Is Lock Picking Legal?

There are several questions that I get when I teach my Urban Survival Course (aka Tactical Lock Picking). “Yeah, but is it legal to own lock picks?” is one of the top three, for sure. And the answer, like most things in life, is “It Depends”…

Why is America so great? Freedom!!!!! Kinda!!!!!!! …

Federal Law

Lockwiki lists two US Codes that discuss Lock Picks as “Nonmailable” items that the USPS should dispose of. It also makes taking part in the mailing process as sender or receiver finable and an arrest-able misdemeanor. The two US Codes below take you to the actual codes to read for yourself.

39 USC section 3002a – Defined, and listed as Non-mailable.

18 USC section 1716a –  Listed as Non-mailable and provides criminal charges.

That being said I can find NO evidence of any action taken against anybody for said federal charges. Lockwiki states that: “In practice, online retailers and hobbyist organizations regularly sell and ship picks and other accouterments without incident.”

I have never had an issue with the US mail, but I am a big fan of knowing the source document instead of playing the “I think that…” game. I don’t think there is a big risk in ordering tools but I am not a lawyer and I am not offering legal advice.

Now, you should look into it as well, but I have found no FEDERAL law that prohibits “ownership or possession” of lock picks. Just the mail. Which begs me to ask so many questions to the idiots in charge…. ugh.

Another phrasing of this question about lock picking legalities is TSA, surprisingly. I love how the mind works… “Is it legal to own, and can I take it through TSA?”. That’s the mind of a Citizen in a free country… right? #criticalthinking

The answer? I don’t know for certain because of one major reason. I can’t read every fucking piece of federal legislation because there are so God damned many!!! Let alone fucking FINDING every weird agency and regulation to even begin to search through them!

ok. I feel better.

BUT I did go ahead and link to TSA’s “Prohibited Items” list HERE, their actual webpage. What I found out was that Lock Picks were not a prohibited item on their weird ass list. BUT this little gem was posted conspicuously at the top of the page:

The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.” -TSA Website

So what does all of THIS mean? Two things. ONE is that TSA does not list Lock Picks as a prohibited item on carry-on for your flights, but does give the TSA Officer the legal authority to deny any item (#freedom). TWO is personal experience that from going through TSA a few hundred times with several lock picks both in my wallet and in my carry on I have only ONCE ever received a question about them from a TSA agent. “What are these?” Oh. They’re lock picks. I’m in the military, I use them at work; was my response.

  • Social Engineering Principle: If you look like you belong…you belong.

The agent did not ask for my Military ID, he did not ask to see a badge, he did not know if they really were lock picks or not since he had no fucking clue and made no effort to confirm what they were. And I walked away smiling, and living my life.

 

State Law

www.Toool.us gives a VERY nice layout of some of the generalized legal stances of most of the 50 states. In Florida, the state that I work in as a local LEO, Toool has it listed correctly that the possession of “Burglary Tools” is an additional Felony charge if said burglary tools are in your possession with “intent“.

Lock Pick Laws by state

…So don’t do stupid things, with stupid people, in stupid places, at stupid times.

Most states allow private ownership and possession of lock pick tools. Some are considered evidence of criminal intent. Some also state that things like “performing unlicensed locksmithing” is an arrest-able offense.

Do your own research. I’d start with the TOOOL.us State List and then I would ALSO go to your State’s actual source document in your state code or state statutes to confirm.

Local Law

I searched both my City Code and my County Code for offenses relating to Lock Picks, Lockpicks, Lock Smith, Locksmith, etc. I found absolutely nothing listed. But there are SO many local laws for localities around the country that I would spend the 60 seconds doing so for yourself if I were you. OK, It will PROBABLY take more than 60 seconds if you are in a big freedom-hating locality like NYC or SoCal. I’m sure their legal systems are a nightmare.

In Practice:

Ok, here’s the rub. Think about if you have ever heard a conversation similar to this experience I have had several times both in uniform and with other Cops I know, and with Citizens and as a passerby listening to uniformed cops speak with other random Citizens…

I walk into a 7-11 for a drink. I pass by two uniformed cops talking to an animated Citizen. “So my friend and I had this argument the other day…” the Citizen says to the cop. It’s all about what he and his friend think the gun law is for the state. Can it be in your car? Can it be in your Glove Box? Does the ammo have to be separate? HERE’s the fucked up part … the Cops look at each other and THEY say “Well, I think..” Holy shit.

At this point we have a problem. Should it really be that difficult? Well no. It shouldn’t be. But sometimes it is. What does a “two step rule” really mean? One step to reach for the gun, one step to draw it? Or one step to open glove box and one step to load magazine? Who the fuck knows. The point is that Cops usually arrest people for like TEN COMMON CRIMES, people hitting one another take up about 5 spots, traffic arrests, domestic violence, and theft takes up the last few spots. I know there are others, but if those ten are the ones that you do on a daily basis than sometimes It’s hard to memorize for a prolonged period of dis-use all the ins and outs of things like weapon laws. Lock Pick law is WAYYYY down the list for any LEO I have ever met. Most have absolutely no freaking idea what a lock pick actually looks like, let alone if they are legal to own or not.

But this is a good thing. Why?

Because if you follow the above rule: “Stupid things, stupid people, stupid times, stupid places…” and somehow you come into contact with Law Enforcement, and somehow they ask you what the tiny bent metal items are in your wallet or purse or pocket, than you can have a pretty good shot that being a normal freaking Citizen you can explain what they are, why you have them, and you may find the Cop hanging on your every word “No way! Can you pick THIS type of lock? or THAT? And hey, are those even legal to own??”

“Yes” you can respond.

Because sometimes if you look like you belong, you belong.

And sometimes Cops don’t arrest normal people for stupid shit.

Stay smart, stay safe, stay legal.

-RW