If you live in and love the firearms lifestyle, you assume the same basic responsibility — to keep your firearms away from people (kids, criminals, crazies) who shouldn’t have access to them. A gun safe will do that job for you, but how to choose one? Here are some helpful tips.
I’ve owned a Liberty touchpad-open gun safe in burgundy-and-brass for 20 years now, and it has sat in the corner of my office, quietly doing its job without complaint all that time. The closest modern equivalent is Liberty’s Presidential Series 25.
I also built a hidden gun room once I ran out of storage in the safe. I erred by not buying enough capacity initially.
Reason: What you don’t plan for — or at least I didn’t — was how much other stuff will wind up in the safe. Yes, I have a bunch of firearms in it, but there’s also all our important car and home documents, some cash, other personal documents, some ammo for the firearms in the safe, and assorted other goodies.
Also, my son and daughter have their firearms in the safe as well because they live in gun-restrictive states. They may never be able to possess their existing semi-auto rifles and shotguns unless they move back to Texas, so I’m holding them indefinitely, maybe a lifetime.
Door organizers can help cut down the clutter handguns can cause, but there’s no substitute for volume.
I’d say the smallest safe most gun owners will look at for their storage needs, depending on their situation, is a 24-gun safe, or more accurately, one that holds 24 long guns.
Keeping Things ‘Safe’
A good safe has to be durable enough to withstand the most common types of attacks: removal and sidewall penetration.
To start with the latter, the Liberty has enough sidewall thickness to satisfy me. It’s 7-gauge solid steel, but I believe a minimum of 10- to 11-gauge steel is satisfactory and a lot more affordable. What you’re trying to buy is enough strength that it’s drill-resistant or can fend off someone trying to puncture the sides with other tools, such as an ax or sledgehammer. Hopefully, you don’t store your acetylene torch in the same place as your safe.
Plenty of safes from major makers (Liberty Gun Safe 1776 Series 23, the Browning Sporter, and the Kodiak KSB5928EX-SO meet the capacity and side-thickness minimums above and won’t break the bank.
Simple removal is a bigger problem than you might think. If q thief who has targeted you has the means to slide the safe into a pickup bed, then he can open it with more aggressive means at another location.
I had my safe bolted to the floor on a second story. Someone who wants what’s in it has a tough task of tearing it from the floor and getting it down the stairs. Probably too tough a job for most thieves. (Handgun safes should get the same treatment.)
Of course, that usually suggests professional installation. I had mine moved up the stairs by a local installer and bolted into place on delivery. If you plan to put your safe on the ground floor of your home, you really should have it bolted down, or someone can simply winch it into a vehicle and go to work on it elsewhere. Or, if the safe is light enough, the thieves can even use a hand truck to move it out of the building.
A lawyer I know put two 50-gun safes in his garage, both bolted to the floor, side by side. Effectively, they function as a very-difficult-to-remove 100-gun safe. He bought Browning Medallion Series.
Next, The Closure
So, you’ve got a big-enough safe with walls that are thick enough to withstand attack. It’s bolted down to prevent it from being kidnapped. Now, how about the door?
You don’t want it to be easy to open, so look at how it is constructed in the crucial areas of locking bolts, hinges, and the lock type.
My Liberty has internal hinges that can’t be gotten to from the outside. Also, the steel door itself is as heavy a gauge as the sides, so there’s no flexing or weakness in the front itself. Also, the door is sunk into the safe body, which makes it more difficult to pry on. Before buying your safe, make sure there’s enough body steel under the door-seal lip itself, and that the edge doesn’t have any flex or wiggle.
Then, consider the bolts that fit into the safe’s body at the top, latch side, and bottom. You want as many locking points as feasible behind the door jamb to keep the door face from simply being ripped off.
Next, you’ll need to choose a manual combination lock, an electronic lock, or a biometric lock. Many shooters favor a mechanical lock because, like the argument over red dots and iron sights, they don’t want a lock powered by batteries that can fail.
Because I intended to be in and out of the safe a lot while I had children in the house, and part of my home-defense firearms were in the safe, I was more worried about how slow the manual lock was to operate, so I chose an electronic model that had a six-digit opening sequence.
I’ve had to change the batteries a few times over the years, which I admit is a PITA because the fragile wires under the keypad pulled loose from the connections, but I go several years between vexations caused by the battery updates. YMMV.
As I’ve viewed safe features over the years, I’ve noticed how various biometric opens have come onto the scene. I’ve tried them on quick-access safes and they’ve generally worked. Frankly, I’m not sold on them yet because I’ve been prevented from opening some safes because of a wonky alignment or dirty fingers. But they do offer speed of entry and allow for storing several fingerprints if you want others to have access to the safe.
Thefts and fires that damage firearms do happen, but both issues are sporadic. Rust is not. You simply must take steps to control corrosion inside your safe or you’ll wind up damaging your firearms.
If you think about it, safes will trap moisture inside because their very design makes ventilation difficult. To combat corrosion, you must clean and dry your firearms before putting them away. That wet duck gun can put water into the air in the safe and affect the other items in there.
TTAG has a few articles on the basics here, here, and here, or search the site for “how to clean your guns” to get a full lineup.
For guns that will be in the safe for extended periods, clean them as you normally would and apply a long-term solution to protect them. You can find several choices at Brownells, but I like the Break-Free Gun Collector’s Preservation Kit and Boeshield T-9 Waterproof Lube.
Using Brownells Gun Socks will protect your guns from scratches and dings going in and out of the safe, and the cloth is treated with silicone that inhibits rust and the fabric wicks moisture away from metal surfaces. Of course, an in-safe dehumidifier is a good idea, too.
Using adjustable shelving and racks in the safe interior can also help keep corrosion down. By separating the various firearms in the safe, it’s easier to keep track of them and keep them away from each other.
I didn’t touch on fire-resistant standards for safes because the makers promote many confusing claims about fire ratings, and a better fire safe adds dollars outside the job of preventing unauthorized access. But, in general, better fire protection means a better safe, so if you’re prepared to spend the dollars for enhanced protection against a gun fire, go for it.
With the advice above, you’ll be on the hook for somewhere around $1100 to $1600 for a big-enough heavy-duty safe with a lock style you prefer and a lifetime warranty, because this purchase will likely be with you for that long. There are both American-made models and foreign units in a color range from matte black to gray to cream white, whichever you prefer.
And you can improve from there. But even if you can’t buy the “best” safe possible, then buy something. Securing your firearms is a responsibility all gun owners should accept. In fact, some states, such as California, mandate criminal penalties for criminal storage of a firearm.
So don’t be “that guy” who didn’t take the right steps to keep the wrong people from getting your guns. Along with your safe, you’ll get some peace of mind along with your new gun storage.