Modern firearms are powerful tools that experienced shooters understand need to be treated with respect. While a gun is in use, we carefully follow a set of common sense rules to keep everyone safe. But how do we practice firearms safety when the shooting or hunting sessions are over? Most of the guns folks own will spend the majority of their working life at rest, placed in one state of storage or another, until the next shooting event. Since they remain powerful tools between trips to the range, it’s very important to store them properly.
A wide variety of safe gun storage accessories and containers are currently available. However, there is no universal solution to fill every role, or to fit every budget. Safe storage options are intended to perform one or more of the following tasks, which they do with varying degrees of effectiveness depending on how much money you’re willing to spend:
1. Prevent a gun from firing
2. Protect a gun from physical damage
3. Act as a theft deterrent
It’s much easier to consider the pros and cons of each storage system when they can be compared side by side. The following discussion is a walkthrough of the most common safe gun storage options, starting with the least expensive:
Trigger Locks ($0-$15):
Trigger locks fulfill a single safe gun storage objective: Prevent the gun from firing. Most new guns now arrive from the manufacturer with a trigger lock of some kind or other in the box. Trigger shoes clamp and lock around the trigger housing to prevent the trigger from being pressed. They should not be engaged on a loaded gun because they come in contact with the trigger as they are installed and removed. Cable locks allow the shooter to run cable through the barrel or action of a firearm. Since the cable blocks the action from being closed, the gun cannot be loaded or fired with the cable lock in place.
If these two lock options are not available, a simple household padlock can be looped over the trigger guard with the hasp set behind the trigger. This will prevent the trigger from completing a firing cycle. Although trigger locks are inexpensive (or even free), and can successfully prevent a gun from firing, they do nothing to protect the gun’s finish or to deter theft.
Soft-Side and Hard-Side Gun Cases ($10- $150):
Most sporting goods stores have entire aisles dedicated to affordable handgun, rifle, and shotgun cases. The options available range from padded fabric sleeves to rugged foam-lined plastic cases. The primary role of this kind of affordable carry case is to protect guns from physical damage. While they do a good job of preventing dings and scratches, their role as a security device is relatively limited.
Most soft and hard side cases can be “legally” locked for transport to and from the shooting range (check your local regulations). This could be a luggage lock through a soft case’s zipper pull, or a padlock through the handles of a hard case. This security system may be enough to keep small children out as well. However, the materials these cases are made of are easily defeated by ordinary edged implements. These low-cost cases also have a low theft deterrence value since they are light and easy to move. They have to be hidden or locked inside of another container to protect them from theft.
Strong Boxes and Metallic Gun Cases ($25 – $350):
In an effort to strike a balance between the security offered by a locking gun cabinet and the portability of a gun case, several companies offer portable strong boxes and metallic gun cases. Metal gun cases usually incorporate a reliable locking system or the means to attach heavy padlocks. Strong boxes, usually intended for handguns, offer mounting systems for permanent attachment to a fixed surface. Some boxes are fitted with quick-opening locking mechanisms, including electronic push-button access and fingerprint scanners.
Strong boxes and metallic gun cases are the first products discussed so far that start to fill all three mandates of a safe gun storage device. They can effectively protect against unauthorized access because of the difficulty in opening these units without a key or lock combination. These containers will effectively protect a gun’s finish from damage. And, if they can be attached or locked to a fixed object or surface, they offer some level of theft deterrence. But with features to fill all three mandates, the price starts to go up. It may be necessary to purchase batteries or extra mounting hardware to take advantage of all the storage device’s available features.
Locking Steel Gun Cabinets ($150 – $450):
Remember that grand wooden gun display case that your great-uncle had in his den? Looking through the engraved glass panes of the double doors, you could see his beautiful vintage shotgun collection. Sometimes he would retrieve that little brass key to open the doors so you could get a better look. While this kind of locking gun cabinet looks wonderful, it does not offer any truly viable level of safe gun storage, accept against small children. To secure firearms, a locking steel gun cabinet is a more secure choice.
Cabinets differ from gun safes in several respects. They follow a less-is-more design. The thinner gauge of steel, a simple locking mechanism, and the lack of fire-proofing insulation greatly reduces the cost. Because they are light enough to be safely carried by one or two people, they can be set up in apartment buildings or second-floor rooms where a gun safe would simply be too heavy or difficult to install.
Cabinets are a big step up from metallic gun cases or strong boxes when it comes to storing multiple firearms. They offer a much larger storage capacity and more configuration options. Cabinets can be securely bolted to a wall or to the floor. However, they do not offer the same level of theft deterrence as a gun safe. If you have the cash for a high-end cabinet, and the room to store it, you may want to spend a little more and purchase an economy-line gun safe.
Gun Safes ($500 – $2,500+):
Simply stated, gun safes are the most secure gun storage option available to the average gun owner. Even the basic units have terrific advantages over any of the other gun storage units described so far. A locked safe will definitely prevent a gun from being handled or loaded. The upholstered interior and built-in gun racks will help to protect the finish of the firearms while allowing air to circulate. And, best of all, they are an effective theft deterrent.
Much like automobiles or personal computers, gun safes are available with a wide variety of features, locking systems, and finishes, all of which affect the bottom line cost of the unit. These cost-changing features include the gauge (or thickness) of the steel used to construct the safe, the strength and reliability of the locking mechanism, the level of fire resistance (if any), the extent of the warranty, shelf and rack configuration options, as well as the color and quality options for the exterior finish.
Because all gun safes are relatively expensive (compared to other gun storage options) it makes sense to consider what you want very carefully before you buy. First-time safe buyers should be careful to avoid two common, but serious, mistakes. The first thing to avoid is buying a safe that’s too small. A unit that’s a perfect fit for your collection today may not serve your needs in ten years. A bit more expense up front may save you the trouble of changing out or adding a second safe down the road.
The second mistake is waiting too long to buy one. Yes, gun safes are big, heavy, difficult to install, and expensive to pay for. But they are well worth the trouble if you have a gun collection you care about. How do you know it’s time to invest in a gun safe? If the guns you have are worth more (sentimentally as well as financially) than the cost of the least expensive safe you would be willing to purchase, then it’s time to start shopping for one.