I encourage all preppers to own, train with, and carry firearms. But sometimes we cannot carry them or we own many guns. That’s when you need a secure location to store your weapons. In today’s post, I am going to discuss several options and make recommendations based on my experience owning at least seven different gun security devices and safes over the past 25 years.
Degrees of Security
When storing firearms, our needs may vary. For example, we need to balance the speed of access with security. I break them down as follows.
This is the lowest level of security and keeps guns out of the hands of children and guests you invite into your home. Most of the storage options at this level are metal cabinets with keyed locks.
I have used three different models that fit into this category. For example, when I had young children at home, I kept a locking gun cabinet in the closet of our bedroom. It held a shotgun, an AR-15, and I would store my pistol in there when I was not carrying it. This was quickly accessible and used one of those tubular keys to unlock. I did not fool myself into thinking this would keep the guns safe from a determined thief, as I expect a good crowbar could pry it open, but it kept the kids and their friends out of it.
I also carried a small locking safe in my car that was attached to the front seat anchor with a metal cable. If I had to take off my gun and lock it in the car to go into the kids’ school, I could lock my gun in there. This had four push buttons and I would push them sex times in a specific order to open the safe. It also had a key for backup if the battery died. (And they frequently did.) I still use it occasionally.
This is better than nothing, probably meets any legal requirements for securing your weapon, and is what I consider the minimum level of security for a responsible gun owner.
Entry Level Gun Safes
These safes are usually under $1,000 and hold up to eight guns. If you bought your safe at Costo or Sam’s Club, it’s probably in this category.
These safes look official and they may intimidate a meth head looking to make a quick score, but they won’t be that much of a challenge to a serious burglar who came prepared. I expect they can cut most open with a saws-all using a metal-cutting blade. They often have little or no fire protection and use an electronic keypad (more on locks later).
On the plus side, these safes are small enough that you can move them yourself if you move and they will fit in a small bedroom closet. They are good starter-safes and better than nothing. If you don’t want to spend more on your safe than you do on your first couple of guns, then this is a good compromise.
Better Gun Safes
This grade of safe uses thicker steel on the exterior, is tougher, heavier, has a higher fire rating, and is more difficult to break into. The top of the line safes have relockers that make drilling them difficult. They also use better locks. These can go from a few thousand dollars to much more. If you have a serious armory, this is the best way to keep your weapons secure.
Better gun safes are so heavy thieves can’t haul them out of your house and then break into them at their leisure. You will probably need experts with special equipment to install them for you.
Hiding your Guns
This can be effective, but keep in mind that good burglars know all the best hiding places. Also, you don’t want a kid to find your stash while playing hide and seek. If you want to hide your weapons for the government, bury them well away from your house.
Here are my suggestions for buying and installing a gun safe.
I recommend you get the largest safe you can afford. Not only do weapons tend to multiply over time, but you will find additional stuff you will want to put in there. Down the road, if you decide you need a bigger safe, just buy a second one. Two safes can be in two locations and will take twice as long to break into and will potentially protect half your collection. Just another example where two is one and one is none.
Never believe the manufacturer’s claims as to the number of long guns your safe will hold. I generally divide this number in half is storing scoped rifles with pistol grips and in two thirds for other weapons. In other words, if the manufacturer claims the save will hold 30 long guns, it might if they are all iron sighted lever actions, 10/22s, or other thin guns. It will probably hold just 15 battle rifles with optics or a mix of 20 different guns.
I prefer taller safes, usually about six feet. These are better if you have lots of pistols because they provide extra shelves. Yes, taller safes are more expensive, but you will probably come to appreciate the extra room and they are easier to get guns in and out of.
Avoid an Electronic Lock
Electronic locks are prone to failure for multiple reasons, including bad boards and fried chips, broken wires, weak connections, dead batteries, and failed motors. The only time a safe should have an electronic lock is when the safe must be accessed by multiple people, such as in a business. An electronic lock gives the business owner the ability to quickly change the code every time an employee leaves.
In my opinion, the so-called “EMP Lock” that was (and may still be) available on some Cannon safes is the best electronic lock because it includes both a manual dial and a digital lock. This gives you a way to open the safe even when the electronic lock dies.
Never get a safe that has a fancy key as a backup in case the lock fails. A keyhole is just an exploitable weakness.
The “old fashioned” combination locks are preferable and far more fail-safe than digital locks. At a minimum, get Sargent & Greenleaf combination dial. If your safe did not come with a combination lock, you can buy these online and replace your electronic lock. Also, you can buy a tool that allows you to change your combination. There are YouTube videos on how to do this, and it takes less than ten minutes.
Speaking of YouTube, search for videos on how to break into or your safe or hack your safe’s lock. That should give you an idea of how secure you will be.
Whenever you change the combination, whether on a digital keypad on a dial, always do it with the safe open. If you screw up, it’s better to be stuck with a safe locked open than one locked closed.
The best location is somewhere with a cement floor. Large safes are heavy and may exceed a wooden floor’s weight rating. I recommend installing your safe in a corner so at least two walls are inaccessible and bolting it to the floor.
A good safe should have at least four holes (one in each corner) for bolting it to the floor. A single hole in the center is not sufficient. I have used expansion bolts in cement floors.
Bolting your safe to the floor not only makes it very difficult to remove, it makes it difficult to break into the safe via its floor. A well-known truck for burglars is to tip the safe over and attack it from the bottom. On inexpensive safes, this is often a weak point.
If you store your safe in a garage, make sure it is not visible from the outside when you open the garage doors. You don’t want to show it off to the neighborhood. If necessary, buy a large tool cabinet or other camouflage to put in front of it.
If you keep your safe in the basement, consider pouring a cement pad four inches high. You can then put the anchor bolts in it. Equally important, the extra few inches will keep water out of your safe in the event of a leak or small flood.
If possible, secure the safe in a locked room that uses a metal exterior door. The secure room will give you a place to store your ammo and other accessories and keep our prying eyes. It may also slow down the burglars. If you have a burglar alarm, time is important. I also recommend a motion detector and/or a motion-activated video camera point at the safe.
Don’t Worry About Hinges
I’ve known people who won’t get a safe with external hinges. They fear someone will cut through the hinges. These folks fail to realize that on a properly constructed safe, cutting the hinges should not cause the door to open. Hinges allow the door to swing; they should not be a critical part of the security mechanism. Your safe should have door bolts so that it will stay locked with or without hinges.
Your safe should have multiple bolts on all four sides of the door. This will help prevent prying or forcing.
A Ionger/higher the fire rating on your safe is better. I’ve seen them from 20 to 90 minutes on consumer grade safes. I want to see at least 1200 degrees. Keep in mind that if a fire starts in the basement, it burns upwards, and when the roof burns through, much of the heat escapes. I would be an unusual fire indeed in which subjected your safe to 1200 degrees for 90 minutes.
A $10 Sack-Ups gun sock can provide additional protection for your guns from a smoke and water damage resulting from a fire. Well worth the cost.
Use an electric dehumidifier or big can of desiccants in your safe, even when in an air conditioned room. I also recommend a gauge or meter inside to measure humidity. Not only do guns rust over time, but leather slings can mold (ask me how I know). Check your safe queens a couple times year and wipe them down with oil or a gun protectant. Keeping them in the aforementioned Sack-Ups gun sock also helps prevent rust.
If turning your unlocking or locking mechanisms becomes difficult or noisy, remove the interior cover to your safe door and grease the joints and lube the gears. The more locking bolts your safe has, the more mechanical force is required to throw the mechanism. A properly lubricated mechanism should turn smoothly.
If your safe is in a garage, outbuilding, or other location where it may be subject to humidity, I would recommend performing this preventive maintenance and checking for rust at least once every three years.
Your combination lock dial should turn smoothly. If you experience any issues with your lock, have a gunsmith certified by the lock maker check it out.
The Safe Interior
They usually make safe interiors to impress, but they are the first thing that will fail. Frequently made from particle board, they will sag when subjected to too much weight. I have had to replace shelves with shelving cut from three-quarter inch plywood, and I have had to reinforce uprights with 2x4s.
Likewise, never pay extra for a fancy exterior finish (unless that convinces your spouse to let you buy it).
Pete’s Gun Safe Rules
In summary, here are the basics:
- Keep your guns secure. Have a gun safe.
- Get as big a safe with the best fire protection as you can afford.
- Bolt it to a cement floor, preferably against a wall or in a corner.
- Go with a combination dial lock, not an electronic lock.
- Consider additional layers of security, such as hiding the safe, keeping it in a secure room, having a burglar alarm, etc.