The legality of lock pick guns depends on the laws on lock picking and lock picking tools in your jurisdiction. These will vary by state and municipality. Some jurisdictions draw distinctions between simply owning a lock pick gun and having one in your possession in public.
We are not attorneys, and this article should not be construed as legal advice. This article will look at how various jurisdictions commonly implement lock pick laws regarding lock pick guns. That said, it is important to note that laws can change and that this is just a layman’s interpretation of those laws for informational purposes.
How Are Lock Pick Laws Structured?
To understand how different jurisdictions apply lock picking laws, it is necessary to familiarize yourself with how they are structured and codified.
The first step to follow to determine if lock pick guns are legal for you is to make yourself aware of what jurisdiction you fall under for lock picking related issues.
In the United States, this means that you need to be aware of what federal, state, and local (county or municipal) statutes have to say regarding the possession and use of lock pick guns.
At the federal level, there isn’t a specific statute that makes purchasing, using, or owning a lock pick gun illegal unless it is being used for a malicious purpose, such as illegally entering a property without the owner’s consent.
Even in those circumstances, federal law would only apply when the alleged criminal activity took place on federal land.
The federal law that relates most directly to lockpick guns is found in Title 39 Section 3002a of the U.S. Code. This prohibits using the United States Postal Service from being used to ship any locksmithing device, lock pick guns being classified as locksmithing devices.
This law exempts locksmith manufacturers, bona fide locksmiths, car dealers, and vehicle repossessors from these restrictions.
If you are not among those exempted, receiving a lock pick gun via the U.S. Mail could put you in violation of this law. The most common workaround employed and suggested by the sellers of lockpick guns is to use a private courier service such as UPS, FedEx, etc. for such deliveries.
As long as you have not broken any federal laws in the acquisition of your lock pick gun, it is primarily the laws of your state that will determine what is considered legal in terms of ownership, possession, and usage.
State statutes regarding lock pick guns’ legality will normally fall under the sections of your state’s penal code related to locksmithing, burglary, and home invasion issues.
It is important to mention that even if your state does not forbid by statute your use and possession of a lock pick gun in the manner of your choosing, local laws and ordinances can do so.
By local laws, we refer to the county or municipal laws specific to the city or county where you live. It is entirely possible that even if you live in a state where lock pick guns are legal, that local ordinances would apply stricter restrictions on their use.
This is why it is wise to check your municipal code along with state laws.
Such variances between local and state law are more prone to exist in states that provide their cities and counties with home rule powers.
How is the Law Applied?
After ascertaining what jurisdiction applies to you regarding lock pick guns, you then need to determine how the law is applied. This may sound like a straightforward issue. After all, if a law is on the books, it is cut and dried, right?
The reality is that when it comes to the law, its application has a lot to do with how it is actively interpreted, established precedence, and even prosecutorial discretion with regards to enforcement.
It can be very easy to get entangled in the legalese involved with such interpretations. To avoid needless confusion regarding the legality of a lock pick gun, it is best to focus on five key areas of the law that apply in your jurisdiction.
How Lock Pick Guns Are Mentioned in State Statutes
Only nine states specifically mention the word “lock pick”—or a direct derivative of it—in their statutes. California is one of the few that includes the term “lock pick gun” in an itemized fashion in Section 466 of its Penal Code.
In most states, the statutes used to cover the use and possession of lockpick guns use broader terms such as “locksmithing tools, burglary tools, and larcenous instruments.”
However, in terms of interpretation, most states would cover lock pick guns under one of the broader categories listed above. Any mention of those categories should be taken to include lock pick guns.
Simply because your state’s statutes do not make specific mention of “lock pick guns” does not mean that you are in the clear.
States That Lack Statutes Covering Lock Pick Guns
Five states lack any statutory mention of lock pick guns or the broader terms that may be used to infer to them. These are:
- North Dakota
- West Virginia
These states do have laws against burglary and unauthorized entry. However, there is no mention or reference to tools that may be construed as aides to such activity.
Therefore, no law would prohibit you from having a lock pick gun in your possession, in public or private, as long as you are not using it to commit an illegal act that is codified in their statutes.
States and Prima Facie Evidence
If you live in a state with specific laws related to lockpicking, you need to ascertain if your state applies prima facie with regards to how they apply the law.
Prima facie is a legal term that refers to “on first appearance.” This means that if your state were to make carrying a lockpick gun in public, concealing a lockpick gun in public, or owning one anywhere if you are not a licensed locksmith illegal; on prima facie, if you are caught in possession of a lockpick gun in an area outside of your property, even if you are not using it, would put you in violation of the law.
States where the possession of a lock pick gun could be presented as a prima facie evidentiary exhibition of culpability, include:
- Nevada. Prima facie applies to evidence of intent only in Nevada.
- Mississippi. Prima facie would apply in Mississippi if the lockpick gun were to be found on your person in a concealed fashion. Carrying a lockpick gun in open view in public would not be seen as a violation.
- Virginia. Prima facie applies whether the lockpick gun is in the open or concealed when you are not a “licensed dealer.”
- Ohio. Similar to Nevada, prima facie in Ohio would apply to establish intent.
States With Strict Locksmithing Regulations
Two states have strict laws governing and limiting the use and possession of locksmithing tools, such as lock pick guns, to licensed locksmiths. In these states, possession of a lockpick gun would also need to be weighed against these added restrictions.
- Tennessee. In Tennessee, possession of a lock pick gun by an unlicensed locksmith to commercialize locksmithing services is illegal. Simply having a lockpick gun as a private citizen is not illegal.
- North Carolina. Locksmiths need to be licensed in this state. Lock pick guns are not illegal and can be demonstrated legally, provided it doesn’t involve charging a fee for the service if you are unlicensed.
Remaining States Require Intent
The remaining states not mentioned in the sections above require criminal activity intent in the use of a lockpick gun to be demonstrated by the suspect to make the use or possession of the lock pick gun a criminal act. Otherwise, it is legal to own and use one for non-criminal purposes.
Wrapping Up the Legality of Lock Pick Guns
A lock pick gun is a tool that is commonly used by locksmiths in the deployment of their services. It is also used as a learning tool for lock picking hobbyists. Unfortunately, the potential for criminal misuse of such a tool does exist.
As such, before acquiring a lock pick gun or transporting it in public, you should make yourself knowledgeable of the laws governing their use and possession for the state and municipality in which you reside. In most areas of the U.S., a lock pick gun in private ownership is not illegal.