The best gun safe is the one that you are most likely to use. Whether it’s a biometric gun safe, a bedside gun safe, or a gun vault, there are many things you need to consider to determine which is the right one for your situation. Should you pay extra to make sure its fireproof and flood proof? What type of lock works best? Which construction type is most secure? What features offer the most benefits? How much are you willing to spend? All these questions are important to understand as you make a decision, but in the end, you need to choose the safe that you will be most comfortable using because an empty safe, no matter how secure, offers little protection.
Why a gun safe?
As you start to shop for gun safes, the first thing to understand is why a gun safe is necessary. If you’ve been around guns for some time, you may remember the old wooden and glass cabinets that were popular for storing guns years ago. While they made a nice display for a gun collection, they provided very little in the way of security. Curious children could easily figure out how to remove the back to gain access, and thieves could quickly pry the lock or smash the glass. Today’s safes conform to a higher standard of protection and security, both due to their construction and in some cases, advancements in technology.
If you currently don’t own a gun safe, you may be wondering why one would be necessary. One of the best reasons to keep your guns locked up is to keep them out of the hands of children. For those people who don’t have kids, there are still some serious things to consider as to why you should purchase a gun-specific safe. First, just because you don’t have kids, does not mean a friend or relative’s kids won’t find your guns. And it’s not just kids you need to worry about. You may trust the friends you invite into your home, but what if your home was robbed? A gun safe is the best way to make sure that your guns always remain in your possession.
In addition to making sure your guns don’t end up in the wrong hands, many states currently have some laws mandating gun storage. Keeping your guns locked in a gun safe is an easy way to make sure you are in compliance with local and state regulations.
Types of gun safes
The purpose of a gun safe is to provide protective and secure containment of firearms and ammunition. Gun safes are designed to meet the legal standards for gun storage requirements. The reason you should choose a gun safe over a standard document or valuables safe is the design. A regular safe uses moisture-rich insulation as a means of fire protection. While this is helpful to protect documents, it creates a high humidity level within the safe that can cause firearms to rust. Most gun safes are made with a gypsum-based insulation that creates a lower moisture level in the safe which is a better environment for guns, with less chance of rust. Gun safes also come with interior storage features, like racks and holsters, especially designed for holding firearms. If you want to move your safe without taking out the guns, this ensures that the firearms are properly secured and safe so they do not accidentally discharge. You will likely want to store your ammunition in your safe as well, and you will often find that gun safes have shelving that can be used for holding boxed ammunition.
The first consideration when choosing a gun safe is what type of guns you will be storing. If you are only storing pistols, you can go with a smaller safe that is more square and squat in shape. Because of their small size, pistol safes work best to store one or two pistols in a convenient location. There are a variety of pistol safes you can choose from:
- Permanent—These models are designed to be bolted under the bed or within a closet
- Slim design—Made for bedside or automobile storage, these are easily transportable and can fit in a briefcase; some models are FAA approved to safely transport your firearm within your checked luggage
- Quick access—With a spring-loaded drop-down door, these safes store guns in a ready position
- Tethered—Easily transportable with a locking tether to secure the safe to a permanent structure, can be tethered at home and then tethered in the car for security while transferring from place to place
- Biometric—These safes unlock with biometrics and have the capability to store multiple fingerprints
- Hidden—In-wall safes can be easily hidden in a closet or behind a picture without losing their ability for quick access
If you will be storing a variety of guns, including rifles and shotguns, you will need a taller, thinner safe called a long gun safe. These safes are typically designed to protect multiple guns. Most are built to be used vertically, but there are some models that work horizontally for under-bed storage. Because of their size, there is less diversity among long gun safes, but a few options to consider are:
- Combination safes—These offer separate storage compartments for pistols or jewelry and other valuables
- Mountable—Can be mounted upright or hung on a wall or door
- High capacity—For the true gun enthusiast, these models can hold upwards of 20 rifles or shotguns
Fire ratings for gun safes
When purchasing a safe, one of the variables you have to choose from is the fire rating. While there are some gun safes that have no fire protection, it is recommended that you opt for a model that has a tested and warrantied fire rating. There are quite a few aspects to consider when comparing fire-proof safes, such as:
- Type of fire protection—Wall board or composite material
- Thickness of fire wall—How many layers or how thick is it
- Areas of protection—Are all susceptible areas protected including door jambs, internal hinges, walls, ceiling, and floors?
- Testing—Not all ratings are supported by testing; methods of testing impact the claims of protection offered
- Warranty—What is the policy if the safe does not perform as expected in the case of a fire?
Composite is the preferred fireproofing material for gun safes. As already mentioned, wall board, or fireboard, contains high levels of moisture that can cause your guns to rust. In addition, wall board tends to lose its fire resistance over time. Composite fireproofing is created by pouring a dense composite amalgamate around the entire core of the safe. This is the better option because it creates a denser layer of fire protection that will not deteriorate, and does not add humidity to the interior of the safe. This method also has the advantage of adding to the safe’s burglary protection by creating a damage resistant shell.
Not only does the container itself need protection from fire, but the extraneous parts should offer protection as well. Hinges, door jams, and other barrier contact points should be designed to prevent heat from reaching the interior of the safe. A good door seal helps keep out heat, smoke, humidity, and water. In the event of a fire, the door seal will prevent your guns from sustaining smoke damage or becoming ruined by the water from fire hoses. Look for the seal strip to run all the way around the doorframe.
In order to understand the amount of fire protection offered by different safes, you need to look at the time and heat ratings. Fire ratings are broken down into three parts that measure the external temperature that the safe was exposed to, the maximum internal temperature in the safe during the test, and the length of time of the test. Choosing a fire rating is a personal decision that is dependent on your budget, as well as what other valuables might be stored in the safe with the guns. A good guideline recommended by gun manufacturers is a minimum of 45 minutes of fire protection.
Theft protection offered by gun safes
In addition to a variety of fire protection ratings, there are varying degrees of burglar resistance assigned to gun safes. While there is no safe that offers 100% protection, it is important to understand what level of security a safe does offer. When considering theft resistance, it is best to think in terms of how a safe is designed to slow down and deter someone without the proper authorization from gaining access.
This is done is many ways. Burglar ratings and classifications will help you to understand the features and the degree of protection they provide. Keep in mind that higher levels of protection add to the price you will pay for the safe.
Burglary safe construction ratings are provided by the insurance industry as a standardized indication of the degree of protection a safe provides against infiltration. The most common construction ratings are B-rate and C-rate, with C-rate classified as better protection. Additional ratings are provided by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a not-for-profit independent testing organization. The most common UL burglary ratings include TL-15, TL-30, and TL30x6 as the highest security rating.
In general, the rating systems are based on the thickness of the steel used in construction. The thicker the steel is, the longer it will take a thief to break through using a grinder, drill, or other implementation. The most common method of entry for a burglar attack is by trying to pry open the safe door. Again, the amount of steel used here will help to prevent a pry attack. Steel’s strength increases by each square inch of thickness; thicker steel provides a greater degree of protection by a safe. Gun experts recommend a minimum of 12-gauge steel, or two layers of steel in the body, plus a significantly thicker steel in the door. The quality of the steel used is an important factor in determining its strength; better quality steel affords a greater degree of protection.
There are a few other points to consider when selecting a burglar-resistant gun safe. Shop for a safe with a minimal gap between the door and the frame of the safe. A large gap offers space for a burglar to insert a tool that could be used to force the door open. You should also be sure to evaluate the number of bolts; more bolts can slow down unauthorized entry.
Internal versus external hinges on a gun safe
One of the major construction differences among gun safes is the location of the hinges. Some are internal and others are external and both have their advantages and disadvantages. The purpose of the hinges is to allow the door of the safe to move, regardless of their location inside or outside the safe. The location does not have an impact on how secure the safe is from burglary, but it does make a difference in regards to fire security. Internal hinges provide a cleaner look, but they restrict how wide the door can open, and they reduce the fire resistance. In order to place the hinges inside the door, part of the internal fire resistant material must be removed, lowering the fire rating. External hinges allow a full 180° door swing without compromising the safe’s effectiveness in the event of a fire.
Types of locks available on gun safes
The types of locks found on gun safes include mechanical, electronic, redundant, and biometric. Regardless of which type of lock you choose, it should be reliable and long lasting. The best locks are rated by UL as high security to ensure quality, protection, and reliability.
Mechanical locks were the original locking mechanisms used on safes, and they are still used today because they have very few problems. A mechanical lock can be as simple as a key, but on gun safes, it is more commonly a dial that is set to a particular combination of numbers. The dial is rotated to the numbers in different directions, moving three internal discs that open the lock only for the correct combination. These locks are set at the factory with a default combination which can later be changed after purchase to an easy-to-remember set of numbers.
Mechanical locks are favored because of their long life span and the lack of maintenance issues.; because of their simplicity, there are few parts to break down. They offer full access without power or batteries. Some mechanical locks also feature a key that can be used to lock the dial and or the handle.
There are, however, a few disadvantages to consider regarding manual locks. Because of their manual nature, they require re-locking every time. After opening the door with your combination, turn the combination dial back to zero. This resets the combination lock, requiring the combination to be re-entered if you want to open the safe again. This method is the most secure way to use a mechanical lock. An unlocked combination dial leaves the safe open and vulnerable. Another disadvantage is that a mechanical lock is slow to operate and would not be easy to use if you were in a stressful situation where you wanted quick access to your firearms. There is also some maintenance that is required as the tumblers tend to become misaligned over time. The combination cannot easily be changed and you will need to call a technician or safe locksmith if that is ever required. The final disadvantage is that with time and practice, it is possible for an experienced burglar to break the combination and gain entry into your gun safe.
If you do select a gun safe with a manual lock for its ease of use, you can improve the speed at which it opens by choosing a particular pattern or easy-to-remember combination of numbers. One tip is to keep the first number in the 40s, the second number between 0 to 25, and third number between 25 to 40. This method reduces the dialing time while still providing a secure set of numbers.
Electronic locks offer a superior level of convenience and benefits, but they are more prone to experience problems compared to their mechanical counterparts. Keep in mind that if an electronic lock is bad and fails, the only way to gain entry is to have an expert drill open the lock.
Most electronic locks feature a keypad with an internal circuit that stores the correct combination of numbers. When you enter a sequence of numbers into the keypad, the circuit determines if the sequence is correct. When the correct code is verified by the circuit, it triggers an unlocking mechanism that turns the deadbolts and other locks, granting access.
Electronic locks are beneficial because they provide quicker access and can be simpler to operate in times of high stress. Many electronic keypads are backlit and have larger numbers making them easier to open in conditions of low visibility. It is also much easier to change the code on an electronic lock without the need to call in a third party. This allows you to change the code regularly for added security.
As mentioned, electronic locks are not without disadvantages, the most significant being that when the power source is cut off, whether it be due to a power outage or dead batteries, you cannot gain access. Due to the circuitry of an electronic lock, it does have a limited lifespan. When the lock eventually fails, if there is no alternative unlocking mechanism; it will only be able to be opened by having a technician drill into the lock.
To get the most out of your electronic lock, be sure to choose numerical combinations you can easily remember. Most locks are set to shut down after the wrong code is entered a certain number of times. Many will reset, allowing you to try again after so many minutes, but there are electronic locks that are designed to permanently shut down under certain conditions when the wrong code is entered. In such a case, again you would only be able to gain entry by having a technician drill the lock.
A gun safe with a redundant lock might be the best solution to combat the disadvantages of a manual lock and an electronic lock. With a redundant safe lock, you typically have an electronic keypad and a mechanical dial that both control the same single locking unit. If the electronic lock fails, you can still gain access using the manual dial and vice versa. Having a redundant lock provides you the security of knowing that in the event of a power outage or high stress situation, you will not lose access to your firearms, especially at a time when you might need them most.
Another popular option to lock a gun safe is a variation on the electronic lock called a biometric lock or a fingerprint gun safe. This eliminates the need for combinations, codes, and keys by relying only on your fingerprint to provide access. This type of lock works by creating and saving a digital code based on your unique fingerprint pattern. Once it has learned your fingerprint, when you want to gain access, you simply press or slide your finger on the sensor. A new digital code is created and compared to the one that is saved in the lock memory. A match will prompt the safe to unlock. If the fingerprint does not match, the safe will not open and may shut down similar to entering the wrong numeric code on an electronic keypad safe lock. Variations of this technology can be applied to both palm and retina scanners.
Biometric locks provide quick and easy access to a safe without having to remember a combination, or search for a key. Due to the uniqueness of an individual’s fingerprints, it provides a very high level of security. These safes can store more than one fingerprint, so you can authorize access to more than one person at a time. Biometric entry systems typically have a backup numeric code that can be entered as a secondary security measure, or in the event that the biometrics device fails. This provides a similar redundancy to having both mechanical and electronic components as part of your gun safe lock.
Despite the simplicity of use with a biometric safe, they do come with some of the same disadvantages that are common in electronic locking mechanisms. Due to the circuitry they are built upon, they do have a limited lifespan and will eventually fail. Additional problems include false scans. While this doesn’t mean it would let the wrong person in, it does mean it may keep the right person out; a scratched, cut, damaged, wet, or soiled finger can cause a biometric system to falter. Fortunately, most biometric gun safes on the market also include a key override that can be used in case of a misread, dead batteries, or a power outage. A quality biometric gun safe should include an instruction manual that details secure, manual override methods. These additional safety features, combined with the triple redundancy of a keypad and traditional key lock, make biometric safes one of the better choices for safely protecting your firearms, while allowing fast access in times of need.
Optional features included in gun safes
Aside from the major decisions related to size and locking mechanisms, you will find that there are many additional features offered by gun safe manufacturers. While these features are nice benefits, they do increase the cost of the safe and are not necessary to provide security. These accessories can enhance the convenience and ease of use your safe provides.
Gun safe alarms
Gun safe alarms come in a wide variety of formats that help to protect your guns by sensing anything from movement to unsafe temperature. One of the most common alarms is a low battery alert that will chirp as the batteries get low in an electronic lock. Electronic locks also have a variety of chirps to signal an incorrect code, or a correct code, as well as one signaling that the safe has been opened. Other alarms have built-in sensors that detect movement, moisture, shock, and temperature. These alarms are generally monitored through a security company and you will receive a phone call, text message, or email alerting you if any of the sensors have detected a breach. While not a usual feature on the average gun safe, these alarms do add an added sense of security, and can be separately purchased to add onto the safe of your choice. It is important to note that some of the monitoring companies charge a monthly fee for their services.
Some gun safes are equipped with a radio frequency identification (RFID) reader intended to work with wearable unlocking devices. These devices are usually in the format of a ring or bracelet. There are non-wearable options such as a key fob, a card, or a sticker that can be placed on an object of your choice. To easily unlock a gun safe with an RFID reader, simply bring the matching radio frequency ID card or token close to the sensor and the door will instantly unlock. The RFID sensor only works in response to their owners’ individual RFID chips that have been paired to the sensor. One concern with this type of locking mechanism is the ease of which a child could inadvertently unlock the safe. A key fob or wearable unit left out could become a child’s plaything, and if unintentionally waved close enough to the sensor, the gun safe would be opened.
A unique feature that can be found in a few gun safes is the addition of a media box. Because many of the larger format gun safes are also used to store valuables, manufacturers have incorporated a way to store your electronic media. With the movement away from paper documentation, people who have their important documents electronically saved need a way to keep these electronic documents safe from theft and calamity. Many safes, including gun safes, are equipped with an external power source cord, as well as an interior outlet strip that has electrical sockets, Ethernet and USB ports.
FAA and TSA approved safes for gun transport
If you are a frequent flyer and like to travel with your guns, you may want to purchase a small format, transportable pistol safe that is Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved, which can be checked as luggage or within a suitcase. Per TSA regulations, you are permitted to transport unloaded firearms in a locked, hard-sided container only as checked baggage. The advantage of using a gun safe over a hard-sided carrying container is that you don’t need to worry about carrying padlocks and keys. If you travel with your gun safe, you must declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag. You can contact TSA or your airline prior to your trip if you have any questions or concerns about firearm regulations, and for clarification on what you may or may not transport when you fly.
While most gun safes don’t come with a dehumidifier it is something you might want to consider purchasing to help prolong the life of your guns. A dehumidifier helps to eliminate the moisture that inherently builds up in a safe. Granted, if you purchase a safe with composite fireproofing, you will have less of a moisture issue than if you purchase one with wall board insulation, but that won’t eliminate all moisture. Desiccants are a simple and cost-effective method of reducing humidity in a safe. They are made from a sponge-like material that passively absorbs moisture within a confined space. Once they become saturated, simply bake the desiccant in an oven, per the instructions, to dry it out and reuse. The other option is an electric dehumidifier. This actively works to eliminate moisture by heating the internal environment so as to evaporate any moisture. Although electric dehumidifiers are especially effective at removing moisture from within a safe, they do need to be constantly connected to a power source, so expect a few running wires out of the safe. If this is a problem, there are a few rechargeable electric dehumidifiers currently available.
Cost of a gun safe
One of the biggest characteristics that may be a deciding factor in the gun safe you choose is the cost. If you are considering purchasing a gun safe, then you understand you have a responsibility to keep your guns secure when they are not on your person. Whether you are on a limited budget or have thousands of dollars to spend, there is a safe for every budget.
As discussed there are many different types of safes with different specifications, purposes, ratings and features. All of these options come into play regarding how much a safe will cost. A very basic single gun vault starts at a price of around $30. This is a small, personal safe designed for one gun, and works great for small spaces such as a car or boat, but can also be used as a home gun safe. These units typically come with a mounting bracket for a measure of added security. In general, pistol safes are smaller, and therefore cheaper than your long gun safes, with a small, low-end pistol safe costing around $100. A basic rifle safe without fire protection starts at around $300. As safes get bigger, or the fire and burglary ratings get higher, the price increases accordingly. A basic 30-minute fire-rated rifle safe typically runs $500-$1,000 while one that is 60-minute rated starts around $1,000. Likewise, safes with advanced technology, such as biometric locks or additional features like a media box, command a higher price. A luxury tactical gun safe capable of storing up to 40 long guns can cost upwards of $10,000.
With the most basic of safes starting at $30, a gun safe is a wise investment to make sure your gun doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. If that is out of your price range, it doesn’t mean you can’t keep your guns protected. Many simple trigger and mag locks are priced at under $25.
Choosing a location for your gun safe
Once you’ve compared all of the various makes, models, and options to determine the best gun safe for your situation, the next decision you need to make is where to place your safe. The best location for a gun safe is the one that is most convenient, because if accessing your safe becomes a hassle you won’t use it, and your investment will have been wasted. The most popular locations for home gun safes are in the areas you use most often which include the kitchen, bedroom, and perhaps a home office. The location you choose should not be easily visible, but should not hinder access. Under a nightstand, behind a wall hanging, hidden behind clothes in a closet, or in a kitchen cabinet, are all popular places to keep a small gun safe. Rifle safes are not as easy to keep out of site, but it is still recommended that they are located in a less-visible area of the home, such as the garage, under a bed or in a closet. If you cannot find a discreet location for your long gun safe, you could build a cabinet around it or cover it with a tarp.
Once you have determined your location, you need to decide if you will bolt the safe down. Many gun safes come with indentations that can be drilled through so the safe can be bolted onto a secure location. For the ultimate security, the best option would be to bolt your safe directly into a concrete foundation. If this is not an option, there are many videos and instructional articles online that will provide instruction on how to bolt your safe to a raised foundation. In the event that it’s not possible to bolt the safe down, or you simply do not prefer that option, you should choose a safe that weighs over 450 pounds. This is heavy enough to make it prohibitive for a burglar or multiple burglars to pick up the safe and easily make off with it.
As you can see, there are many things to consider when deciding which gun safe you should purchase. There are countless safe manufacturers offering gun-specific safes in a variety of designs with plenty of options to choose from, making the purchase of a gun safe seem like a daunting decision. First and foremost, keep in mind that gun safes are about protection. Be sure to consider your fire safety and burglar security options carefully. There is no universal standard for materials or methods used in gun-safe construction or any kind of US regulatory system in place, which means that not all safes are created equally. As far as size, most gun enthusiasts will tell you to buy a safe larger than you think you need—safes quickly get small. If you buy a safe larger than what you think you will need, you will have room to store additional valuables as well as room for more guns as your collection grows.
Searching for the right gun safe can be a difficult task. The information provided in this guide is meant to help you make an educated and informed decision about which gun safe is right for you. A gun safe should be a lifetime investment, so choose wisely, and be sure to purchase your safe from a well-known manufacturer and reputable dealer.