For gun owners, secure storage of your firearms is both essential for asset protection and is also an ethical consideration. Your guns are your responsibility whether or not they are on your person. Losing guns to theft is infuriating, as they will go on to fuel criminal enterprise if sold or are used in commission of other crimes.
Tragedies happen regularly when children, other family members or guests in the home discover a loaded gun unattended. Both of these events can be avoided, or at least their chances of occurring greatly reduced with the use of safes or clever storage. Below we will look at considerations for selecting and emplacing safes, as well as ideas for stashing guns to keep them hidden from thieves, or just well out of the way of unauthorized users.
Preventing Theft and Tragedy
In 2016, the FBI recorded 1,515,096 instances of burglary in the United States. That is about 4,150 per day. Burglary rates are falling, but still remain a valid concern wherever you may live, and guns are high-value, easy to carry items for thieves. It will obviously do no good to leave guns in the “usual places”: nightstand or office desk drawers, the very top shelf of the closet, or in a nice presentation gun cabinet. Any typical area will be searched by even the most rookie thief.
Verified, trustworthy statistics on accidental shootings occurring when a gun is discovered in the home by a child or guest are somewhat harder to come by, but such incidents are far from unheard of. It is the height of arrogance to leave any firearm where it may be found by an untrained child or adult visitor. Casually leaving a gun in any drawer or closet to be discovered upon opening it is inviting disaster.
This should not be construed to mean that the above places are not applicable to keeping a gun, not at all, only that they will not suffice for protecting the gun from theft, or protecting the curious child or ignorant guest that should find it from the gun itself.
Instead of wringing our hands over it, let us look to one of two solutions for safe storage: gun safes, of varying sizes, and clever, concealed hiding places.
Before we delve into the basis of this article, I would encourage the reader to keep in mind that any safe, no matter how durable, and any hiding spot, no matter how clever, will only buy time against someone determined to gain access or find the goods, respectively. Any secure storage measure should be seen as simply another layer in a defensive array to preclude theft or tragedy. If one only had to keep honest people honest, as the saying goes, a lockable plastic or cloth gun case would suffice. This is not the case. Remember: you will be trying to stop a determined and perhaps professional adversary from gaining access to the safe or locating the hiding place.
Your presumptions on what constitutes a “safe” could be shaken if you care to browse reports on actual thefts and burglaries: homeowners have discovered seemingly impenetrable containers opened by power tools brought for the purpose or found on the premises. Smaller units are carted away entirely, sometimes even heavier full size safes; a convenient dolly or team of strong crooks will make easy work of taking the safe to a location of their choosing, to be breached at leisure.
Also bear in mind just how persistent a child can be in their quest to explore and access forbidden containers or places. Many are smarter than you give them credit for, and an overheard conversation, located combination or a found key can set them to the task of finding what lock it belongs to.
Gun safes today are available to fit any scenario, size of gun or collection, and budget. From tiny, quick-open strongboxes for nightstand or car, to massive, 1000lbs+ steel behemoths capable of holding an entire collection of guns and more, be assured there is a unit to improve your security. Some models are designed to bolt directly into the floor or wall, and perhaps be concealed behind pictures or mirrors.
Before selecting a safe, take the time to learn about what makes a quality safe. The types and thicknesses of steel used in its construction, the layout and number of locking bolts, the types of locking systems, whether electronic or not. Fire resistance is another factor worth considering, as it can make the difference between inconvenience and total loss regarding the contents.
Be sure you assess the unit as a whole, and any reputable dealer should be able to answer questions of attack and fire resistance, whether or not the ratings are for all sides, or only one facing, like the door. A cheap safe with excellent attack protection, but only for the door itself, is in actuality not a very good security container.
Basic Safe Ratings
Most safes will come will a construction rating, or burglary rating, to help you judge what kind of attack it can be expected to repel and for how long. Ratings vary from B-Class to F-Class, with F being superior. The two most commonly seen are B Class and C Class. These ratings were established in conjunction with the insurance industry to cover contents up to a certain value. More serious or name-brand safes may have a rating from Underwriters Laboratories, and called a Test Performance Rating. U.L. ratings range from UL RSC, for lighter safes, so called “residential security containers” offering limited protection against burglary, up through UL TL-15, UL TL-30, and UL-TL-30×6.
The U.L. ratings specify more stringent construction materials, weight, locking system and fastener requirements, and resisting a breach attempt using hand and power tools for a net total time of 15 or 30 minutes on one or multiple facings, with a defeat being considered the opening of the door or cutting of a 6 inch square opening through the front, or on any side for the most stringent rating.
Fire ratings vary, but typically mandate the safe maintain an internal temperature below a certain threshold (usually the ignition point of paper) and do so while being tested in a furnace at a high temperature for a certain period of time. Certification will be for a certain temperature for a certain period of time, more or less depending on the quality of the safe. Safes are made proof against fire by heat-reactive seals in the door frame, and heat-resistant material in the body of the safe. The two common certifications for fire resistance are U.L., mentioned above, and ETL-Intertek.
Selecting a Safe
Before you buy, honestly assess your needs and future plans. A growing gun collection will need a larger safe to ensure you can safely store all of them. One or two handguns may be kept with some safety in a smaller strongbox. You may desire a standing safe for the bulk of your collection and a small quick-access safe for your home defense pistol, or when traveling. Good safes are expensive, but are an investment, and typically will not wear out. Careful selection on your first purchase can save you money and grief in the future, and be used for a lifetime.
Do not let yourself be taken with a “good buy” on a cheap metal locker, or a name-branded but poorly rated safe. A heavy steel container may seem invincible to you, but it certainly is not insurmountable to a motivated thief with tools. A safe with inferior burglary rating may serve only to keep children and family out of it, but will not yield much in the way of actual security. Also consider that any safe under 600lbs is, in reality, man-portable, and if not securely fastened to walls or floor, can be carted off by thieves or toppled and attacked from a more vulnerable facing.
If you have settled on a small pistol safe, understand that, even when secured, they are comparatively easy to pry loose from their moorings, and will probably be stolen during a burglary. In conjunction with an alarm system, though, they may cost the burglars enough time that they opt to leave it behind. They of course serve admirably in their primary role, which is keeping unauthorized hands off of the contents, and still being quick and (usually) simple to open, making them ideal for keeping a home defense pistol at the ready safely in a family setting.
Locking systems deserve special mention here. Mechanical dial or combination locks will likely never wear out, and of course cannot lose power, but are slow and clumsy to open, more so if one is in a hurry or under stress. Electronic keypads are much faster and simpler, but even the best can lose power or become useless due to defect. If you choose a safe model with electronic opening, ensure that the electronics are made to a high standard and that there is a redundant, manual method of opening the unit, be it key or back-up dial combination.
The modern varieties of pistol safes with the spring-open doors are somewhat notorious for electronics failure, both the keypads themselves and the small locking systems that release the doors. Be sure to read consumer reviews of safes like that before purchasing, and perhaps consider a manual lock version.
Installing Your Safe
When choosing a place for your safe in your home, you will need to assess a few primary and secondary factors: How heavy is the safe, is it out of sight from windows, do I need immediate access, and what underlying material will the safe be anchored to? You definitely do not want your safe to be visible from a window, as that can merely advertise its valuable contents to criminals. You also need to consider that very heavy safes do place considerable stress on the floor and structure beneath, and so may not be candidates for an upstairs or large room.
Anchoring the safe is crucial to getting maximum security from it, and is mandatory for our purposes. It will be much better to anchor it to concrete if at all possible, rather than wood, but wood is better than nothing. Finally, if the safe is intended to be accessed in a hurry, as with a pistol safe, it should be located in the master bedroom, and preferably right next to the bed.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use proscribed fasteners when anchoring, and do not scrimp on the quality of the fastener! They will be doing the lion’s share of the work in preventing the outright theft of your safe in the event of a burglary.
A Note on Moisture and Location
If you are placing your safe in an area that will have a higher presence of moisture, like the garage or basement, be sure and invest in a moisture reduction system. This could be classic desiccant packs, or an electric dehumidifier that stays in the safe and runs on battery or direct power. Some safes even feature a built in dehumidifier and power supply. The atmosphere in the safe, once it becomes sufficiently humid, will stay that way owing to its tight construction, and any guns inside will be vulnerable to rust. Don’t skip this important preparation, and don’t neglect to recharge and maintain your chosen system periodically!
Gun Safe Buyer’s Guide
Below I have assembled a list of gun safes that will suit nearly any conceivable purpose. They run the gamut from small, single pistol boxes to mammoth, estate-grade giants, and everything in between. Note that like many items, you get what you pay for in safes, and for modest protection in a decently sized long gun safe you should expect to spend between $1200 and $2000 dollars. Have a look and see what is out there.
Best Budget Handgun Safe – GunVault NanoVault NV200
Key locking, slim and compact, this model offers no-frills security against unauthorized access. Holds one full-size handgun, and little else.
Best Slim Pistol Safe – GunVault SV500/SVB500
Available with and without biometric entry, the slim upright design of the SV500/SVB500 allows you more mounting options than the traditional strongbox.
Best All-Purpose Pistol Safe – SentrySafe Two Pistol Safe QAP2E
With a simple electronic keypad, and room for two fullsize handguns, or one handgun and extra magazines and flashlight, this unit hits the sweet spot on size and capacity for a modest price. Can be had with LED interior light upgrade.
Best Non-Electric Handgun Safe – Fort Knox PB1
Large enough for two fullsize handguns, this classic offering from Fort Knox uses a time-tested mechanical simplex push button lock. Once unlocked, a tug on the lid will open the safe. Absolutely rugged, and dependable.
Best Heavy-Duty Handgun Safe – AMSEC HAS410
Superior protection and heavy duty plate steel combined with a robust and reliable simplex lock. Can be mounted almost anywhere.
Long Gun Safes, Budget and Midgrade
Best Budget Large Safe – Cannon All Rifle Series 5936
A decent fire rating and all around protection.
Best Budget All Purpose Safe – Liberty Centurion Series
Available in multiple configurations and options, the Centurion series is a great offering from Liberty Safes. Liberty makes a nice safe for a modest price in its category.
Best Midgrade Safe for Large Collection – Liberty Fatboy Jr. Series
A variable configuration interior with a good fire rating in its class makes the Defender a fine choice for folks with large or growing gun collections.
Best Midgrade Safe for Limited Space – Liberty Premium 20
Designed to fit inside a closet or space only 24 inches deep. Configurable interior gives you the flexibility for shelves or racks for long guns, or a combination of both.
Best Midgrade Heavy Duty Safe – Fort Knox Executive Series
With an abundance of locking bolts and 1/4 inch steel, the Executive series also includes interior lights and dehumidifier as options.
Long Gun Safes, High End
Best All-Around High End Safe – AMSEC RF6528
TL-30 Burglary rating protection, a massive door, and advanced construction to resist all types of attacks along with superb 120 minute fire resistance.
Best Luxury High End Safe – Fort Knox Legend Series
A dizzying array of options, interiors and colors combined with strong materials, gearing and security features make this safe a personal statement as much as a security investment.
Best Free-Standing High End Safe – AMSEC RF703620X6
This monster features TL-30×6 burglary protection on all sides, meaning it can withstand direct attack from power tools for 30 continuous minutes, on any side (even the bottom!) before failure.
Best Heavy-Duty High End Safe – Graffunder C Series Safes
Old World craftsmanship meets New World materials. Graffunder spares no expense. Bring your checkbook, and note that their safes are dramatically heavier than competitor’s similar offerings owing to differences in material.
Best Safe if Cost is No Object – Graffunder E-Series
For those who desire and can afford commercial-grade protection, Graffunder can build a safe or vault in excess of industry standards for a preposterous amount of burglary and fire resistance.
Selecting a Great Hiding Place
Before we proceed, it must be reiterated: no mere hiding spot will assure that an unauthorized person, family member or child will not find the gun! The best way to preclude disaster from occurring with unattended guns is to keep the ammunition and firearm separately locked up. This advice is obviously going to make your life difficult indeed in the event that you need to produce the gun in a hurry to defend home and hearth, so assess your unique situation accordingly.
Whether or not you choose to use a safe, if you want to keep your guns from falling into the wrong hands you’ll need to step your game up when it comes to picking a hiding place. Your objective may be to hide well a small number of guns to keep them safe from theft or casual detection. You may desire to keep guns loaded in various rooms throughout the house, in order to ensure one is close at hand if a break-in occurs. Start determining why you want to hide your guns and how many you have to store, then start thinking how a given hiding spot will affect your desired outcome.
Some locations may be well and truly hidden, and will escape both casual and interested detection, but be very laborious or slow to retrieve. Others may be easier to find deliberately or accidentally, but could be quick to access. Only you can say which will fit your task. I’ll give you plenty of examples and ideas below, but it will be your ingenuity and craftiness that will make a good stash.
Hiding places can fall into two broad categories: improvised or purpose-built. Both will suffice depending on the situation. An improvised hiding place could be something like stashing the gun in a food container in the pantry, or hanging it from a hook inside a piece of furniture. A purpose-built solution is something like a false-register or vent that blends in with the rest of the home hardware and conceals a compartment for valuables. Another could be a shelf, clock or table with a specially concealed and cleverly accessible space for a gun.
The options are nearly limitless with a little imagination. The trick, though, is choosing one that a thief will either not think to look for, or will not prioritize searching if he is “on the clock.” This is easier said than done, and be forewarned that truly professional thieves will process a house with shocking thoroughness and speed, to include perhaps the majority of the hiding places I will example below. Whatever you decide on, think through the secondary effects: is it likely a family member (if applicable) or guest will stumble across the gun during a routine day or visit? What risk is there to the gun; moisture, dust, temperature, drop or loss, etc? Could I access the gun quickly if I needed it, or is this an “asset-protection” hide? Some methods may call for an empty chamber. Don’t just cram guns into your walls and furniture willy-nilly. Think it through!
Sneaky Hiding Spots
Obviously, some of these places won’t work or even appeal to everybody. One might argue that the mere publication of this gives thieves a heads-up, making them more likely to check. I’d wager that this is probably true overall, but I don’t know how you’d calculate the chances that any given burglar either already knew or found out because of this or any other article. Make of that what you will, and use this list to inspire your own secret stashes.
- Install a false wall in a closet or pantry. This can be even better cover for a safe. Be sure that any fitting is close and does not draw attention.
- In a box or bag under the dirty clothes in a hamper. The dirtier the better.
- Concealed within a dummy fixture. Light receptacles, vents, outlets, electrical boxes, appliances or air conditioners.
- Hanging on a peg or hook directly above the door inside a shallow closet or pantry. If someone does not look sharply up, they will not notice it even if gazing at the top shelf. You can do something similar inside a cabinet or vanity.
- Hidden among the snacks. A random, empty box sized for your gun among all the containers in your pantry, fridge or freezer. Take extra care of preventative maintenance if going with the latter two.
- Hanging among your wardrobe. Use a piece of wire or a hanger to hang a pistol inside a coat, jacket or sweatshirt in your closet.
- Custom Compartment. In the floor, attic, or ceiling. Use your imagination, and pay very close attention to obtaining a close, invisible rattle-free fit whatever the material might be. With some work, these can often be the best hiding places.
- In a “book safe.” A classic hiding place, but beware, most serious thieves will think to check any large books for this method. A crafty person might try to attach several smaller books together and hollow those out…
If these aren’t enough to get your hiding skills humming, check out this article right here on SurvivalSullivan.com for more ideas.
I am personally of the opinion that most of the above issues with hiding guns, like ease of access and the risk of others, especially children, finding them can be reduced or eliminated if you will make the decision to carry around the clock, even at home. There is no draw faster than that of a gun holstered at your hip. If something on your person is not under your control and awareness, what is? Still, I understand that there will be a significant segment of the readership that will prefer to offload their equipment and relax somewhat while at home and still maintain a degree of readiness. This is understandable, and so this article was written with them in mind.
The other issue I anticipate is from readers with smaller children who do not want to give up having a gun on the nightstand, or bedside, and do not trust an electronic quick access safe under duress. This is reasonable, and among all the discussions of how best to solve this seeming dilemma, I rarely hear put forth what I believe is the best solution: when the child is tucked in at night, and the parents retire to bed, the master bedroom door is locked. This will ensure that a child tiptoeing through the house in the dead of night will not be able to access the gun.
I can hear the protests from parents already! Before you grab the tar and feathers, hear me out. For those that are worried about a child being awakened, crying, and needing mom or dad, most houses are not so sound-proof, or parent such heavy sleepers as to prevent hearing the child. Likewise, if they should wake up and head to mom or dad’s room, all they have to do is knock on the bedroom door. Any other disturbance or break in attempt should trigger your alarm system. Give this consideration, and if find it untenable, invest in a high-quality pistol safe.