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Is It Legal to Own a Lock Picking Tool Set in the US?

— September 15, 2023

Broadly, you can own lock-pick sets in many American states. But please refrain from initiating a locksmith enterprise sans proper licensing.

Owning a lock pick set is not against the law, including any tools for opening the locks. The legality of lock picking hinges on the intent of its use. So, if an individual possesses a lock pick set with the intent of unlawfully entering another person’s vehicle or residence, such an action would be considered illegal. Conversely, owning the lock pick set for accessing one’s own car or dwelling is not deemed illegal. 

The same principle holds for items like bump keys or any similar tool. In most American states, there are zero inherent legal issues of having or owning these items. But if they are employed as intended (primarily for trespassing into someone else’s property), that constitutes a criminal act.

Nonetheless, if you repurpose these tools for unintended use, for instance, unlocking one’s own property, the ownership of these items does not entail any legal repercussions. Further, please acknowledge that each state maintains its own distinct regulations concerning the lock ownership of pick sets or related paraphernalia. In this guide, we will take you through the specific legal framework in different states regarding the lock pick sets’ use and possession.

When is it illegal to own a lock-picking tool set?

Here are some instances when owning a lock-picking tool set is considered illegal:

Criminal Intent

The law prohibits owning lock pick sets when the individuals who possess these tools hold them with the intent of theft or trespassing. The illegality of carrying these tool sets arises from their use by those with malicious intent. While lock pick sets can be exploited by criminals for unauthorized access and theft, not every owner harbors criminal intent. Many individuals buy these tools out of curiosity to learn about lock mechanisms or to gather insights into the lock-picking techniques, which can be practical if the owner loses the key.

Violation of Law

The initial rationale for the illegality pertains to federal regulations. As per 18 USC § 922(g)(1), it is illegal for any individual convicted of a crime resulting in a punishment of over one year in prison for possessing ammunition or a firearm. It also encompasses bump keys, lock picks, and analogous implements used to unlock without authorized access. Possessing these items, even sans their actual unlawful usage, falls within the purview of this statute. Hence, it can render one susceptible to criminal charges and hefty fines. 

Considered tools of theft or destruction

Another reason for the prohibition of lock-picking sets revolves around the justification that these tools are classified as implements of larceny and disruption. It underscores their ability to breach security systems: doors, vehicles, safes, etc. Hence, if any individual misuses these tools to unlawfully infiltrate a car or residence, it falls under the breaking crime, universally regarded as illegal across all American states.

Specific state regulation regarding possession of lock-pick sets


Close up shot of door with lock; image by Bernard Hermant, via
Close up shot of door with lock; image by Bernard Hermant, via

Owning any device or instrument meant for use in criminal acts, including burglary or theft, is prohibited by state law. It includes the instruments used to force open safes or pick locks. Such crime is punishable by law and attracts a fine of up to $500 or 12 months jail term.


You cannot own a device meant for use in evading detection when committing crimes. It includes all instruments meant for lock-picking or force opening the safes.


California law prohibits possession of burglar’s tools, including lock picks. So, if you get caught with them, you are charged with a misdemeanor if you fail to prove your fair intent to use the key.

New York

In New York, you cannot possess a key to open more than one lock sans permission from the lock owner or the manufacturer. This law holds if you wish to use this key for criminal activities.


In Virginia, unauthorized possession of tools intended for lock manipulation is prohibited, except for authorized law enforcement officers. Those who own such instruments must have a valid reason for having them.


In Colorado, it is illegal to use a lock pick set on any locks except those on your own property or your landlord’s property. However, you can possess a lock pick set if you use it on your landlord’s property or your property. 


Employing a lock pick set on any locks other than those on the landlord’s or personal property is unlawful in Colorado. However, it is permissible if intended for use on landlord’s pr personal property.


You can legally possess and use locksmith tools in Michigan sans any restrictions, provided they are not meant for criminal purposes.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island allows the lock pick sets’ ownership, provided you do not use them in the crime commission. The state has no specified guidelines on their use or possession. The only barring is you cannot use them for unlawful purposes.

Virginia, Ohio, and Nevada

In Virginia, Ohio, and Nevada, possessing such tools is considered prima facie evidence, necessitating individuals to prove their lack of criminal intent. 


While Mississippi lets you own a lock-pick set, you cannot hide it from the authority, as concealed ownership is prima facie evidence. 


The laws in Tennessee are less precise, but it appears you can possess it for non-profit use.


You can own lock picks and bump keys, which do not imply criminal intent alone. This legality shifts when employed unlawfully. But if apprehended using them for crimes like burglary, additional charges alongside tool possession apply.

New Hampshire

There are no guiding laws prohibiting the lock pick set possession. It implies that you can legally own them without employing them to break into a building or vehicle.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, too, it is legal to own a lock pick set. There are no prohibitions on possession, but you can be charged with theft if you use them for criminal activities.

New Mexico

An individual can own a lock pick set and employ it for legitimate purposes like opening a container or locked door. However, the law does not permit to use of these tools for unlawful activities.

Bottom Line

Broadly, you can own lock-pick sets in many American states. But please refrain from initiating a locksmith enterprise sans proper licensing. Further, do not unlock unauthorized locks, and always adhere to the guidelines. You must strictly manipulate only the locks you own.

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