What is the best gun safe?
I am often asked for advice on gun safes for holding firearms that must be readily accessible for defense, yet must not be accessible by children. I am not in the “safe” industry, so rather than discuss brands, I will offer some ideas for you to ponder.
Our goal as parents is to keep our kids as safe as possible while having defensive tools as handy as possible. Please think about how you would feel if you kiddo’s friend (whose parents allowed him to play violent video games) discovers your gun and playfully/accidently shoots your kiddo to death. Think about the toll this would take on you. This horrible outcome would be compounded by the inability to release your pain by having a single bad person to blame. How do we reduce the probability of an event like this taking place?
The best solution for preventing a kid from accidentally shooting themselves with your gun is to not have a gun in your home. Yep, I said it. If there is not a gun in your home; it can’t be found and used in a dangerous way. The same holds true with having a child stab themselves with a fork. A home with no forks in it will not have a fork incident unless someone sneaks a fork in. I suggest to you that the solution I describe in this paragraph is the result of an improper question.
We accept the risk of having forks in our home because they are a handy way to eat food. I have no animosity toward parents that have fork-free homes, and I likewise find it appropriate for parents to have forks, knives, guns, baseball bats, screwdrivers and many other tools that “could” be dangerous in their homes. Part of living life is managing risk. If a parent chooses to have a gun in the home, they would be wise to consider ways to minimize risk.
There are more ways than one to help keep kids safe. Training them in the proper safe use of firearms is the best way. Many rural folk have for many years treated guns like hammers, tractors, wood stoves and fire. They are all tools and none are locked away from kiddos. In recent years, many city folks have begun building fences around stoves and distancing themselves from guns. I suggest that this issue be addressed with a more progressive attitude like the one we have toward fire use and sex ed and driver’s ed.
When a 14 year old boy has questions about something that can be great fun and very appropriate in certain circumstances, he should be taught about that thing and educated as to the dangers. Telling the boy, “Don’t worry about sex now, when you are 18 you can start dating and then when you get married in your 20’s you will figure the sex thing out” has proven not to be a great response.
Telling your child, “Guns are dangerous and you should never touch one” is equally as backward-thinking and absurd. We teach our children to safely build camp fires while camping, they sit on our lap and steer the family car in a big empty parking lot before they are even 10 years old, and I suggest we ought to also teach them about firearms pros and cons as well. A 12-year-old should know how fire works and should have been shown the results of a house fire or a forest fire. This 12-year-old should know that they could get pregnant if they play with another kind of fire and that rape is wrong. They should know that a 3,000 pound hunk of metal and glass moving at 40 MPH can kill a pedestrian, but should all vehicle owners lock their keys away in a safe? Of course not.
Again, we must learn to manage risk in our lives. What you do with your matches, car keys, guns, forks and tire irons can be different for each family. If you want absolute physical safety for your child, I suggest purchasing a decommissioned rocket launch shelter in the Midwest, pad the walls with non-allergenic material and lock your kids inside. On the other hand, if you want them to experience joy and pain and all that life IS, consider the issue of risk.
Ok, enough philosophy and risk management talk, now let’s talk hardware. First you must examine what features are most important to you. Let’s examine a few. For the sake of our discussion we will assume a person that owns only one handgun (so far) and has 5-yr-old and 16-yr-old children.
Speed of access. How fast can you access your firearm? At the fast end of the spectrum, an unlocked gun in your hand is the fastest, and I gun kept in your local bank’s vault is probably slowest. Consider running from your front door to where you plan to keep your gun, retrieving it from a table and moving to your safe room. Now consider rolling out of your bed, retrieving your gun and moving to your safe room. Average those times and you have a benchmark. You will probably find that this time is something less than 20 seconds. Now, with an unloaded gun, use any padlock, either combination or key and repeat your test, this time only licking up the gun after you have unlocked the padlock. This probably doubled your time, huh? With practice you can cut down your time, but this manual access method is a bit slow, isn’t it? If your safe requires you to turn knobs or push buttons to open it, it is NOT an appropriate safe for immediate response to attack.
Fire. Is this important to you? Safes of all types have ratings for fire that are calculated in minutes of time they can withstand a hot fire or withstand someone trying to get into them. UL has a more scientific description and details. The fire-safeness of a safe will have different levels of importance based on your concerns. Will you also be storing your million dollar original collector’s stamps in the safe? If the gun in your safe is valued at $1000, and I predict that if you evaluate the probability that your house will burn versus the added expense of making your fast-access gun safe fire resistant; you will find that it is not worth it. Guess what? The safes with the highest ratings cost more.
Burglar proof. If a mastermind criminal with a large budget ever REALLY wants your pistol, he will be able to get it. The RSC rating you might read about applies only to the door and does not say much about a torch being used to cut the body of the safe. A more likely scenario would be someone much less sophisticated that simply grabs anything of value that is fast and easy. A $5 padlock will prevent most theft, a better system will lessen the probability of access. How well do you have your other items valued at $1,000 locked up? How important is it to you that YOUR gun is not stolen and later used to kill an innocent person?
Child proof. Even a child that has attended government public schools for 10 years still has enough remaining creativity to defeat many locking systems. Your lock is only as good as the people that live around it. Your child knows you, and can probably find items you hide in your house. It is naïve to think that a key can be hidden under your socks and will never be found.
Child deterrence. One option is having a key hidden in a place that is shared with your child, but not with criminals. This place must have proof of having been accessed. For example, you could get a pint canning jar and fill it with ashes from your fireplace, put a key in it, super-glue the lid shut and then draw up a label for it that says, “Here lies the remains of Rover, the greatest dog ever” along with a picture from the internet of a cute dog. You could then put it beside your safe in plain sight with the plan of breaking it if you need the key. Want it to be quieter to access? Superglue a plastic baggie shut. This is a good measure for nosy children, but if your 16-yr-old wants to use your gun to commit suicide, this is not as good of an idea.
These above five features must be considered as we consider how we will unlock the safe. There are two basic types of opening methods:
- Manual – turning a knob, punching in a code, using a key etc.
- Biometric – these read your fingerprint or retina and automatically open.
Because we know that most of us lose fine motor skills in a moment of crisis, it seems the biometric option is best for defensive uses. Unless we have developed muscle memory by practicing thousands of times, we will not have the manual dexterity to push buttons if we are awakened in the middle of the night by glass breaking and screaming in our living room. The downside is that it is an electronic device and the battery might fail, the scanner might not read your print correctly etc. Like your computer, it “should” always work perfectly, but sometimes it does not. The same can also happen with a manual safe.
This is a good time to remind you to thoughtfully consider probability.
- What is the probability that you will be violently attacked in your home? In my small Rocky Mountain town, most people are typically pretty safe. On the other hand, I predict that within the next 10 years at least one stranger will try to enter an occupied home in my area to harm the occupants. Might it be me?
- What is the probability that a curious kiddo will find your gun or the key to your gun safe? Probably very high, right? It is a very small percentage of teens that have NOT tried either marijuana, porn, alcohol, profanity, sex or other things parents have ordered them not to do. I think we must assume that they will probably find a way to find a gun hidden in our sock drawer.
Ok, are you ready for a fast summary with three easy options? Sorry, I don’t have YOUR perfect safe. As a matter of fact, the safe industry has not yet provided many good options. Their focus has been either on security as with Fort Knox and Graffunder or on low price point while appearing to be high security. Most safes are made without fast access in mind. There are some low-priced options that I simply don’t trust enough to recommend.
Barska Biometric Rifle Safe $299
Seems like an inexpensive option, but up to 3 seconds for lock to open after scanning fingerprint.
Barska Large Biometric Rifle Safe $550
A bit larger than the smaller option above.
Barska AX11556 Security Safe, Pistol $182
Looks good for a pistol.
Want to know more than you ever wanted to know? This is a good youtube video:
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