How To Select A Gun Safe

Safe Thumb

By David Link

The selection of the right gun safe is an important choice, and one that requires research and forethought. A gun safe is a significant investment just like the firearms it will hold, and it is prudent to choose a quality safe that will protect your cherished firearms for years to come. The primary purpose of a gun safe can vary depending on your individual needs, but they primarily restrict access for children, ensure thieves cannot steal your firearms, provide a cool, dry environment for storage and even shield your guns from fire. Let’s examine the factors to consider when shopping for a gun safe.

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Gun safes come in all shapes and sizes, and finding the right dimensions for you requires planning ahead. Are you just planning on owning one handgun? Well then a large floor safe is overkill for your needs. However if you’re planning on building a collection of firearms then you should make accommodations for a significant amount of firearms. Your chosen firearm type can make a difference too. If you’re only a collector of handguns, then your space requirements shrink a little bit, but if you’re a fan of long guns like shotguns and rifles, you’re going to need a floor safe without a doubt.

Don’t forget to factor in your home defense needs either. If you’re a serious gun collector but want a home defense handgun by your bed, you’re going to need two safes: a floor safe to keep the majority of your firearms and a small drawer safe or under the bed safe for quick access to your handgun. There are also a variety of hidden safes that will store a handgun or two like bookshelf safes or shelf safes, but don’t choose these safes just for novelty. Ensure that they are a practical option that you can access safely and that will blend in well enough to not be an obvious target for thieves or curious children.

Finally, small safes can still be a target for thieves even if your gun is securely locked inside the safe. All they have to do is take the safe elsewhere and pry it apart on their own time. So the selection of a small safe also requires the consideration of anchoring options. Many small safes also come with anchor points, and with some careful planning you can make them difficult to take while still keeping them close to your bed and easy to access.

Locking Mechanisms

Next on the list is the mechanism that locks your safe. There are many ways that a safe can be locked including key locks, electronic locks, mechanical locks, and biometric locks. We’ll briefly touch on the strengths and weaknesses of each:

Key Locks

The most basic of locking mechanisms is a simple key lock safe, which is an easy way to access a safe but certainly not the most sophisticated. The key to the safe needs to be stored in a carefully hidden place, and this can be a problem if you have to dig for it quickly when you need immediate access to your safe. The alternative is to store the key on you at all times like in your wallet or purse, but since we all know that wallets and purses are occasionally lost, you’ll need a spare which means a higher potential of others accessing the safe without your knowledge. The main drawback of a key lock is that it requires no previous knowledge to operate. You only need to have the key in hand to operate the safe. This means key locks are far less secure than more detailed locking mechanisms like mechanical, electronic or biometric locks.

Key Lock Safe
Example of a lock and key safe.

Electronic Locks

A step up from a basic key lock is an electronic lock that utilizes a key pad and electronic circuits to secure your safe. All you need to do is set up a code to the safe, and then you can punch it in anytime you need to open the safe. This means the safe is quickly accessed, and as long as you don’t forget your pin, you can be fairly confident that only you can access the safe. The lit keypad also makes access in the dark very easy. The problem with an electronic lock is that they rely on electricity, and so they need to be plugged in or connected to a battery to operate. Regular maintenance and battery replacement should make this a non issue, but since electronics have been known to fail for no reason every so often, you are taking a bit of a chance relying up technology to store your firearms. If you try to access this safe in a panic and enter the wrong code several times, you could be locked out for a minimum period of time depending on the safe, and that could be a potentially disastrous consequence if you need immediate access to your firearms.

Biometric Locks

Another form of electronic safe is a biometric safe that relies upon the fingerprints of the user to access the safe. The upside of this locking mechanism is obvious: only your fingerprints can access the safe, which means it is the most secure option available on the market. Most safes can hold several different fingerprint patterns in their memory banks so multiple users can use it if need be too. Quick access isn’t a concern either since all you need to do is lay your hand upon the safe to access it, and this can be done in the dark no problem. The drawback of a biometric safe is similar to that of an electronic lock: they require a battery or power source to operate the lock. Once again, regular battery maintenance should mitigate this concern, and most safes come with very reliable batteries, but it is always worth noting that electronics can fail.

Biometric Safe
Biometric safe from Gunvault.

Mechanical Locks

The last lock type is the old fashioned mechanical lock that is best represented by the dial safe. These safes are locked by a sophisticated mechanical lock that is typically unlocked by dialing in a combination on dial at the front of the safe. These safes do not rely on electronics at all, which means they’ll work as long as the internal parts remain in tact. As long as you don’t leave the combination of the safe lying around, they are also very secure, and most combination safes require some practice to open, so they aren’t quickly accessed by thieves or children. But this strength also becomes a weakness since mechanical locks take some time to unlock even if you have practice with the combination. You also need a light source so you can see the dial if you’re trying to unlock it in pitch dark. Finally, the fail rate on a mechanical lock is very low as long as you perform some occasional maintenance on the internal parts.

Hinges And Steel Gauge

The location of hinges can be a vital attribute of any safe. If the hinges of a safe are located on the outside, a thief can easily compromise them and the door will essentially fall off after. The more secure option is internal hinges that are located inside the safe. Internal hinge safes will be more expensive, but they are well worth the investment.

When it comes to gauge steel, the lower number the better. This means that 6 gauge steel will be better than 8 gauge steel. Once again, the higher quality of steel the less likely it is that your safe will be vulnerable to thieves. Yet another factor to keep in mind here is weight. If you buy a heavy duty safe and plan to store it up on a second floor, you could be inviting a potentially disastrous floor collapse. As a general rule of thumb, heavy floor safes belong on the ground floor, and you should ensure that wherever you place it is reinforced enough for the job.

Fire Rating

Fire rating is another important aspect of a gun safe, but don’t make the mistake of thinking the safe you choose is equipped to handle a fire just because it is made of metal. Fire resistant safes need to be able to withstand high temperatures for an extended period of time, but needless to say no safe can withstand fire forever. The goal is for the safe to withstand the high temperatures until the fire department is able to control the fire, or at least until the fire burns out. This is why a good fire rating is paramount if you’re hoping all your firearms can withstand a serious fire. To quote some numbers, most house fires peak at 1200 degrees, but special circumstances can lead a house fire to burn even hotter. This is why you’ll see the best safes rated higher than 1200 degrees. The other number in a fire rating is how long it can withstand the temperatures. This usually starts at 30 minutes, and most fire departments are able to respond and control a fire within that time period. However if you live in a remote area, 30 minutes might not be a long enough window for the fire department to respond or the fire to burn out. In that case you’re going to need a longer time period. There is no great secret here. The higher the temperature and the longer the time period the better, but you can expect this to drive up the cost of the safe.

House Fire
House fires can burn from 800 to 2000 degrees depending on the conditions and circumstances.

A final note on fire rating, remember that electronic components will be especially vulnerable in a fire, and if you are able to salvage your safe after a fire, it will require drilling and prying for you to access its contents if it is of an electric variety.

Final Notes

The choice of a proper gun safe depends upon several factors. If you want a high level of protection, it is going to take a significant investment. Just take stock of what you’re protecting. If it is a collection worth thousands, then the investment in a $2000 gun safe is well worth it. On the other hand, those who own just one handgun can get an affordable safe for far less that will be just as secure. Weigh your options before you make a decision on the right gun safe for you.

Images One and Three courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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