Gun Safes – What to know before you buy!
If you own a firearm, you need a gun safe. We’ll get to what safe in minute, but spend a few seconds on why. Regardless of what state you live in, level of proficiency with the gun, or family situation, proper storage is your responsibility. Many states, including California, have enacted legislation, which will make you legally responsible if you do not properly store your firearms. You need to know the regulations and laws in your state, but beyond that there is a moral obligation all responsible gun owners have to protect their firearms from begin stolen by criminals. A gun safe is the best way to do that. Now back to what gun safe to buy!
Deciding on what gun safe to buy can be a daunting task. Looking past manufacturer claims and other gun owners’ opinions are four real factors to consider in your purchase. Fit, Function, Finances, and F’ing Rating systems. If you just want some ideas and considerations, skip to the do’s & don’ts section toward the end – if you want to get into the details a bit more – here we go!
Fit: What size gun safe will fit in the space you want to put it, and how much does the size and weight affect that decision.
Function: How many firearms, and what type, do you want to store. Do you want to conceal the safe? Do you need quick access? What kind of lock works best for you, and is it fire safe?
Finance: How much is in your budget? Can you afford to spend more for better protection, desired features, or perks?
F’ing rating systems: They have a word for people who truly understand this stuff – they call them lock smiths. I’ll try and keep it simple!
Fit and Function = Size and Weight
If you have a large collection you need a large gun safe. If you plan on adding optics to your guns, you need space between the firearms so they do not get scratched or banged up as you take them in and out. Plan to add a shelf on the top for magazines and extra gear. A safe of about 56 to 58 inches should hold most long guns. Interior space will depend on how many guns you want to store.
Common sizes range from a small hand sized pistol safe to 60 inch gun safes that will hold dozens of rifles, and still have space left over for handguns and shelves. When it comes to weight, a 500-pound safe is not that heavy. A 2000-pound safe on the other hand is probably static – but that will require professional installation – and you may not like the cost of moving it if you buy a new home! If its not permanent, consider two smaller ones if you need that much space. Around 750 pounds is a good compromise. Heavy, but you can move it with a dolly when needed.
What if you want a concealable or quick access safe? Obviously weight is an issue, but you are trading both capacity and durability for compact size or the ability to mount it in a wall or drawer. These safes are designed for that purpose and are generally not designed for large collections. A good example of a quick access handgun safe is GunVault or Stack on. You will lose thickness and durability as a trade for accessibility, but most of these brands still provide fire safety ratings on par with larger safes.
Companies like Bed Bunker or Ledgelokr offer a line of closet, wall, and furniture concealed safes as well as options for your vehicle. The price of a concealable safe is high, with rifle and shotgun versions ranging from $1000 to $2500. Hand safes for handguns can be found easily for between $75 and $200. GunVault 2000 can be found at Cabela’s for $165 and comes with both key locks and code versions. Smaller safes like this are great to give you access at night should you need it, but their portability make them unsuitable for long term storage.
Fit and Finances = Construction and Thickness
The quality of the safe is important, and you should go with a known, trusted manufacturer. When choosing your safe, continuous welding is better than stitch welding. Cheap safes use plastic bonding instead of welding, which is much weaker and not fire resistant. A fire axe can penetrate a 12-gauge panel of steel, while 10-gauge will take a concrete saw to cut into. The thickness of the steel will make cutting or drilling harder, but they will also be much heavier. Eight to 10 gauge steel provides the best balance between the two, 8 Gauge steel being 3/16 inch thick.
Function and Finances = Locking Mechanisms, Bolts, and Hinges
There are traditional biometric locks and rotary and digital combination locks. Of course key locked gun safes are available, but as they are the easiest to defeat, I do not recommend them. For tall free-standing safes, or gun safes where ease of access is not a requirement, I would recommend a rotary or digital lock. There is a reason rotary locks are still around and in use – they work. They are more durable and trouble free than electronic ones. Tough they can be considered less convenient and they do take more time to open than a digital version.
A quality safe will have at least two bolts on each side of the door (meaning all four sides, right, left, top, and bottom). In this case more is better, and many high-end safes have several bolt locks. Multiple bolts prevent prying attempts on the door, and make drilling time consuming and difficult. The bolt linkage is a more likely the target of attack, by drilling a hole to insert tools to move one bolt inward, causing all of them to move and disengage.
Hinges come down to internal vs external, and in actuality have little to do with the locking ability of the gun safe. External hinges allow the door to be opened 180 degrees, and can often be removed for transport. Cutting or attacking the hinges does nothing to defeat the locking bolts on a safe. Internal hinges give a smoother outside finish, a thinner profile and are useful in concealed and/or handgun safes.
F’ing Rating systems…
This stuff is confusing. Here in the U.S. – Underwriters Laboratory (UL) ratings are the standard, and here is the short version:
Group I locks are resistant to skilled attacks. What that really means is they are expensive, and designed for banks and larger businesses.
Group II locks are resistant to semi skilled attacks. There are available, affordable, and adequate to keep thieves away from your guns.
When looking for a good lock, look for a UL Group II certification, which means they are resistant to semi-skilled lock picking attempts. A good example of a rotary combination lock is the Sargent & Greenleaf model 6730. I have seen this lock listed on several forums as both a great value and reliable. Just make sure you spin the lock when you close the door!
Digital locks are quicker, and, unlike rotary locks, lock themselves when the door is shut. They do require batteries, which should be replaced every year, and with any electronic device they have a failure rate. You want to buy a good commercial grade lock that will not wear out from regular use. The combinations on digital locks are easier to change, and of course easier to forget if you change it regularly. Buying a Group II digital lock typically comes with a feature that locks the bolt should the keypad be punched or forcibly removed. Again Sargent & Greenleaf products seem to get great reviews. Find more information on the subtypes of electronic locks here.
UL Residential Security Container (RSC) is the minimum standard you should have for your gun safe. Essentially to obtain an RSC rating, the safe goes through a battery of tests including heating it to different temperatures, drop tests, indirect explosions, and lock tampering. Ratings like TL-15 correspond to the amount of time common tools will take to defeat the safe. TL-15 is 15 minutes; TL-30 is 30 minutes, and so forth. Note these are attacks against the gun safe door, and the sides are more vulnerable. There are other testing systems such as: B.T.U/V.D.M.A. certifications (Germany), J.I.S. (Japan), and CSTB (France). For detailed information on Underwriters Laboratory and descriptions of all the ratings and terms go to www.ul.com or www.gunsafes.com.
Underwriters Laboratory completes the fire safety ratings that are approved by OSHA as well. Another standard is Intertek ETL, used by companies like Cannon and Sentry Safe, and their standards meet or exceed UL’s according to their websites. One concern is that there is no oversight for manufactures claims, so watch out for terms like “UL listed fire liner”, “fire board”, or “ceramic fire layer”. These are the components used – not the standard to which they are tested. Fire ratings are typically denoted in time increments. 15, 30, and 60 minutes are fairly common, and longer is generally better – and more expensive.
The average house fire can exceed 1200 degrees F within 10 minutes, and while many safes are rated for higher temperatures, the testing conditions are done at a slower pace to inflate the protection time claim. The best commercial grade safes are “B” rated construction, typically used by businesses like jewelers and banks. Quality materials you should look for are sheet-rock with fiberglass embedded and ceramic wool. For more on fire ratings check here.
Finally know what kind of door seals your safe comes with. Low-end safes come un-sealed, which increases the possibility of moist air seeping in, creating rust on your valuable firearms. A good seal will protect against rust, prevent flooding, and seal the safe in a fire, as well as provide protection against water damage from fire hose spray.
This 13 minute video covers a lot of the topics covered in this article and will show some examples of attacks on safes and may be worth watching if you want even more information.
A few Do’s and Dont’s for Gun Safes…
Research the gun safe’s specifications
Bigger isn’t always better, heavy gauge steel is better than light gauge and harder to drill or cut through. Many large gun safes are thin walled and can be penetrated by an axe or pick. Like the gauge on a shotgun, the lower the number the thicker the walls. Eight to 10 gauge steel is a good compromise between strong vs light, as most personal gun safes are not broken into ala’ the Italian Job, but snatched and broken into later. Also look at the way the steel is welded. You want a safe that is continuously welded, vice stitch welded for better strength and durability. Look for a safe with UL RSC.
Research the gun safe’s tampering safeguards
A quality safe will feature devices to defeat drilling. Battery-powered hand tools can easily defeat a cheap safe. What you are looking for are re-lockers to help ensure the safe remains locked in the case of a burglary. These are hardened pins that are triggered during an attack, and cannot be retracted. The number of re-lockers depends on the safe’s size and burglary grade.
Buy a fire resistant gun safe
Spend the extra money, but make sure you read the specifications; many fireproof safes are in fact, not. Look for the UL RSC rating, which specifies the time temperature the safe can tolerate. Safes lined with sheet rock are low end, ceramic wool is better, and high-end safes have concrete and vermiculite. According to the U.S. Fire Administration there were 364,500 house fires totaling more than six billion in damages. So spend the extra money.
Don’t store powder or primers inside your gun safe
Do not create a bomb by placing explosive compounds in a seal container. Store them in a separate cabinet of light material like wood, and if possible limit the amount to what is required to prevent larger damage.
Don’t make it easy to steal your safe
Take into consideration where you place it. You should never place a gun safe in an area where it can be easily seen. Do not rely on the weight of the gun safe to stop a thief; a pallet jack can easily lift a large heavy safe. If possible attach the safe to a hardened point like a wall stud or the floor. An easy to steal safe is just a mobile container, once in the truck, I can take it anywhere and go to work on it!
Once you have figured out what kind of safe you need, you can look into other aspects of your safe, the interior layout for large safes, lighting, anchoring, and securing the safe, flood protection, and of course maintenance of the gun safe and its contents. Just like any other meaningful purchase, shop around and look at the specifications before you buy. Read reviews on the products you’re considering and go to a reputable store or dealer. You should also be aware of the laws and regulations regarding storage of firearms and what standards on gun safes your state has. Its up to you to make the right choice, protect your investment, and protect your family. Buy a quality gun safe.
~ Aegis Academy Staff