What to look for in a home gun safe.
Now, in this discussion of home gun safes we’re talking about consumer grade items you would consider buying and installing for home use. All the same principles and concerns apply to other uses but the cost and nuances of commercial grade safes are way over my head (and the scope of this blog). Just for the record almost all home gun safes are not technically “safes”. They are Residential Security Containers (UL RSC), the better ones in the class of “Exceptional Gun Safe”.
There are a number of features that affect the security of a home gun safe but, as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and sometimes what’s touted as a benefit might not really matter in reality. Some aspects of security go beyond the safe’s features altogether. Here are some things to consider when weighing your choices:
Body Steel thickness. This is important for sure, but there’s a threshold below which it doesn’t matter much. A safe with 11 gauge steel (1/8”) wall is only marginally better at resisting attack than one with 14 gauge walls (5/64”) but that difference is already moving the price of the safe up from entry level to intermediate. Either of those gauges of steel can be defeated with hand tools like a fire axe or hand held grinder in a few minutes absent other measures. If your security depends on the steel, 10 gauge or thicker will buy you some time.
Body thickness: Some home gun safes will combine the thickness of the shell with the filler with this measurement. If the filler is gypsum board you’re not really getting any more security here (ever break a piece of sheetrock?) High end safes can have more effective fillers that actually do add to the strength of the safe. Concentrate on the thickness of the steel, not on the overall thickness.
Door Steel thickness: Often home gun safes will be touted as having thicker or additional layers of steel in the door. That’s great. Well, it is great unless you can get to the sides of the safe instead. No one is going to attack the strongest part of the safe just for the challenge.
Locking bolts: I admit, those heavy chrome pins look impressive protruding from the safe door and they are important. However, I’ve never heard of anyone actually trying to cut through them – there are just so many easier ways to get in! Just as, or more important, is the mechanism that moves the bolts into place. If that’s cheap, those big chrome bolts are just decoration.
Lock: You’d think this would be the most important feature right? Well it could be the most important if the door is very strong and the sides are very strong, or the safe is positioned so other weaker points can’t be attacked. If your home gun safe lock is rated at all it would be under the UL 768 standard. Without going into detail, Group II is good, Group I is better. A wheel lock from 0-99 will have 1,000,000 combinations and under this rating must resist 20 hours against unauthorized access. If your lock is UL 768 rated it’s unlikely to be the weak link in your security chain. You also will have the choice of a mechanical dial or electronic lock. If your major concern is reliability, go with a mechanical lock. If speed of access is most important, go with an electronic one.
Weight: For some a selling point is just the sheer weight of the safe. If you worried about your safe being moved, bolt it down. Otherwise, anything that can be moved in can be moved out. Also remember that you may move someday as well and that 1000 pound behemoth may be tough to drag along to your new digs. All other things being equal, the heavier weight safe may indicate better quality.
Fire Rating: Fire ratings are something of a crapshoot for gun safes as different manufactures use different standards, different tests (or maybe no tests at all). The ratings are a function of fire temperature and time, during which the interior of the safe will remain below 350°F and your firearms will (allegedly) stay undamaged. Inexpensive safes just use paper backed gypsum board (drywall) for insulation. Better safes may use fiberglass or concretes.
Other Features: As you get into higher quality (and more expensive) gun safe choices you start to find more sophisticated options. These might include anti-drill plates which are meant to dull and defeat drill bits when attempting to defeat a lock by drilling. More exotic solutions include alloys or ball bearing plates to resist drilling. Higher end safes will also incorporate relocking devices that when triggered by break in attempts will pin the locking bolts into place preventing any entry to the safe (via the door)
Capacity: That’s really what this is about right? What can you put inside the safe? The answer is… Less than you think, or at least less than the manufacturer claimed. Although a “16 Gun” safe may be able to hold 16 pistols, you’re never going to get 16 long guns in there. Ever. You may decide to keep some ammo in there, maybe a few valuables. Believe me, they fill up fast. This is not something you will buy often or want to. If you can afford the space and the money, get something with room for growth.
It all comes down to what your needs and budget are. Here’s a few suggestions from the bottom up:
UNION SAFE COMPANY 1.51 Cu. Ft. Electronic Lock Gun Safe (Harbor Freight)
Don’t laugh. OK, maybe a muted chuckle but bear with me. If you only need to store a pistol or two and a box of ammo maybe it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be looking at massive gun safes that run into thousands of dollars if something more economical will suit your purpose.
Here’s what it has going for it… First, obviously it’s inexpensive. Get it on sale for just around a hundred dollars or less. Second, the steel is surprisingly heavy. In fact, at the listed .15” thickness (about 10 gauge), the steel is actually thicker than safes that cost ten times as much as this one. Bolt it to the wall under the counter or in a closet and it’s pretty darn sturdy. Third, it’s certified by the California DOJ as a gun safe so if your goal is compliance with storage laws this fits the bill. So what’s the down side?
The lock(s). An electronically operated lock storing up to eight digits give you a strong combination but they cheap’d out on the manual key override and the mounting. The lock can be defeated with simple hand tools, time and some muscle. That’s a shame, a few bucks spent there on a better lock would make this pretty good. Also, there’s no insulation so this is not fire rated and of course, it’s made in China. If your budget is around $100, you could do much worse.
Barska Quick Access Biometric Rifle Safe
If you need convenient, secure access to a long gun or two, this offering from Barska might do the trick.
Made of 14 gauge steel the shell is typical of the low to mid range gun security cabinets. Advertised as holding four rifles it’s going to be tight with more than two. That said, if you want quick access to a long gun it uses a biometric lock and because of it’s slim profile you can fit this most anywhere. It does have manual backup keys to the biometric lock. This is not terribly heavy, bolting this in place is a must. It is not insulated or fire rated. It is CA DOJ approved.
SecureIt Gun Storage Agile Ultralight Gun Safe
The Securit “Gun Safe” looks at gun storage from another angle. Rather then emphasizing massive looks and cosmetic features it aims to be lightweight, portable and extremely versatile in configuration. Securit believe distributing your guns in more than one location improves security over using one monolithic container. The safe utilizes Securit’s “CradleGrid ” technology to make it easy to reconfigure the interior and add accessories as needed.
I like the versatility of these and the pricing is competitive. Coupled with the other security best practices they would be as secure from compromise as most intermediate range gun safes but don’t expect them to survive a determined assault. The Securit line looks at light weight as a feature so bolting in place is a must. The attraction is the versatility and utility.
Browning 33 Sporter Series: 33 Gun Safe
Now we start to move up into the solid intermediate class of safes. Browning safes are made in the USA and have a solid reputation for quality. This particular model is advertised as a 33 gun capacity but realistically plan on less. Browning does have a very versatile interior and can be arranged to your liking. You can purchase additional options such as pistol racks to organize your handguns.
The Sporter uses a 12 gauge steel for the body and is fire rated at 60 minutes at 1400° using Browning’s proprietary “ThermaBlock” technology. This safe is UL® RSC Tool Attack rated. This Gun Safe weighs in at over 500 pounds so plan your location according. Browning’s warranty is amazing and reflects the quality of their products. For the lifetime of the safe if it is broken into, attacked forcibly or damaged in a house they will replace it including shipping to and from the factory. Impressive.
Pendleton Bishop Series 72″ 30-40 Gun Revolving Gun Safe
I love this safe, and owning one like this is on my wish list. It’s not just that it looks cool and it has a 360 degree rotating shelving system so you can get at anything in the safe easily. It is seriously well made and resistant to attack and that’s what you would expect at this price point. It may seem pricey at first, but once you calculate the value of what you keep in it and the protection it provides the value become apparent.
This home gun safe features a thick 3/16″ (7 Gauge) steel all around with 1/4″ on the top and bottom. It has 100% fully welded seams and a ball bearing hard plate to prevent drill attacks. Pendleton only uses top quality Sargent & Greenleaf locks which are some of the best in the business. It also includes a moisture control system.