If you own at least one firearm, you need a gun safe. In certain states, such as California, not owning a gun safe means you potentially face liability should your firearm be stolen. Not all gun safes are created equally, so it can be hard to choose the right one for your needs.
Lots of research is needed to separate the facts from marketing claims to ensure you end up with a gun safe that is not only affordable and practical, but will serve its ultimate purpose. There are no regulatory standards placed upon gun safes in the USA. Your gun safe will likely be a lifetime investment, so get it right the first time.
Why Use a Gun Safe?
Gun safes not only help protect your firearms from theft, but they can also ensure the guns are safely kept away from children, reducing the likelihood of misuse inside the home. If you live in a state that requires guns to be stored in some sort of safe, it is a good idea to buy the safe at the same time or shortly after you buy a firearm.
Types of Gun Safes
There are multiple types of guns safes, with safes classified based on the type of gun being stored, or the type of locking mechanism used.
- Biometric Gun Safes: Also known as fingerprint gun safes, these safes use a locking system that requires fingerprints to open them. Because you can program several fingerprints, you are able to give multiple people access to the safe. The major benefit to this kind of safe is that it can be opened in a moments notice. You have to be careful when you buy one because some of the products available are not made with the highest quality of standards. Pay attention to the brand and make sure to buy a reputable one.
- Electronic/digital gun safes: Rather than using a key or combination, the safe opens using a code entered on a digital dial pad. These offer a quick convenience, but you may find they run on a battery, so you must have a backup battery supply to ensure it functions properly all the time. It is also important to change the code on a regular basis since dial pads will begin to wear with time. Signs of wear may hint to others what the code could be, thus allowing unauthorized access to the guns in the safe.
- Dial Safes: One of the most reliable types of safe is the dial safe. Because it does not use technology that is prone to failure, this safe offers security. A dial combination is required to open the door. Though secure, it is not easy to open at a moments notice compared to other types of safes available today. You cannot change the combination on this type of safe. No power supply is required, unless there are features such as lighting or dehumidifiers that need power to function.
- Handgun safes: These safes are smaller because they are designed to hold pistols and handguns. Some of these are even small enough to fit inside a drawer, which makes them ideal. If you only have a few valuables to store inside the safe and you don’t have any long guns that you need to store, a handgun safe may be the ideal option. These are typically less expensive, though many people opt to invest in a long gun safe so they have room to grow their collection.
- Long gun safes: Larger and more bulky, these safes are designed to store larger sized guns, as well as multiple guns. They are available in a number of sizes depending on the number of guns you need to store. Many also include other compartments to allow for storage of gun accessories, such as cleaning supplies. Some safes even feature compartments that allow you to store other valuables. They can also be used for handguns, especially if you use a rack to keep them organized.
Every gun owner will have different needs when it comes to their safe. Inspect different locking mechanisms, explore different brands and features, and look at price points to determine what will work best for you.
It is a good idea to buy a gun safe that is larger than what you think you need. You never know when you will want to add to your collection, so you need to be sure you have extra room for any additional firearms that may be added to your collection later. In addition to protecting your guns, the right safe can protect other valuables as well. You can quickly fill up the safe, and space will likely go faster than you realize. Measure all the items you intend to store in the safe, and add a bit more room when you shop around, to be safe.
While you want a gun safe that will provide you room to grow, you also want to keep it as small as possible, to make it easier to store and to conceal. If the safe becomes obvious, it is a target for burglary. Ideally, it should be kept in the basement or attic, but could also be kept in a closet.
Though thicker steel will make the overall unit heavier – the thicker the steel, the better the protection you’ll have. Thicker steel will also cost you more, so this is something to consider. 12-gauge steel is only about 0.081 inches thick, which can easily be broken into with power tools. It is best to opt for 10-gauge, or lower, with 8 being ideal, for the sides and doors.
Those who have time to wait for a bargain can usually find a used gun safe for less than $1,000. Lighter units, weighing 500 pounds or less, you can move on your own. If the unit is heavier, expect to pay for moving and installation.
Buying new means you’ll spend an average of at least $800, with many American made models starting at $1,000. Unless you ship and install the safe on your own, add another 10 to 30% to cover shipping and installation costs.
Gun safes that cannot easily be defeated with brute force methods will run anywhere from $1,400-$5,000 brand-new, depending on size and fire protection. These safes offer a tremendous amount of protection against all non-power tools. However, power tools will still get inside in a matter of minutes to hours depending on installation and location. Because these are heavier, they cost more to move, so add and 50% for shipping and installation.
To get a top quality true safe that will stand up against power tools, prepare to spend anywhere between $2,000 to $15,000, depending on the size, level of security, and fire protection. These can weigh more than a ton, so add anywhere from 20% to 80% more to cover the cost of shipping and installation.
Though the budget is important, also take time to consider the level of warranty and support that comes with the safe at the time of purchase. Read the fine print, and be aware that not all safes will come with one. If you purchase a safe with fingerprint scanners or electronic locks, these components could fail over time. If a locksmith ever needs to come open or repair the safe, there could a potentially substantial cost involved. If the warranty covers these issues, it could be worth the extra expense when initially buying the safe. If not, the money you save by opting out of a warranty could cost you later.
Increasing Security and Protection
Select a good location – out of plain view – and bolt the safe to the floor. Consider hiding the safe altogether – perhaps inside a hollowed out refrigerator. Customize your gun safe with extra steel, only in locations where you need it.
Improve overall home security and reduce fire risk. Fireproof the safe yourself, or install a sprinkler head directly over the safe’s location. Keep your personal tools locked up, or hidden, so as to prevent burglars from using your own tools to break into the safe. Don’t store ammunition or powder in the safe, as these could ignite in a fire, and make the situation worse. Store it separately, in another container, away from sources of heat and flame.
Practice “free” home security techniques, such as forwarding your phone calls when you leave, or using timed lights, so you appear home when you’re not to avoid becoming a burglar target.
Tips for Buying the Right Safe
Spend the money on a safe that offers the size, features, and protection you want. Your gun collection may easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars in value, so why protect it with ta safe that only cost a few hundred dollars? If budget is a concern, opt for a used safe. Compared to many other products, safes typically do not wear out over time. Look for businesses in your area that are changing locations; you can secure a high quality commercial safe for not much more than the cost of removing it.
Spend more on a safe that offers fire resistance. Pay close attention to the claims of the safe, as fireproofing may not be effective. If sheetrock is used, make sure that is properly installed. If you are also using the safe to protect media files another valuable documents, it is a good idea to purchase a commercial grade fire safe to put inside the gun safe for double protection.
Research multiple brands before you buy. Unlike other products on the market where brand may not represent significant differences, there are significant differences among brands of gun safes. For instance, Browning offers a patent pending door mounted rifle rack. Fort Knox uses advanced methods for security and stabilization. Brown offers a custom wood interior shelf with commercial grade burglary protection. Compare differences between brands to determine which brand has features that best suite your needs, and then select the size and lock style you need.
Pay close attention to the specifications of the safe. Just because the unit is heavy and large, does not make it secure. Heavy gauge steel is less likely to be cut and drilled than light gauge steel. Some safes out there have thin walls that can be penetrated with a fire ax.
Research the safeguards against tampering for your safe. Quality safes will have extra armor or features that will prohibit drilling. Lower quality safes can be opened in a few minutes using battery-powered hand tools. All safes should have re-lockers to make sure the safe remains locked in the case of a burglary.
Don’t expect to be able to find the right gun safe for your needs without shopping around. Make sure the safe meets all state regulations in terms of safety ratings. Have a professional install the safe, somewhere in your home that is out of plain sight. Train other adults in the home about how to use the safe, and educate children on an age-appropriate level about gun safety.
Still think owning a gun safe isn’t worth the investment? A lot of times, you’ll be storing a collection worth two to three times more than the safe itself – and quite possibly priceless, irreplaceable items. Divide the price of the safe, including shipping and installation charges by the number of years you expect to use the safe. Compare this dollar amount to the total value of the items stored in the safe. You’ll quickly find the cost of the safe makes it an inexpensive insurance “policy” in and of itself.