How to securely store your firearms

The main goals for securely storing firearms are 1) Keep your guns in good condition. 2) Prevent unauthorized access both from burglars and untrained family members, especially children. 3) Ease of access for you, the owner.
Secured vault
List of the most popular gun storage options

  1. External Locking Device
    • Cable Locks
    • Chamber Locks
    • Trigger Locks
  2. Gun cases
  3. Locking Steel Gun Cabinets
  4. Gun Safes
  5. Safes
  6. Hidden gun vaults
  7. Holsters

Secure Storage for Responsible Gun Owners

According to data from the AmericanProgress.org, on average a gun is stolen in the U.S. every 2 minutes, or approximately one million guns are stolen per year.

And if you have young curious kids, can you imagine them playing with your glock without supervision if you had just plainly put your gun in a drawer? No, that won’t happen. Because we tend to train them early on never to touch papa’s guns. But what about our kid’s friends when they come over? Some may have never seen a firearm before other than from movies.

Obviously, responsible gun owners like us who prepare for doomsday and tyranny would not overlook little things like this. That’s exactly why we take reasonable precautions.
 

What’s our ideal goal for secure firearm storage?

  1. Away from the hands of kids and untrained adults
  2. Able to withstand theft
  3. Ease of access for you in personal/home defense situations
  4. Keep your guns and equipment in tip-top shape
  5. Not overpriced

 

Identify the What and the Why

Do you plan to store your firearm until the next hunting season? Or are you just making sure your kids won’t play with it? For me, the “what” and the “why” of firearm storage are good starting points.

Size and Capacity

Knowing what gun or guns you intend to store helps a lot in planning for your storage. A handgun obviously takes less space than a long gun and a long gun takes less space than multiple long guns.

If you want to store a handgun, a locked drawer sometimes is enough. While a gun safe or a gun cabinet is needed for multiple long guns and gears.

Purpose of Your Gun

Other than size, knowing what is your intended use of the gun(s) can help.

For personal/home defense guns, you want easy access to your weapon at all times. This means a holster or a nightstand is suitable.

On the other hand, if your gun(s) is for recreational, hunting or target shooting purpose, you don’t need easy access to it and can put the gun in a gun safe or a secure and bolted container.

What You’re Protecting Against

Does your house have kids? Do you live alone or with a huge family? How many in your family are experienced with guns to the point that you’re willing to let them handle your gun in time of need? And what’s the crime level in your area?

For small kids prevention, you can even use a home padlock in some cases. A more sophisticated storage may be needed for older kids and other family members. And you’d need a high-end strong storage for burglars and the like.

A caveat : If the burglars are well-equipped with tools and knowledge, given enough time, they’ll be able to crack anything open. So you determine a storage’s quality by asking how much time a burglar needs to penetrate, unlock or takeaway the safe. Plus, it’s a good idea to not just focus on thickness of the steel but how obscure and well-hidden that storage is.

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Types of Gun Storage in the Market

An infographic on popular gun storages

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1. External Locking Device

External locking devices are affordable tools to obstruct the mechanism of guns and prevent accidental discharge. They are designed prevent young kids from playing with your guns, but can do little to stop burglars. And they don’t offer much protection against scratches and external environment.

Types

There are various methods to lock a gun.

    Handgun with cable lock

  • Cable Lock – A cable is used to run through the gun’s action to prevent it from discharge. In many pistol and rifle designs, it also prevents the insertion of magazines. Some models have anti-tamper alarms.
  • Pros Cons
    ✓ Cheap ✗ Can be cut with proper tools
    ✓ Can be used with multiple guns at once ✗ Locks can be easily picked
    ✓ Can lock your gun with other solid objects ✗ The device can interfere with your handling and holstering
    ✗ Does not protect your gun from scratches and external environment

     

  • Chamber Lock – This lock obstruct the chamber of a gun instead. Many models are round specific.
  • Pros Cons
    ✓ Cheap ✗ Does not protect your gun from theft
    ✓ More secure than a cable lock ✗ Round specific
    ✓ The device doesn’t interfere with your handling and holstering ✗ Slower access in time of need
    ✓ When in use, the lock is hidden ✗ Does not protect your gun from scratches and external environment

     

  • Trigger Lock – A 2 piece lock that fits together through the trigger guard, preventing the pulling of trigger.
  • Pros Cons
    ✓ Cheap ✗ Not so difficult to pry open
    ✓ The lock doesn’t interfere with your handling and holstering ✗ In certain condition, the locked gun can still fire.
    ✗ Does not protect your gun from theft
    ✗ Does not protect your gun from scratches and external environment

     

  • Household Padlock – A budget alternative is to use ordinary household padlock to obstruct your gun’s mechanism.
  • Pros Cons
    ✓ Cheap ✗ Does not protect your gun from theft
    ✓ Secure to a degree ✗ Not applicable to all types of guns
    ✗ Could damage your gun if someone tries to fire it
    ✗ Does not protect your gun from scratches and external environment

*Many modern firearms come with built-in locks, so you might not have to bother with these.

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2. Gun cases

Gun cases come in various designs. Some are built for theft protection, while some are less secure but built for ease of carry. Basically you can group them into “Hard Cases” and “Soft Cases”. Materials and waterproofing ability are also other factors to consider when buying gun cases.

Types

  • Hard Case – Hard cases are made mostly of aircraft-grade aluminum or high density plastic. Aircraft-grade aluminium are highly durable and lightweight. However, they tend to cost more than plastic. Plastic cases are cheaper, and offer acceptable protection for your gun.
  • Normally, hard gun cases have acceptable security, as they usually incorporate reliable locking systems or the means to attach heavy padlocks. Some models also allow for extra mounting hardware to bolt your gun case to the wall or the floor for heightened security.

    The interior of the hard case are lined up with foam to act as a cushion to absorb impact. The thickness and foam quality are crucial factors when choosing gun cases. High quality foam can hold your gun steady in its case, no matter the external impact.

    In some states, a suitable hard gun case is required to comply with ground and air transport regulations. So it’s best to also check the regulations within your area.

  • Soft Case – Soft cases offer less protection, but are lighter in weight. They are often made from nylon, neoprene or leather with some soft padding inside. And with today’s design, soft cases are lined up with pockets, pouches and slots for you to pack more ammunition and gears. These traits make soft gun case an ideal choice for carrying around.
  • Some waterfowl dedicated soft case are waterproof, can float on water and have camouflaging patterns.

Waterproofing

Obviously if you go waterfowl hunting or encounter lots of rain, you’ll want a waterproof gun case. But, since waterproof cases can prevent moisture from seeping in, they also protect your gun from moisture better than non-waterproofing ones. So you might want a waterproof-gun case after all even if you live in a desert.

That said, since it’s hard for water to get in, it’s also hard for water to get out. Thus to prevent rust and other damages to your firearms, when keeping a gun in your waterproof-case, make sure that you dry your gun well.

Fireproofing

Burnt structure
Fireproof cases are available and useful especially if you have a collection of valuable antique guns.

Size

There are small gun cases, which are lightweight but can carry only 1 gun at a time. And there are large gun cases, where you can put in 2 long guns, plus some extra room for accessories. For large cases, you may want models with attached wheels to help manage weight during your hilly hunting trip.
 
For more information about buying gun cases, go to https://www.cabelas.com/product/Gun-Case-Buyers-Guide/532702.uts.

Pros/Cons for Gun Cases

Pros Cons
✓ Easy to carry around ✗ Less secure than gun cabinets and gun safes
✓ Keep your guns in good shape ✗ Since it’s portable, it can be stolen without unlocking the case
✓ Some models can be bolted to the ground or the wall
✓ Some models comply with both ground and air transport regulations
✓ Waterproof and fireproof models available

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Steel Gun Cabinets

You can think of gun cabinets as mini gun safes. They are more secure than gun cases. But have less security compared to gun safes due to thinner steel, less sophisticated locking system and no fire-proof layers.

Gun cabinet main advantage is weight. For home defense guns, you’d want them in your bedroom for ease of access. However, you most likely cannot put a 950 lbs. safe on your 2nd floor bedroom. That’s where gun cabinets shine. Plus, they are cheaper than gun safes.

Criteria for choosing gun cabinets and gun safes are similar, so I grouped them together in the next section.

Pros/Cons for Gun Cabinets

Pros Cons
✓ Moderate security ✗ Less secured than gun safes
✓ Can be placed on upper floors ✗ Not portable
✓ Keep your guns in good shape ✗ Not fireproof
✓ Can be bolted to the ground or the wall ✗ Easy to spot

 

Gun Safes

A gun safe is basically a thick heavy metal box with advanced locking mechanism. They tend to be on the expensive side, but you get heightened security to compensate for its cost.

That said, it’s a mistake to think that cheap gun safes are better than high quality gun cabinets or gun cases. Cheap stuffs are still low-quality, and you definitely get what you pay for in the world of securities.

There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a gun safe/cabinet.

How are the guns stored?

You want to store your guns in a way that it’s easy for you to use and doesn’t scratch or damage your guns.

First you do not want your guns to crammed up and scratched each other so you need to check whether the gun safe/cabinet has enough space for all your guns and accessories. Do not rely upon the advertised number of how much gun the safe/cabinet can hold. Those are based on small, slender rifles in order to crank up the numbers. Basically, you can just halve the number marketers tell you. Also, plan for the future of your growing collection. The number one complaint I hear about their gun safes is how they should’ve bought a bigger safe/cabinet.

Then you consider how the guns are stored. Are the gun racks adequate? Do you want rotating racks where you can easily pick the guns inside? And note that some gun safes/cabinets are not designed for scoped guns. Make sure to measure the safe/cabinet’s depth if you want to store scoped guns in there. Or use a QD mount if you’re not serious about taking on/off your optics.

Furthermore, some muzzleloaders and long guns model are exceptionally long. So check the safe/cabinet’s height to make sure that it is adequate for your guns.

Security

When comparing between gun safes/cabinets, here are some of the things to compare. for a secured guSteel thickness of all 6 sides, not just the door, plays a crucial role in determining the security of a safe. The thicker and the quality of the

  • Thickness and quality of metal sheets – The thicker the steel, the more secure your safe/cabinet will be (Note that this also increase weight). And you need to check not just the thickness of the door, but on all 6 sides, as burglars will try to get through the weakest part.
  • How much contact does the door have with its frame – The sturdier contact the door has with its frame, the harder burglars can attack these points. Note that when measuring contact, calculate for the areas of contact instead of counting contact points. For example, 12 lock bolts with 1″ contact point each is worse than 8 lock bolts with 2″ contact point each, if same quality and mechanism is used.
  • Does the door have structural support to prevent buckling – Since the door is very heavy, we don’t want the safe/cabinet to buckle under its own weight. To fix this, check that the door has enough support.
  • External VS Internal door hinges – It is true that burglars can attack external door hinges easier than internal ones. But a gun safe’s door is often supported with lock bolts all around the door frame and the door hinges are often made with high security material. Thus burglars are likely to attack the safe from other points rather than the door hinges. Furthermore, with external hinges, the door can be opened for 180° compared to only 90° for internal hinges. Thus it’s just your preference choosing between external or internal hinges for your safe. (For gun cabinets however, you might want to go for internal door hinges.)
  • Can the safe/cabinet be bolted to the floor or the wall for extra security? – Even though the safe is very heavy, it can still be lifted with men. And by bolting it to your floor/walls, you secure more sides of your gun safe/cabinet.
  • Heat Resistant – Many sophisticated burglars break safes by using oxy-fuel welding and cutting torch. To withstand this, a gun safe/cabinet needs to be able to withstand tremendous amount of heat.

Lock Interface

Lock Interface
Lock interface refers to how you lock/unlock the safe/cabinet. The lock mechanism stays the same. Or in other words, this part we deal with how you interact with your safe.

There are quite a number of lock interface to choose from. Popular ones are Combination, Electronics and Biometric.

Here are the pros/cons of each.

Lock Interface Pros Cons

Combination

– No battery required

– Difficult to observe combination sequence

– Slow access

– Requires a locksmith to change combination

Electronics

– Fast access

– High-end models can integrate with home security/surveillance systems

– Additional features such as Multiple user combinations and Penalty Lockout

– Does not require a locksmith to change the combination

– Requires batteries to operate (The safe locks itself when it has no batteries.)

– Easy to observe unlocking combination in some models

Biometric

– Fast access

– High-end models can integrate with home security/surveillance systems

– Additional features such as Multiple user biometrics and Penalty Lockout

– Does not require a locksmith to change the combination

– Requires batteries to operate (The safe locks itself when it has no batteries.)

– Does not work if your hand is dirty

– Expensive

Fireproof

Apart from the oxy-fuel welding and cutting torch, you may want your gun safe/cabinet to also be fireproof in case of wildfires. I especially recommend fireproof safes if you plan to store antique guns and valuable famiily collections because the added cost will certainly be worth it.

Please note that different manufacturers use different metrics to measure their fire ratings. So it might be a bit difficult to do an apple to apple comparison.

And most of the time, you can’t literally take the minutes of fireproof the rating says it will withstand. For example, the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) fire rating, one of the rating which I see often, is intended for commercial structures rather than a home fire.

Humidity

Due to the waterproofing nature of gun safes, if moisture enters the safe it stays there and your gun could be damaged.

To fix this, you’d need some dehumidifiers in your gun safe/cabinet. And also before putting your guns in your safe/cabinet, clean and oil them properly to prevent rust and other damages.

Price and Warranty

A reliable gun safe minimum price is around $1,200 at the time of this writing. And you should also look for a reliable lifetime warranty on the safe, not because I expect the safe to fail often, but because you could get repairs or new ones in case of fire and damaged from burglary.

Tips on Firearm Maintenance within a Safe

  1. Put dehumidifiers/desiccants in your safe.
  2. Clean, then oil your firearms with gun oil before putting them in your safe.
  3. WD-40 is not a gun oil.
  4. If you put gun cases or pistol rugs within a gun safe, leave them open to reduce humidity.
  5. Routinely clean your unused firearms once or twice a year

Pros and Cons of Gun Safes

Pros Cons
✓ Moderately secure ✗ High price
✓ Keep your guns in tip-top shape ✗ Heavy, can not be placed on upper floors
✓ Have fireproof models ✗ Hard to relocate
✗ Stand out in a big way (easy for burglars to spot)

For more information on choosing a gun safe, refer to this Optical Planet page and this NRA page.

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5. Safes

Gun safes are secure to a degree. However there are better options still, namely “high quality safes”. Most commercial gun safes are rated “RSC” (Residential Security Container) which means they can withstand common burglary attacks for at least 5 minutes.

There are better safes out there in the market. And you can find them by screening their ratings.

Burglary-Resistant Ratings

Here is the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) Standard for Burglary-Resistant Safes.

Ratings Explanations
RSC (Residential Security Container) 5 minutes – Common tools – door only
TL-15 15 minutes – Common tools – door only
TL-30 30 minutes – Common tools – door only
TL-15X6 15 minutes – Common tools – 6 sides
TL-30X6 30 minutes – Common tools – 6 sides
TRTL-15X6 15 minutes – Common tools & oxy-fuel welding and cutting torch – 6 sides
TRTL-30X6 30 minutes – Common tools & oxy-fuel welding and cutting torch – 6 sides
TRTL-60X6 60 minutes – Common tools & oxy-fuel welding and cutting torch – 6 sides
TXTL-60X6 60 minutes – Common tools & oxy-fuel welding and cutting torch & High Explosive – 6 sides

Fire Resistance Ratings

The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) ratings for fire resistant (UL 72) are conducted by putting the safe in sustained heat of 1,550 degree Fahrenheit for X amount of time. To pass, the safe’s interior temperature must be less than Y degrees Fahrenheit during the heat and the cool down.

X time can be ½, 1, 2, 3, or 4 hours while internal temperature can be 125, 150 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here are the examples of UL fire resistance ratings.

Ratings Time (Hours) Internal Temperature (F)
1/2 Hour – U.L.™ class 350 Rate Safe 30 minutes 350 degrees F
1 Hour – U.L™ class 150 Rate Safe 1 hour heat 150 degrees F
4 Hour – U.L™ class 125 Rate Safe 4 hours heat 125 degrees F

One of the biggest downfall for gun safes are its side. Gun safe’s doors are normally quite strong, but the sides of the safes are much weaker. And similar to chains, a safe is as strong as its weakest side.

So when you’re looking for the best of the best, you need to get a TL-30X6 rated safe. However, these safes come with a much higher price tag, and the interiors are not custom-built to store firearms and ammunition.

Pros and Cons of Safes

Pros Cons
✓ Very secure ✗ High price
✓ Have fireproof models ✗ Heavy, can not be placed on upper floors
✗ Hard to relocate
✗ Stand out in a big way (easy for burglars to spot)

Source :

 

6. Hidden gun stash

Even though the safes are of very high quality and secure, there’s one glaring problem. “Common burglars can break in a high-end safe within 30 minutes”. So an improvement is to not just make your storage stronger but also more obscure.

Smaller storage can be hidden in a drawer or a furniture. But for big safes, you’d need a hidden room. Take a look at these nice examples.

Pros and Cons of Hidden Gun Stash

Pros Cons
✓ Very secure ✗ Can be costly
✗ Slow access

 

7. Holster

This maybe a little bit off topic for storing guns. But some people insist that the best place to keep your personal/home defense gun is with you yourself. Since you have no clue when your home invasion might occur.

Holster gives you the easiest access to your guns compared to all the methods mentioned above. And there are plenty of affordable selection in the market. The only downside to it is the fact that you have to carry it around to use it.

Pros and Cons of Holsters

Pros Cons
✓ Easiest and fastest access ✗ Have to carry it around
✓ Lots of selection and types
✓ Effectively prevent burglars, because the gun is with you

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Things to think about other than storage tools

Infographic on Additional tips for firearm storage

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Gun insurance

Other than just buying bigger and heavier storage, a good idea is to buy gun insurance. It’s a very cost-efficient way to recuperate your cost in case of undesirable events. You can look for insurance covering Loss, Damage, Flood, Fire and Theft.

Pricing can be very affordable. You can pay an annual premium (insurance fee) of about 1%-1.5% of your gun value for protection. Obviously, if your gun collections are very valuable, you should be better off buying safes and building vaults. On the other hand, if your collection doesn’t cost so much, paying a fraction of 1% of your guns annually sounds like a solid deal to me.

Should you keep your gun loaded or not?

For guns and gears that are not for personal/home defense, I recommend not to load your gun. For personal/home defense guns, it’s totally up to you as long as you know whether you have loaded it or not. If you choose not to load your home defense gun, make sure to keep ammunition nearby so that you don’t have to search for it during an emergency.

And don’t forget the safety rule of treating every gun as loaded.

Separation of your guns and ammunition

For non-personal/home defense gun, it’s a normal tactic to separate guns and ammunition for increased safety. In the event that one of your storage is compromised, your gun/ ammunition still can’t be used against you.

Disassembling your gun

Disassembled rifle
Another popular way to prevent your non-personal/home defense guns from being used against you is to disassemble your guns into parts and separately keep them. This way, burglars and untrained persons are very unlikely to collect all the parts, assemble them all back, and be able to use them.

That said, it must not be too difficult or time consuming to assemble/disassemble your gun.

Motion heat and other sensors

Since your gun safe/vault is not a stand alone defense for your guns. The first line of defense is, instead your house. Plus, these sensors can be acquired at a very cheap price compared to a high quality safe. Thus it’s a great idea to put these sensors at every exit/entrance to secure your house.

Kids related

The best defense for your kids is firearms education. When they are very young, locking device can help. But once they reached the age of 6, the locking device aren’t that effective anymore. There have been reports that some trigger locks can be pried open by a 6 years old.

So you need to teach them how to respect and use firearms. How not to touch a firearm without your permission. In case you have no idea how to instruct gun safety with your children, check out the NRA child gun safety program.

And just because your children are well-disciplined, don’t forget that your children’s friends might not be. When they come over to your house, it’s best to take precautions not to let them see your firearms.

Gun laws

Since you’re considering about storage anyway, you might as well check the law regarding gun storage for your area.

At the time of this writing, there are 11 states that have some laws regarding the locking of guns, namely California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Check these laws out here.

Cleaning your gun before the long slumber

If you’re going to store your firearms for a long period of time, you need to properly clean and lubricate your gun. Because copper and lead residue can attract moisture. And moisture can really ruin your guns.

And you should put dehumidifiers in your safe to further protect your firearms.

Firearm safety in vehicles

A lockable gun case is a logical choice for storing firearm in a vehicle. It’s portable and gives you adequate amount of security.

That said, your gun case and your car are still vulnerable and can be stolen. So don’t leave your gun in your vehicle without supervision for a long period of time.

What not to do

Keeping your guns in your closet or your drawer doesn’t count as secure storage. In fact, those are one of the first places burglars check for valuables.

Another thing to mention is that you shouldn’t underestimate your children’s potential in picking locks. There are plenty of kids who can break trigger locks and cable locks. Also, they may have easy access to your keys when you’re not paying attention.

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Conclusion

TRTL-30X6 rated safes are your best bet against burglary. Gun cases are suitable when you need mobility. And locking devices are only useful for deterring small kids from your firearms.

Furthermore, the secure storage of your guns does not only depend on how strong or how much you spent on safes. Other big factors are obscurity, additional sensors & alarm system and gun insurance.

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