If you were raised in the 1950s, ’60s, or ’70s, it’s a good bet your childhood was quite different from those of kids today. We drove without car seats or even seat belts, bikes were ridden without helmets, and lead paint was used to brighten our lives. And, if you grew up in a hunting and shooting family like I did, having guns around was just as natural as having kitchen knives, cleaning chemicals, and power tools in the home.
Much as with other potentially dangerous objects found in our household, my siblings and I were raised to follow a strict “Don’t Touch” policy. Don’t touch the hot stove, don’t touch the paint thinner and don’t touch the guns. The “Don’t Touch” policy that worked for us, may not work for you and your family.
The right safe storage solution for everyone is different. Whichever method you choose, it must provide an adequate level of protection to prevent unauthorized persons from accessing the firearms. The determination of what is “adequate protection” is a matter of judgment on the part of the individual gun owner.
So which safe gun-storage system is the best one for your personal needs? It depends on what guns you own, your living situation, and how much money you can afford to invest. A collector will be looking for increased storage capacity. Competitors may need portability for travel to shooting events. Those who keep firearms for home defense will be concerned about speed of access. With so many missions for firearms to fulfill, it’s helpful to take a step back and understand what the various kinds of safe storage devices can—and can’t—do.
The devices available today are designed to provide one or more of the following important storage functions: First, they can prevent unauthorized operation of the firearm. Next, some devices will protect a firearm from physical damage, which also protects the value of the gun. Finally, some devices can act as deterrence against theft. However, as with other forms of technology, the more features a safe storage system provides, the more it tends to cost. The following is a walkthrough of some of the more common storage options available.
1. Trigger Locks are a simple and affordable option for preventing a gun from being loaded or fired by an unauthorized user. Whether they are provided by the manufacturer or the dealer, most new guns are now sold with a trigger lock right in the box. These locks take different forms. A trigger shoe clamps down around the trigger or trigger housing to prevent the trigger from being manipulated. Because these devices come into direct contact with the trigger, they should never be installed on loaded guns.
Cable locks block the action of a firearm, preventing the action of rifles and shotguns from being closed. When used with a semi-automatic pistol, they will also prevent a magazine from being loaded into the grip. For revolvers, the cable is looped through the barrel to prevent the cylinder from closing.
If a dedicated gun lock is not available, an ordinary padlock can be used with many guns. Simply slip the hasp of the lock between the back side of the trigger and the trigger guard to prevent the trigger from cycling. Trigger locks are inexpensive (less than $20), or even free through some community programs, and can successfully prevent an unintentional discharge when installed properly. However, they do not offer any physical protection for the firearm or a measurable level of theft deterrence.
2. Gun Cases are readily available at local sporting goods stores in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and material options to fit every kind of commercially available firearm. Case options range from padded fabric sleeves to rugged foam-lined plastic containers, with prices from $10 to $150. The primary role of this kind of affordable carry case is to protect one or more firearms from physical damage.
Most soft and hard-side cases can be “legally” locked for firearm transportation to and from shooting events. A padlock through a soft case’s zipper pull or a hard case’s carry handle can do the trick (check your local regulations). Affordable, portable, and easy to store, locked gun cases represent a common and convenient safe gun storage method, and a big step up from tossing a bare gun into a drawer or closet. A locked carry case will certainly keep small children from handling a firearm, just as a trigger lock will.
However, their usefulness as safe storage devices is limited by the materials from which they are made. The soft fabrics and plastics used in these cases can be quickly defeated by ordinary edged tools. Because gun cases are designed to be light to carry and handle, they can be carted around just as easily by a thief as their lawful owner. Unless they are secured within some other lockable structure, gun cases may be spirited away, along with their contents, to be opened and pilfered at another location.
3. Strong Boxes and Security Cases represent an effort by manufacturers to provide gun owners with the anti-theft and gun-finish protection features of a locking gun cabinet while maintaining the portability of handgun and long-gun carry cases. Pricing for these units varies greatly, anywhere from less than $50 to more than $300, based on the level of technology incorporated into the system. Some of the best storage options for those who want quick-access to defensive firearms are found in this category.
When it comes to strong boxes, it’s hard to beat the variety of configurations and lock options provided by GunVault. The MV500-STD Micro Vault is a portable model that’s slim and light enough to carry in a briefcase or to be tucked into a small drawer. The No-Eyes electronic keypad allows the user to enter a customized code by touch so that the box can be opened quickly in total darkness if necessary. The Speedvault SVB 500 mounts to vertical surfaces, such as the interior of a desk or closet. The programmable biometric fingerprint reader allows access to a single pistol or revolver in less than two seconds. Multiple-gun or increased-capacity units, such as the DrawerVault and Multi-Vault, are also available.
Secure Firearms Products provides some of the most rugged security cases available for travel. These metallic cases feature welded corners, heavy-duty plated steel latches, case hardened locking studs, and a high security Medeco Lock. Mounting hardware and cables allow the cases to attach directly to the trunk of a car, the wall of a closet, or the interior of a suitcase when flying with commercial airlines.
4. Locking Steel Gun Cabinets provide an increased level of storage capacity and internal configuration options, when compared to security cases and strong boxes, but they differ from gun safes in several respects. The thinner gauge of steel, a simple locking mechanism, and the absence of fire-resistant insulation keeps these units in the $150 to $450 price range and reduces their weight. Because these cabinets are light enough to be moved safely up and down stairs by just one or two people, they can be employed in locations such as apartment buildings or second-floor rooms, where a gun safe would be too large or heavy to install.
An excellent example of this category is the Model GCB-18-C convertible security cabinet from Stack-On. This California DOJ-approved cabinet can hold up to 18 54-inch long guns, or nine long guns and four shelves of storage, or it can be converted to all storage shelves, depending on your needs. The three-point security system features a double-bitted, key-coded lock for greater security. Fastening hardware, for attaching the cabinet to the floor or wall, and foam padding for the shelves and floor of the cabinet are included. If additional storage space is needed, a Model GCB-900 pistol and ammunition cabinet can be mounted on top of the GCB-18-C convertible.
5. Gun Safes represent the most secure gun storage option available to the average gun owner. A basic, no-frills safe is superior to any other storage option discussed so far in preventing unauthorized access to firearms. The dedicated racks and lined interiors will help to protect the finish of the guns and, most importantly, safes are an effective theft deterrent. A gun safe’s weight, the heavy-gauge steel of the outer box, the complex locking mechanism, and the option to bolt the safe directly to a concrete slab, all work together to frustrate the efforts of burglars. Safes not only fulfill the three-fold mission of safe gun storage, they can also provide additional protection against flooding, fires and other disasters. Quality safes are available from American manufacturers, including Cannon, Fort Knox and Liberty Safe.
The purchase of a gun safe represents a significant financial commitment. Just like other high-end consumer products, safes are available with a wide variety of features, all of which affect the bottom line cost of the unit. With prices ranging from $500 to more than $2,500, it’s important to understand which features are important to you. Here are some of the price-changing details to pay attention to:
6. Safe Size: The larger a safe is, the more it costs. So the best way to save money is to purchase only as much interior safe space as required. However, it’s common for a first-time buyer to underestimate the amount of space he needs, resulting in added expense purchasing another safe down the road.
Here is a rule-of-thumb to help in avoiding the undersized-safe problem. Take a look at all of the items that will be going into the safe once it arrives. There are the guns you have on hand, including related gear like optics, ammunition and magazines. Then tally the guns and gear you plan to buy in the future. Now add to that the non-shooting valuables that will make their way into the safe, including computer hard drives, jewelry, documents and so on. Once a minimum storage requirement is calculated, find a safe that meets those needs, and then buy the model that’s one size larger. That should leave you with enough room to maneuver.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when selecting a safe:
Steel Thickness: The overall toughness of a safe is generally quantified by the thickness of the steel used in its construction. The thicker the material, the more it costs. Steel is gauged using a reverse scale, meaning the smaller the number, is the thicker the metal will be. This means 10-ga. steel is thicker than 11, 12, or 14 gauge. Buyers need to pay attention to the thickness of the steel in the shell and the door, since thicknesses may be different in each of these components.
Fire Rating: Because fires in the home are far more common than we would like them to be, some gun safes are sold with a fire rating. This rating is determined by measuring the internal temperatures maintained within an insulated safe as it is exposed to a range of elevated temperatures over a measured period of time. There is no federal or industry-regulated standard, however, for how such temperature tests are conducted, and there is no minimum standard for what a fire rating should be. So it’s up to the buyer to pay close attention to the numbers quoted by the manufacturers.
For example, the average American house will burn to the ground in approximately 60 minutes without emergency service intervention. Let’s suppose firefighters can arrive on-site within 10 to 15 minutes of a fire being reported. This means the fire will likely be cooling off, or even extinguished, within the 60-minute window. The temperature of a burning house can reach as high as 1,100 to 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit; therefore, if the contents of a safe can survive an hour or more at 1,300 degrees, it has a solid rating.
Other Features: Many of the remaining features of a gun safe can be considered in the same way as those of an automobile. The fancier the paint job and upholstery are, the higher the cost will be. Electronic locks are faster and easier to use than manual (spin dial) locks, but they can be more expensive. When buying a vehicle, we pay close attention to how the configuration of the interior fits our requirements. With a safe, ensure that the shelves and racks will fit the gun collection properly so as to maximize your storage space. And finally, don’t forget to read the fine print in the warranty. Just like a vehicle, safes are expensive to repair if parts of it become smashed up or worn out.
We have a real advantage today over our gun-owning ancestors when it comes to safe gun storage. Not only has the technology changed and improved in so many ways, there are more options for responsible gun owners to choose from than ever before. No matter what your storage requirements or financial situation may be, there is a safe gun storage method to meet your needs.