When you buy your very first gun, whether a handgun, rifle or shotgun, you automatically have an issue to deal with the day you bring your new firearm home. That issue is: what are you going to do with it when you’re not shooting, cleaning or otherwise handling it?
Am I Legally Required To Lock My Guns Up?
Are you required by law to lock it up when it’s being stored? States tend to run the gamut in terms of laws requiring that unattended guns be locked up. Twenty-seven states have laws in place to keep stored guns out of children’s hands, while other states simply state that guns be stored to avoid unauthorized access. The Giffords Law Center has an interesting article that sums up safe storage laws nationwide. It makes interesting reading – you can check it out here.
Regardless of gun type or your particular states’ requirements (or lack of same), all guns should be securely stored when not in use, especially if children are present.
This is only common sense. Are there any exceptions allowed to my “sweeping edict”? Not really, but certain conditions may dictate a different safe storage approach. If, for example, you have a gun beside your bed for home defense, that’s understandable but it needs to be secured. There are some specialized gun storage locks out there that allow you to secure your weapon to (or beside) your bedframe but have it available quickly if needed, or a gun safe as I describe below may be the answer. This is just one scenario, but you get the point…no matter what gun(s) you keep handy for whatever purpose, they need to be secured. Before you jump to conclusions that I’m busting your chops for having guns around your house, let me be clear. I am not writing this article in order to tell you that you need to go out and buy some sort of a gun safe. I am simply going to describe some of the better options out there (for both handguns and long guns) that will help keep your guns safe if you are looking for such a thing.
I have a very good friend who is my age, not married and has no small kids coming to his house. He keeps some fairly serious firepower within arm’s reach in different rooms in his house in case he has an emergency situation, but also has secure storage where needed. This works for him, and (in his case) is safe. Whereas, in my case that I explain below, I MUST have secure storage – I have eight grandkids whom all live locally and are in our house almost daily. A locked gun cabinet and pistol safes are in order in this situation. Everybody has a different situation and different needs. I’m just going to show you what’s out there in terms of gun safes, gun cabinets and pistol safes in case you want to lock your guns up or to add to your existing storage. And, remember, in some states you are required to do so…see the Giffords link above for details.
I have come to a point in my life where all of my guns are locked securely in pistol safes or a gun cabinet, but I have biometric access to three loaded, ready-to-go pistols in the pistol safe beside my bed if I need one in a hurry.
I feel secure with this situation, since I am the ONLY one who can get into that safe quickly. (My wife has her own solution for this situation). This matter came to a head after we started having grandkids, especially when they started getting around on their own. The gun just “hidden in a drawer” or similar place wasn’t going to cut it any more. I’m sure there are many of you out there who are in the same situation…it’s common enough. When our four sons were young, I didn’t have as many guns as I do now, so a gun cabinet sufficed. With the advent of the granddies, though, things have changed as my firearm inventory has grown. So… what is out there that could help you keep your guns out of unauthorized hands?
Gun Safe, Gun Cabinet Or Handgun Safe?
I have a gun cabinet for long guns and handguns that are not stored in my pistol safes. I do not have a gun safe. What’s the difference? First, some explanation of steel thickness and ratings systems is in order.
Steel Thickness & RSC Rating
The steel used in safe making is measured in gauges and inches in terms of thickness.
As you can see, 14-gauge steel is about as thin as you’d want to go, whereas on the other end of the spectrum, a safe made of hardened ½-inch-thick steel would be fairly impervious to just about everything (excluding theft, of course) that most criminals using common tools would be able to do in order to defeat its security.
The RSC rating – what is that?
The Underwriters Laboratory (the same group that places a “UL” rating on everything from electrical cords to appliances) applies an RSC rating (Residential Security Container) on safes. This rating is given to safes based on their ability to withstand opening attempts by one operator, with the safe not moved, for five minutes using common hand tools. This describes the Level I rating. A Level II safe must withstand a two-man team working on all six sides for ten minutes with common hand tools plus picks, pressure-applying devices and high-speed power drills with carbide bits. There is a Level III rating but it mostly applies to commercial safes. If you want to know more about the RSC rating system, go here. In addition, for a more complete explanation of overall burglary security ratings, go here.
I think the simplest way to point out the difference between the two is to understand that a true gun safe has round, thick sliding bolts in the safe door that go into recessed holes in the safe body. Most gun safes have at least three bolts in the door and are made of ten- or twelve-gauge metal to discourage attempts to drill into them. See below for how I define a gun cabinet.
Several of the more-expensive safes are fire and flood rated, as well. They will tend to protect your guns in the eventuality of a home fire or flood to whatever category that they are rated. There are many different styles of gun safes. Newer ones tend to have biometric locks (activated by your fingerprint, most likely-see “Fingerprints?” below for more on biometrics). These safes allow quick opening of the door but only work for those prints that have been stored in that safe’s memory.
The Bunker Mentality
Safes can be simple or as elaborate as you want. Some folks have turned a closet into a “gun bunker” that offers a very large space for storage (of not only guns but accessories or other valuables as well) and is secured by a large, heavy metal door with sliding bolts. Other safes can have rotating shelves, lights, humidity control and other features…your willingness to pay for more is the only limit to your gun safe’s set of features. The basic safe that has bolts in the door, some fire/flood protection and has been bolted to the wall or floor suffices for most of us. If your firearm collection is vast, however, the converted-closet or built-into-a-wall solution may be the way to go. There are safe doors out there that are designed to be used in these applications or you can come up with your own solution.
Why Gun Cabinets?
Gun cabinets are typically cheaper to buy than safes but are usually not as secure. These devices don’t have sliding bolts in their doors, but rely on other means to lock them. Cabinets can be any storage container designed to hold guns (or tools, for that matter). They can made of metal or wood. The decorative, glass-fronted cabinet holding your fine over/under shotgun collection is an example of a very nice-looking means of storage that has almost no security. They’re nice to look at and easy to open to retrieve that Browning Citori with the full vent rib, but that ease of opening is its downfall. All anyone would have to do is break the glass and your guns are gone. I do understand that these types of cabinets have changed with the times but they are still basically the same in terms of ease of access.
The metal gun cabinet is a step up in secure storage from the glass-fronted one, but is still not as effective as a true gun safe. Cabinets tend to be made out of thinner metal and typically have a simple keyed lock on the door that, when unlocked, pulls a couple of flat metal sliding rods out of slots in the top and bottom of the cabinet’s frame. The guns are locked up, true, but just not as securely as if they were in a gun safe with its heavier construction and more solid bolts. Another difference is that there is usually no fire or flood protection offered by a gun cabinet. I have this type of cabinet. If circumstances permitted, I’d have a real safe, like one of our sons has. HIs safe is secured in place and uses several sliding door bolts to keep things locked up. The safe performs more than one function – it stores guns, and protects against fire/flood and theft. The cabinet is not designed to do much of anything other than to store guns…they are lighter and easier to move or break into than a true safe. At least with my lesser-expensive cabinet I have a sense of security that little (or other) hands cannot find their way to my locked-up guns, which is what I want it to do. For that purpose, it is perfect. Another disadvantage of the inexpensive metal gun cabinet is that its door lock is easily drilled out with a plain-jane half-inch drill bit (ask me how I know…it’s amazing how those two tiny round keys like to disappear). Even so, these cabinets are a legal and very effective way of keeping your guns out of the wrong hands. A locked metal gun cabinet beats a .38 hidden in your sock drawer in terms of keeping it out of the wrong hands.
The handgun safe is a smaller version of the larger, long gun safe designed, appropriately, for handguns. Although many gun safes and cabinets have shelves or other ways of storing handguns and has quick access either via keypad or physical key, the small gun safe offers possibly the quickest access of the three types but yet still provides the necessary security. When I say quicker access, I mean that most of us who have gun safes or cabinets do not have them installed beside our beds…they are usually placed in an out-of-the-way or more secure location in our house. If we need quick access to a secured handgun, chances are it will be while we are in bed. Hence, we have the advantage of a smaller version of a safe that can sit on your nightstand and have one or more handguns ready to go when needed. As I said earlier, I have one of these by my side of the bed. It is a Barska Biometric model. I will look at various safes later in some detail but maybe a little about how my pistol safe works may be in order now. Because my Barska safes are not unlike other pistol safes out there, I’ll use them for a quick illustration.
I can get into my safes by one of three ways… (1) I can program my fingerprints into the built-in biometric scanner that will slide the bolts open and free the door when I place my finger on that scanner; (2) I can push numbered buttons on a keypad to enter a code that I previously set, or (3) I can use the keys that came with it to open the door. This, by the way, is the only way to open the safe if the AA batteries die. The door is secured by two bolts that are electrically activated (except for the keyed access which is mechanical). I can set it to “beep” when I input a number or fingerprint or I can have it be silent, which is where it is set now. These safes work very well and were not very expensive. They are available in many different stores or online.
“Biometric” is a fancy word for the ability for the safe to scan your fingerprint with a built-in optical sensor that creates a bio algorithm (encrypted image) of your fingerprint. It then compares this image to see if the fingerprint it sees on the scanner when you place your finger there matches any of those fingerprint images you had previously registered and stored in its memory. If so, it will slide the door bolts open and let you into the safe. This method is extremely popular among safe manufacturers and it makes sense. Keypad code combinations can be compromised, keys can be stolen or duplicated but nobody has a fingerprint identical with yours. There are basically two types of fingerprint recognition scanners…one finger or multiple fingers. Hornady, among others, is a company that makes safes that will read more than one finger at once. You lay four fingers on the four scanners and the door bolts retract if your prints match those in its memory. There are advantages to both systems…you have to decide which works better for you. In my case, I could not utilize the multi-finger scanning system with my left hand, as I had an accident long ago with an extension ladder that left the pinky finger on my left hand permanently bent a bit, so I wouldn’t be able to lay it flat on the scanner. The Barska safes I use have only one scanner but you can register up to ten prints, so you are not limited to a forefinger or thumb. That’s how your fingerprints can get you into your safe.
There, however, can be a couple of problems with fingerprint-scanning unlocking methods. First, I’ve had from time to time an issue with finger placement on the scanner. If I try to open the safe with a fingerprint but don’t place my finger exactly on the scanner as I did when I registered it. It will flash a red light twice (and beep if that’s enabled) and not open the door. I have gotten to where I try to put my finger exactly on the sensor as I did when I registered my fingerprints, which works most of the time. Failing that, it takes just a second to enter the 4-digit code on the 4-key keypad, or (worst case) use the key. The point is that you can have fairly quick access to your gun if it’s stored in a proper pistol safe. (To be fair, not all safes are the same where scanning is concerned – some are more forgiving of finger placement while retaining security…see below). The second issue is that, if the batteries die, you’re limited to keyed access until you can replace them. But, with things working well, biometric access is fast and reliable overall.
Are All Fingerprint Scanners Created Equal?
A note on opening your safe with your fingerprint…some are more precise than others. Another of our sons has a 9mm stored in a biometric safe that cost a little more than mine did. His scanner seems to be a bit more accurate in reading his fingerprint – I’ve seen him open his safe with just one quick, light touch on it. On the other hand, sometimes mine would require that I touch it several times in order to get it to open. It’s like anything else – you tend to get what you pay for, but my safes are perfectly functional, quick and responsive enough to suit me – I still have the keypad and the key if the scanner fails. I would recommend trying a few different ones if you are able to do that. If you want to order one online and can’t try it, don’t just take my word for it – check out the reviews of other owners.
What I want you to take away from all this is that you should get a safe that allows more than one means of opening it…a failsafe backup. If one method doesn’t work, you’ll still be able to get into it.
Another Means Of Entry…RFID
Keypads, biometric scanners and physical keys are not the only way to get your safe open. I describe below a Hornady safe that uses RFID technology to open the lock. RFID stands for radio frequency identification. There is a receiver built into the safe’s locking mechanism and a transmitter that you have that sends a signal and opens the lock, to define it simply.
The transmitter can be placed in a key fob, a wrist bracelet or a decal that you affix to your phone or other item. All you have to do to open the safe is to place the transmitter in close proximity to the receiver (lock) and the door opens. This may be the fastest way to get into a safe…I’m no expert on RFID unlocking but it sure makes sense to use this technology. Of course, backups are included as well…a keypad and keys, usually.
Let’s look at some safes that I think are good buys. We’ll look at safes, cabinets and pistol safes in that order.
Here are a few, listed from more expensive on down.
BARSKA Fireproof Fire Vault Rifle Gun Keypad Lock Safe
With its ability to store 45 rifles (with rack moved), this almost-20-cu-ft. monster should do what is asked of it – store your valuable firearms securely and protect them for an hour against a 1200 degree fire. As the screen shot shows, in its stock configuration you have plenty of storage for both your long guns and handguns. The eight-handgun-capable door storage (without moving anything around) is great. I’ve tried putting my handguns on one of the two shelves that my cabinet has and there’s not much room. Here, your handguns can be stored without scratching or rubbing against other guns.
Look at the storage on the right side of the safe. I do understand that the shelves are arranged in such a way to facilitate ammo or other box storage, but even if you keep it the way it’s shown, you shouldn’t have to search around for other places to store these boxy items. If all you want to store are long guns, remove the shelves and you’ll have room for them.
This is a safe that will protect your guns, and do that very well.
Steelwater Heavy Duty 20 Long Gun AMSW592818 Safe
We will look at a slightly less-expensive safe now. Steelwater is a safe company that makes some heavy-duty equipment. From the locking bolts that extend a full inch and a half into their recesses to automatic interior lighting, these safes are built to last. Here are some features…
The digital keypad is E.M.P. (electro-magnetic pulse) proof and includes a double-bitted bypass key if one is needed.
Ten of these inch-and-a-half locking bolts, five on each side of the door, secure the door.
Let There Be Light
One thing I really do not like about my (inexpensive) gun cabinet is that I need to bring a flashlight with me if I am hunting something that is buried within it. This cabinet includes full LED lighting that comes on when the door is open and shuts off when the door closes, just like your refrigerator. This is an excellent idea and one that all manufacturers should subscribe to.
Another nice touch is the door storage. As you can see, several handguns and accessories will fit in the designated pouches. The material is fairly rigid but soft to the touch so your guns’ finishes are safe.
If you are looking for a versatile, secure safe that will protect your guns from theft or fire (within limits, of course), then I would take another look at this Steelwater.
Stack-On E-40-MB-E-S Elite 36-40 Gun Safe with Electronic Lock
The Stack-On E-40 safe is one that can be modified to suit many different storage needs. As the screen shot shows, long guns, handguns, ammunition, cases and other shooting-related items are able to be contained within its stout walls. Here are some specs:
The Stack-On company, like other gun safe manufacturers, makes a multitude of well-received locking storage containers for many purposes. Their small pistol safes are very popular, for one example. According to the company’s website, they have been the number one gun safe sold since 2016. I was unable to verify this, so take it however you will. At any rate, this safe should do what it is intended to do. With its moveable barrel rests and shelves, you should be able to configure it to hold a lot of different combinations of guns.
The door includes some useful storage pouches and Molle strips. Five shelves and three long gun barrel rests complete the storage capability of this safe. If you are looking for a way to keep your guns secure, the Stack-On E-40 may be the way to go.
We’ve looked at safes. Now, we’ll take a look at some of the gun cabinets that are out there. I can speak from experience about cabinets, since I own one as I said earlier. These will cost less than the safes and will be made of thinner metal. But… for keeping your guns locked securely away from your grandkids (as in my case) or anyone else not authorized to handle them, the cabinet is a cost-effective way to go.
Stack-On 18 Gun Convertible Cabinet
Stack-On is a name that should be familiar to anyone who has shopped for gun safes (above), and they make cabinets as well. This 18-gun convertible cabinet is one of their most popular storage units.
This cabinet costs a fraction of what a safe would cost, because it isn’t built like a safe. Please remember that the average gun cabinet will not provide fire or flood protection and might be easily broken into. But, for the purpose they serve, they suffice very well. They will keep your guns out of the hands of children or the friend who likes guns and wants to see yours, without necessarily first seeking permission (“Oh, it’s OK – he won’t mind. We’ve been shooting buddies for 40 years”). And, not to drive this point into the ground, in many states you must have your guns locked up – this cabinet would serve that purpose well. Stack-On’s good reputation in the gun storage market stands the company in good stead with their cabinets. This one looks like it should give years of service.
HQ Issue Metal Gun Locker
The HQ Issue gun locker is a no-nonsense way to keep your firearms locked up. At a glance, you can tell if a certain rifle or shotgun is inside the cabinet. This locker makes no pretense at looking like anything other than what it is…a strong, heavy-gauge steel gun storage facility. You are put in mind of a police station’s ready room when you look at this cabinet, with its mesh doors and lockable handle. Here are some of its features:
Stack-On TC-16-GB-K-DS 16-Gun Tactical Security Cabinet
This Stack-On cabinet is built for a more specific purpose – to hold tactical rifles specifically, along with others.
Two tactical rifles and up to 14 more long guns can be stored, with the shelves removed. Here are some of its features:
A good handgun safe makes for a great investment, not only in guaranteeing the safety of those around you who might misuse your gun, but the safe will also keep your gun’s finish from being scratched like it could be if it was kept in a drawer or other casual location. As I said above, I have two and one of our sons has one – we use them 24/7 to store our guns. I have a .45, a 9mm and a .380 in my bedside safe, with an extra magazine for each. This situation makes for safe, quick access to the guns in the event they are needed. So, how would we define a good handgun safe? Here are a few pointers…
It needs to be sturdy. Thin-gauge metal has no place in a handgun safe. Because of their very nature, they are small. If you move your safe from point A to point B and drop it, you don’t want any ill effects. Make sure the safe you’re looking at is made of decent-strength steel.
It needs to be accessible quickly. When you hear a noise in your kitchen downstairs at 3:30 in the morning, you don’t want to have to go somewhere else to retrieve your gun, nor do you want to take more than a few seconds to have that gun in your hand after you retrieve it. A safe beside your bed with RFID, biometric or keypad access is the best scenario.
It needs to be able to be anchored in place. Most handgun safes come with mounting hardware for either the back or the bottom of the safe so that you can bolt it to the wall studs, floor, etc. Whether or not you do this is your call.
Anyway, these are very basic guidelines, based on my experience. Handgun safes, like their larger brethren, come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. I’ll try to pick those that I think are the best value. Notice I didn’t say cheapest… value may or may not be tied to price, either low or high. Having said that, though, a gun safe of any type needs to be very well-built. They perform a vital function and must be up to the task. Along the same lines, prices can get way up there very quickly. Only you can decide how much you are able or willing to spend – I’ll leave it at that.
Hornady Rapid Gun Safe
The Hornady Rapid Gun Safe is exactly what it says – rapid. With its RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) – activated lock, this safe may be the fastest one of all to get it open. You have a variety of methods of identifying yourself – there is (clockwise in the photo below) a decal or sticker that you can affix to wood, metal, plastic, etc.; a wristband transmitter located in the buckle of the band; a touch keypad and a key fob. All you have to do is hold whatever device close to the keypad/reader and the lock activates (the keypad is manually operated). This safe is the smallest of three that Hornady sells – this one is sized (by Hornady) as a L, with an XL and an XXL available. The cost is about $40 more for the XXL, with a vehicle safe around the same XXL price.
If you are looking for a small handgun safe that doesn’t take up much room but is instantly accessible, this might be the one for you. Hornady also makes a similar RFID locking device that you can bolt to a wall that locks around the action of a rifle or shotgun and stores it vertically.
SentrySafe QAP1BE Gun Safe
This SentrySafe handgun safe will store one handgun and have it accessible very quickly. It uses three modes of locking – biometric, keypad and backup physical key. Here are some of its features:Interesting to note is that SentrySafe recommends high-quality AA batteries and recommends against putting cheap ones in the safe. This is advice that should be followed by all who put any kind of battery in a safe such as this. I know from experience that, once the batteries die, you had better know where you put the keys that came with the safe. As stated, I have two Barska safes and, no, the keys for one will not work with the other one. Take a lesson from this and treat the safe as you would any essential battery-operated device (like a smoke or CO detector) – change the batteries regularly. There’s nothing wrong with using a key to get into the safe – it just takes longer, plus it is one more thing you have to keep track of.
I think that three redundant methods of safe entry are a good way to go…you had just better make sure that you keep two of the three out of the wrong hands. Your fingerprints should be fairly secure, located where they are. Nobody else has your prints, to be sure! SentrySafe makes a very decent product…you may want to give it a look.
AmazonBasics Security Safe
I wanted to include a lesser-expensive safe that would still do the job. The AmazonBasics Security safe is a good buy with several features that recommend it for anyone looking for a safe way to secure things but are on a budget. Here are some of its features:
I chose this safe to feature out of a series of AmazonBasic handgun safes because it is the smallest, least-expensive one of the bunch. If you are looking for a budget safe but want a little more room, the AmazonBasics family includes safes that are 0.7 cu/ft. ($58), 1 cu/ft. ($63), and 1.2 cu/ft. ($68). This safe does not claim to offer fire protection, but I have read reviews that say that the owner’s guns were not damaged in a house fire. Again, you can’t count on that, but it does speak pretty well of the safe’s construction.
This safe looks like it would be ideal on a nightstand – it probably wouldn’t fit into a drawer – and would be able to hold one or two handguns with extra ammo and maybe a flashlight. With its width at just about 14 inches and depth around 10 inches, you shouldn’t have any problem fitting a 1911-sized gun with a couple of extra magazines on each shelf.
Or, if you have a specialized need or want to store more than a couple of guns, remove the shelf for one large, open area.
I would like to have a couple of these. They would fit in very well as a place to not only lock guns away safely, but also important papers or other valuables.
This is a decent safe for the money. It does not use RFID or biometric technology, but given that it will still lock things up and be very quickly accessible, I don’t see this as a negative. Plus, you can get the size of safe that you need from the four sizes included in this AmazonBasics series. That’s a win in my book.
We’ve looked at nine gun safes, gun cabinets and handgun safes. I have tried to describe those safes that I feel would do a good job of keeping your firearms out of unauthorized hands. Another purpose of the listed gun safes might be to protect your guns, at least somewhat), in the event of a fire or other catastrophe if so rated.
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There are too many safes/cabinets out there to just do a blind search, so hopefully I’ve at least given you a place to start. If you don’t like one of my choices, that’s fine – let’s talk about it in the comments below. I guess the main point of this article to remind all of us (myself included) that our shooting hobby can be inherently dangerous, especially to those around us who may gain access to our guns without our permission. I don’t mean to preach but It’s our moral responsibility, whether legislated or not, to make sure that our loved ones and others are kept safe from an accidental shooting and that our guns are securely stored against theft. I guess that’s the bottom line… for all to be safe. Let me know what you think, or if you’ve found a great deal on a gun safe or cabinet, below.
Mike has been a shooter, bullet caster and reloader for over 40 years. Never one to be satisfied with the status quo, he is often found at his reloading bench concocting yet another load. With a target range in his backyard and after 40 years of shooting, his knowledge of firearms and reloading is fairly extensive. He is married, with four sons and daughters-law and 8-and-counting grandkids.