirdest part of that particular scenario was unfolding. But they were not, in fact, in the throws of passion as it appeared.
This is basically what the courts are expecting you to do when faced with prima facie evidence.
Instead of the age old phrase “innocent until proven guilty”, in the face of prima facie evidence you have to prove yourself innocent.
It is your choice whether to risk this, and we are not going to give our opinion one way or the other on that particular subject. Just understand that if you do choose to own lockpicks while in one of these states, you are putting yourself at risk of legal ramifications.
At the very least you’re going to get a stern talking to from your local judge.
So which states does this affect?
Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia all have laws specifically referencing possession of lockpicks as prima facie evidence of intent. Illinois allows for lockpicks, but does consider bump keys to be prima facie evidence of intent.
Tennessee is the only state that specifically outlaws lockpicks on their face:
“No person who is not licensed under this act shall possess, use, sell, or offer to sell any code book, lock picking tool, manipulation key, try-out key, safe opening tool, or car opening tool. (h) No person shall sell, offer to sell, or give to any person not licensed under this act any code book, lock picking tool, manipulation key, try-out key, safe opening tool, or car opening tool.”
Which means in pretty clear english that you aren’t able to possess lockpicks in Tennessee without being licensed as a locksmith. The reasoning behind this is less about burglary and more about fraud. By limiting access to lockpicks, they believe they are able to minimize the threat of fraudulent locksmiths in the state. It is an honorable desire, for sure, but it hampers the ability for those within the state to practice the craft and build the skills necessary to grow before getting licensed.
So are lockpicks legal outside these states?
It amuses me that you are so innocent. Let me introduce you to counties. Also municipalities.
The point is that you need to be aware of more than just state and federal laws when going into business. Miami-Dade, for instance, has stricter regulations than Florida state. In fact, Florida’s locksmithing regulations are handled on the county level, which means each county will have it’s own laws. This limits where you can do business as a locksmith in these states, so you really need to pay attention to this.
Are lockpicks legal anywhere else?
If this article has taught you anything, let it be that laws change based on your location. We do what we can to gather as much information about whether or not lockpicks are legal in a particular area, but the world is a large place, and there are millions of variations on each law. The best thing you can do is be deliberate about how you plan to use your lockpicks, and research the particular areas that you will be going, the modes of transportation you will use to get there, and anything in between.
And if you are aware of a particular lockpick law that we are missing, don’t hesitate to contact us, or leave a comment on this article.
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