A gun safe is a hefty investment, but it pays off with peace of mind that your collection is secure against nearly any scenario.
What makes a quality gun safe:
- Protects against both theft and fire.
- Maintains internal temperature below 350° F in a 1,300° fire for around 1 hour.
- 10 gauge steel body and a thicker gauge door, preferably plate steel.
- Box assembled with continuous welds.
- Combination or electronic (keypad) lock.
- Easily concealable in your home.
- Attachable to the fabric of your home (i.e. floor or wall).
- Holds existing collection with room for more guns in the future.
- Interior lining to protect guns' finish.
- Dehumidifier and lights top aftermarket upgrades.
Like breathing or blinking, meticulousness is naturally part of gun owners. Long range shooters record their every shot so they can predict where the next one will land. Handgunners spend countless hours perfecting every movement so pistol manipulation is glass-smooth and second nature. And clay shooters work overtime visualizing every possible way to track and vaporize blue rock mid-fight.
However, shooters, being human, are full of contradictions and the inborn quality to sweat the small stuff doesn't bleed over into every fiber of their passion. Perhaps, one of the most glaring examples is gun storage. We all know a few of them. The friend who has a tack-driver worth a couple grand he stows under his bed in the hard case it was sold in. It's playing with fire — potentially in a literal fashion.
Those who take their firearms seriously should also approach how they store them with the same gravity as they would dialing in a shot or scrubbing a bore to a mirror shine. Which is why, sooner rather than later, a gun safe should top the list of firearms necessities.
It's generally not an investment to take lightly since gun safes are expensive and the importance of the service they'll provide you and your collection. But, taking a studied approach, developing an understanding of exactly what they offer and weighing each one's benefits is certain to make your money well spent and give you priceless peace of mind.
Threats A Gun Safe Thwarts
Generally speaking, there are two primary threats to firearms in the home: fire and theft. For the most part, gun safe companies and the media pump up the former over the latter as the greater of the two and they're not off base. A house fire is, overall, a greater statistical danger. That said, these statistics are subjective; there are certain corners of the country where crime burns hotter than house fires. Ideally, just to be on the safe side, you should shop for a gun safe that protects against both.
An additional point, while not a threat in a traditional sense, a gun safe also provides a way to control access to your guns, an important factor, especially if you have children. As Massad Ayoob points out in his book Gun Safety, realistically there is no way to gun-proof your home, so you must gun-proof your child by teaching them the respect and responsibility of owning firearms. Nevertheless, sometime in their life, they might have less-than-mature friends who formulate less-than-mature notions. Nipping catastrophe in the bud with Cannon, Winchester or what have you safe is well worth the investment.
Types Of Gun Safes
Not all gun safes are created equal. In fact, not all gun safes are really gun safe. For the most part, there are two types of gun storage options: actual gun safes and gun lockers. Confusingly, for the sake of marketing juice, many gun lockers call themselves gun safes. Clear as mud now? There's no bright line between safe and locker, but if there is a major distinction it's fire protection. Gun safes have it, lockers don't.
Depending on steel gauge, lockers are a viable option, especially for those who have certain constraints. If you rent a fourth-floor apartment, a light-weight, quality built system by Stack-On or SecureIt could be your only avenue to gun security. Few building owners are keen on testing the structural integrity of a floor by pressing down on it with 500-plus-pounds of metal box.
For smaller collections, there's an oddball selection of handgun safes, rapid-access safes (a handgun safe for the most part) and hidden gun safes. In general, most of these systems hold no more than a few guns — typically one handgun — and offer no true security or fire protection. All in all, they secure a gun and offer fast access, usually next to a bed, in a closet or in a vehicle.
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They're dynamite at what they're designed for, Hornady RAPiD Safes and Gun Box are excellent systems that deliver a handgun in a moment's notice. They and others are suitable to thwart crimes of opportunity or keep a gun under lock and key around children. But with time, most won't weather a serious attack with something a simple as a pry bar or claw hammer.
There are some exceptions. Fort Knox, for instance, manufactures a number of heavy-duty handgun and long-gun boxes hefty enough to withstand a serious break-in attempt. As always, expect to pay more when you go this route. True security never comes cheap.
Finally, there are good old-fashioned gun cabinets — which are not safes at all. Beautifully showcasing a collection, these elegant gun storage options (generally made of wood and glass) are long on looks and short on protection. Unless you have the money to slap a plate-steel door on a fire-protected room to create a walk-in gun vault, gun cabinets are generally not the top option.
Gun Safe Fire Protection
If you're a fan of cutting out ingrown toenails or filing your taxes, you'll love figuring out gun safe fire ratings. They are painful and frustrating in one felled swoop.
The fly in the ointment — testing. There is no set standard to determine how long and at what exterior temperature a gun safe will keep its contents from turning into a pile of scorched metal and charcoal (puddle of gunk for synthetic stocks). Each individual company contract independent laboratories to bake, burn and singe their safes, while keeping tabs on what happens inside. In turn, how Heritage has a gun safe put to the flame is different than Browning and Liberty. This isn't to imply the companies aren't on the up-and-up, at least a great majority. But at the bare minimum comparing fire ratings is an apples and oranges affair where “buyer beware” is the guiding light.
Great, then how can you actually find a fireproof gun safe worth its salt? It's tricky, but a good starting place is understanding what a safe is up against in a residential fire. God forbid, but if your house were to burn to the ground, it would take — on average — 60 minutes and would potentially generate temperatures as high as 1,300-degrees Fahrenheit. Thankfully, it generally doesn't reach this point, given typically first responders are on scene within 10 to 15 minutes after being alerted. In turn, most fires are quelled within the first hour.
The 350-degree Fahrenheit mark for internal temperature, the line where most companies certify their safes too, for an hour and beyond is a solid starting point. Additionally, a reputable retailer who specializes in gun safes is worth his weight in gold when it comes to finding which ratings actually live up to their billing.
It’s All In The Steel
Mercifully, safe security is much more cut and dried than fire protection. It comes down to cold, hard steel. That's pretty hard to fudge.
Conveniently for shooters, shopping gun safe steel is fairly simple, given thickness is expressed in gauges. And just like shotguns, smaller numbers mean more. From there it's a cakewalk, the thicker the steel, the more protection.
Before talking about how much and where the steel needs to go, we should look into how a thief will most likely attack a gun safe. He won't be a Hollywood cat burglar, deftly swooping the dial with a stethoscope in his ears. He'll be brutal, trying to pry the door open, cut a hole in the body with a non-torch method (read fire ax or grinder) or, in rare cases, using a torch. Keep in mind, the fire barrier in the walls does nothing for security — gypsum or concrete, it will crumble.
In general, what's the best gauge of steel to start from? Many in the industry set 10-gauge (.1345 inch) as the minimum for the body of the safe. The door, in most cases, is thicker than the body, given this is a main area of attack. And don't get fooled by thickness measured with your naked eye. In many cases, those massive walls and door are that way due to the fire barrier sandwiched between them. Honestly, a thin door might offer better security than something that looks half-a-mile thick. One final point, how all that steel is stitched together to become a gun safe is important too. Full continuous welding, as opposed to bolts or spot welds, makes for a sturdier box — not only against thieves, but also fire.
Gun Safe Lock Options
Now you have your gun safe picked out and are confident about its security and fire protection, it's time to figure out how you'll access your treasures. For the most part, modern gun safes use three access methods: combination lock, electronic lock and biometric lock. As you've probably already guessed, they each have their own advantages and drawbacks.
Starting with the most traditional, the combination lock is the picture of simplicity and reliability. Merely spin the dial and unlock the door; the only weak link in the process is you and your faulty memory. However, if you're in and out of your safe a lot the process of left four, right two, left one gets arduous. Additionally, if you need a gun in a pinch, a combination lock is far from lightning fast.
Electronic locks, on the other hand, speed up the process considerably, just punch in a code. Furthermore, they offer a number of unique features that make a gun safe extremely user-friendly and increase their security. Many are programmable for multiple user combinations, they don't require a locksmith to change the code, they can incorporate with home security systems and lockout on multiple entries of the wrong code. The drawback of this system — electricity. If you don't have juice, you can't get to your guns. At a bare minimum this requires constantly staying on top of batteries, at the worst, it means no access to your guns when you need them most.
Recently, with concerns of EMP attacks, some manufacturers — Fort Knox, Hollon Republic, Cannon, for example — have begun including a redundant combination lock. Meant as a backup, for those willing to shell out extra money it could provide a reassuring insurance policy for getting to your guns if your 9-volt battery supply runs thin.
Finally, there's the biometric gun safe. A riff off the electric variety, the lock scans a users fingerprint and gives them instant access to their guns. Additionally, it can store multiple users' fingerprints, so an entire family can gain access to a gun safe. Along with the drawbacks of the electronic locks, biometrics have another flaw — the technology isn't 100 percent. If your hands are dirty or you've been eating cheese puffs you might have difficulty getting into your safe.
Gun Safe Installation
Like “Fight Club,” the first line of defense for a gun safe is you don't talk about your gun safe. It might look pretty slick in your main room right next to the TV, but it's an open invitation, letting potential bad guys know you have something worth storing in a safe. A hidden gun safe is a safe gun safe. Secondly, if you move your gun safe around with a dolly or a buddy's help, so can a crook. Bolt the bugger down! Most every single one comes with floor attachments, use them.
Where Does The Dang Thing Go?
Face it, a gun safe is a big investment in the most literal sense. In all likelihood, unless you're into Elizabethan Armoires (we know you aren’t), chances are you’re vault is going to be among the largest and weightiest objects in your house. Safe to say, finding a place for your safe to reside isn’t the easiest exercise.
A general rule of thumb, especially if it's on the foundation, the ground floor is the best place to situate a gun safe. Structurally, it provides the support required to hold the mammoth without damaging your house and it provides a rock-solid surface to anchor it. Anchoring is always advisable, given thieves can’t just roll out the door with your safe to break into at their leisure. However, the second floor in a properly constructed house typically has the chops to hold a moderately sized safe. High-end options, pushing well north of 1,000 pounds might require consultation and modification by a skilled contractor.
Garages are often popular areas in a house to plant a gun safe, however, they can prove treacherous. If it’s your run-of-the-mill car hold, the area can be more permeable than the rest of the house giving greater access to felonious meatheads. Furthermore, few folks heat or air-condition their garage, in turn, it’s akin to storing your precious firearms outside. Not ideal.A dehumidifier is a must if you stow your gun safe with your cars. Plus, the garage isn’t the most accessible area in the house, kind of putting you in a pinch if you need to retrieve a gun right away.
But I Live In An Apartment…
Folks living in apartments and condos are in a sticky situation when it comes to gun safes. Many complexes won’t allow a large specimen in a unit for fear of structural damage. And almost all will refuse to allow a tenant or owner to attach it to the fabric of the building, which might put your collection at risk. Though, it never hurts to inquire with your landlord or homeowners association. If they say no to big units and bolting, what’s the solution?
On the end of the gun safe itself, it's fairly simple—either go a gun locker route or buy a smaller safe. These will generally conform to complex standards and won’t run you headlong in the powers that be. True enough, a locker doesn’t offer fire protection, but it’s a tradeoff you might have to make for security. There are elegant solutions in terms of safes proper, especially if you live on the 14th floor. Modular gun safes, for example. Options, such as the SnapSafe Titan, internally bolt together, meaning you can bring each piece up individually. Again, they don’t measure up to their seam-welded cousins, but they offer more peace of mind than nothing.
As far as keeping a gun safe or locker in one place if you can’t bolt it down, you’ll have to get creative. One of the more inventive ideas, bolting it to a steel plate larger than the door frame. Another is attaching multiple safes or lockers together. These small steps won’t guarantee a safe will stay on-premises, but you’ve made it a magnitude harder and more time-consuming for a thief to get it out of your place.
Size Of Gun Safe You Need
How big you should go is a tricky proposition. It's easy to save money and buy for your present needs. A more prudent course of action is planning for the future and purchasing a gun safe that will handle guns you'll add to your collection. Yes, it is more expensive now, but cheaper in the long run, given it saves you from another safe purchase.
Gun Safe Interiors
Some gun safes come with everything short of a minibar. But what you really need is up to you. The bare minimum is a soft lining, so you don't have to worry about dinging your firearms when you take them out. More recently, configurable interiors have become all the rage, giving you the ability to customize how you store everything. Another plus, for an electrically wired gun safe, is interior lighting. It's hard to believe how dark they can get. While all nice, don't get caught up in how many cup holders and digital clocks a gun safe has, what you're really concerned about is what’s under the hood — how it will protect your guns.
Gun Safe Accessories
The No. 1 must-have extra for a gun safe — particularly if you live in a damp climate — is a gun safe dehumidifier. Gun safes can get moist quickly — not good for gun steel. There are primary two to choose from: electric and desiccant. The electric variety, such as Eva-Dry Mini Dehumidifier or Lockdown Dehumidifier Rod, are handy since they are non-toxic and spill free. But they have the same weak point of everything electric — electricity. Desiccants, on the other hand, take out the concern of not working when there's no juice. Something such as Dry-Packs Silica Gel Canister is rather benign, but must be emptied and dried at certain points for full effectiveness.
It's easy to get chintzy and play the odds with your precious guns. After all, nothing has happened up to this point right? But when you take a sober look at the threats your firearms face when not in use then the need of a gun safe becomes evident.
It's a small investment when compared to the potential loss of thousands of dollars worth of guns, not to mention the priceless sentimental value. There's only one granddad's deer rifle in the world that you of all the grandchildren were bequeathed. You should act like you deserve by treating it like the treasure it is.
Gun Safe Manufacturers
Fort Knox: www.ftknox.com
Gun Box: www.thegunbox.com
Rhino Safe: www.rhinosafe.com
Sturdy Safe: www.sturdysafe.com
Vault Pro: www.vaultprousa.com
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I have a very nice Liberty safe bolted down in a back bedroom closet. The way it is positioned would make trying to pry the door almost impossible. I really like the Liberty brand.
You mention the danger of EMP, but my gun safe protects against that too. Mine is well grounded and I keep a couple spare ham radios in the safe so they can’t get fried by an EMP event.