Growing up in Utah, I followed my dad around on several hunting trips. Deer hunting, quail hunting, pheasant hunting—if it was in season and we could get tags, we were hunting it. Having grown up around guns, I feel very comfortable handling them. I also realize, however, that my guns are tools with deadly potential. Respecting that potential and ensuring that my guns don’t fall into the wrong hands is my obligation as a gun owner. And that’s why I own a gun safe.
Choosing the right safe is an important investment that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and with so many variations in locking mechanisms, sizes, steel gauge, and more, it’s sometimes tough to know what to look for in a safe. It really comes down to the types of guns you have in your home and what kind of accessibility you want as an owner.
But before we zero in on specific setups and their features, let’s broaden the scope and get familiar with different types of locking mechanisms, steel gauges, and fire protection.
Types of Gun safe locks
No matter how heavy-duty the steel is on your safe, the door still swings open if the locking mechanism doesn’t do its job. Really, the most important thing standing between your guns and everyone else is the lock on your safe. You want to avoid something that can be easily compromised, but keep in mind that an overly complicated lock can create its own problems of accessibility.
Biometric Lock Gun Safes
Your fingerprints might be the one truly unique thing about you. Biometric gun safes try to capitalize on this by using fingerprint recognition technology to allow you quick and easy access to your firearm—not to mention the James Bond cool factor. What’s great about biometrics is that you don’t need to remember a combination or fumble with keys, allowing the quickest access to your firearm in an emergency situation. At least in theory. It sounds awesome on the surface, but digging a little deeper into biometrics raises a few red flags for me.
The whole point of biometrics is to allow quick access to your gun, but what a lot of people forget to consider is that in emergency situations, your blood starts pumping, adrenaline takes over, and your hands get sweaty. We ran a simulated test with a GunVault Speedvault Biometric Pistol Safe SVB500 where we worked up a sweat and tried to open the safe using its biometric lock, and it took several tries to register my sweaty fingerprints.
Other biometric safes like The GunBox use RFID, or radio frequency identification, where you have a ring or a bracelet transmit a signal based on proximity to open your gun safe. However, there have been too many issues with RFID technology malfunctioning for us to feel comfortable recommending it as a truly quick and secure option. While the ease of access is appealing with both biometrics and RFID, we prefer the more secure digital pattern keypad for a quick access gun safe.
Manual lock and electronic keypad gun Safes
Manual locks and electronic keypads are very common throughout the industry. These types of safes are not as quickly accessible as a biometric safe, but they are more popular because they tend to be less expensive, and, in our opinion, more secure. There are three main types of safe locks: number combinations, pattern combinations, and manual locks.
Number keypad combination Gun Safes
Most of us are familiar with a numeric keypad. The safe is unlocked by entering a numeric code into the digital keypad. Only those who know the code can access the safe. Though this method is not as fast as biometric entry, it still allows for quick access to your firearm when needed. Some safe companies have the ability to program up to 12 million user-selected codes, which makes it extremely difficult to crack. A numbered keypad combination is our second choice for quick access safes, behind only the pattern keypad combination.
Pattern keypad combination Gun Safes
Our number one quick access lock choice is the pattern keypad combination. Pattern combinations are similar to numeric keypads in that they are designed with digital buttons that can unlock your safe by pressing the buttons sequentially in a pattern of your choosing. Combinations can include pushing individual buttons or pressing multiple buttons simultaneously.
My personal home defense gun (Walther PPK .380) is stored in a GunVault GV1000S Mini Vault Standard Gun Safe (found on Amazon), which has a pattern combination lock. I prefer a pattern combination lock over a numeric combination because there’s no need to fumble with keys, try to remember a complicated set of numbers, or worry that my sweaty fingers will inhibit me from getting my gun. By practicing the pattern often enough, I can commit it to muscle memory, which reduces the chance of forgetting the combination during a real emergency.
Manual lock Gun Safes
There are two different types of manual locks:
- Key locks– These are the most straightforward, old school type of locks that use a key to open your safe. Fumbling with keys slows you down and isn’t a great option for quick access safes, and there’s always the threat of losing your keys, or worse someone finding them who’s not supposed to have access.
- Dial locks– Dial locks are a more traditional style of locking mechanism. They do not provide quick access to your safe, however, they’re very secure and slow to open. Most long gun safes will have a dial lock on the door with a three or five number combination.
It’s harder to steal from a safe with thick steel
Just because your safe is big, heavy, and plated with steel doesn’t mean it’s a good safe. In fact, there are countless safes on the market that have very light gauge steel that can be penetrated with a simple fire axe. Be sure to check the steel gauge on any safe you are considering before you buy.
To me, the steel gauge is a little backwards: the lower the steel gauge, the stronger the steel. The stronger the steel, the more expensive your safe will be. That’s why some of the bargain-priced safes out there, though the may seem like a great deal, are really not good options to protect your firearms. We recommend finding a safe with at least 10-gauge steel.
There’s no such thing as a fireproof safe
We all want to protect our valuables, and sometimes protection means more than just keeping burglars out of our safe. Fire can be a real threat to sensitive documents, cash, and more. If disaster strikes and your house burns down, replacing these things can be difficult, if not impossible, so prevention is key. But you should know that any manufacturer who claims that their safe is fireproof is straight-up lying to you. There is no such thing as a fireproof safe.
Although there are no safes that are completely fireproof, there are several quality safes that are fire resistant. A fire resistant safe means that the safe can protect its contents for certain amount of time, up to a certain degree. For example: the Browning Medallion series long gun safe (recommended below) can withstand temperatures up to 1700 degrees for 110 minutes. A fire burning longer or hotter than a safe’s specifications will penetrate the safe and burn whatever’s inside. Larger, long gun safes tend to have higher fire resistance ratings than smaller, quick access safes.
Although fire rating is important, we recommend focusing on steel gauge and locking mechanisms as your primary security priorities, finding options that meets those qualifications, and then looking at fire resistance rating within your potential options.
Quick access gun safes
A quick access gun safe is a smaller type of safe meant to store your primary home-defense weapon and allow you fast access to your firearm in an emergency situation, all while keeping your gun safely out of unwanted hands. They’re generally located in a bedroom, office, or other area of your home where you spend a great deal of time.
Quick access gun safes are usually small enough to be carried easily and should be mounted to a larger structure (like a nightstand, bed, or desk) to prevent burglars from simply carrying the safe, and its contents, off with them. Don’t keep jewels, cash, or any other valuables in a quick access safe. These items should be kept in a larger, more permanent safe, where they won’t get in the way of you getting to your gun when you need it.
Things to consider about quick access gun safes
- Location. Where do you want to keep your safe? Have a spot picked out before you shop so you can find a safe that fits its dimensions.
- Lock. What kind of lock is on the safe? How many locking bolts are there? We recommend finding a safe with a minimum of four locking bolts to ensure the door cannot be easily pried open.
- Ease of entry. Preventing children and intruders from accessing your guns is paramount, but you don’t want a safe that is difficult for you to open. We recommend a pattern combination lock.
- Warranty. If the safe is truly a good product, the company won’t be afraid to back it up with a good warranty. Read the fine print because many warranties only cover a small portion of the safe.
- Protection. What good is a safe that can’t protect what’s inside it? Look for a safe that has fire protection and thick steel lining.
Best Gun Safes: Top 3 Quick Access Safes
#1 Fort Knox – Personal Pistol Box Handgun Safe
Drawbacks: Limited number of combination possibilities (1081).
#3 GunVault – Mini Vault Standard Gun Safe
Drawbacks: Battery or AC powered.
Long gun safes
So where do you keep all of your firearms and valuables that you don’t need to access quickly? We suggest a much bigger and more secure type of safe called a long gun safe. When I think of a long gun safe, I usually think of the kind of safe Wile E. Coyote tries to drop on the Road Runner because that’s pretty much what they look like—big, heavy boxes of steel.
Sometimes called long rifle safes, stack-on safes, or gun vaults, these gun safes are meant to safeguard all of your guns in one secure location. And they are heavy, generally 750+ lbs. Any long gun safe worth its salt is made from heavy steel and difficult to move. Even though they are cumbersome, long gun safes should still be bolted to the floor, especially if you’re planning on keeping it in your garage. If it’s not bolted down, it can still be lifted into the back of a pickup truck a driven off to a remote location, where the thieves can take their time breaking into it.
If you own more than a few handguns, we strongly recommend keeping your main home-defense weapon in a quick access safe, while storing the rest of your firearms in a long gun safe. Though these bigger safes are more expensive, we recommend that anyone with one or more long guns (rifles, shotguns, etc.) invest in a full-size gun safe. Long gun safes are the most secure, generally have the highest fire ratings, and protect large amounts of firearms, ammunition, and other personal valuables, but most importantly, they protect your family by preventing your firearms from falling into the wrong hands.
Things to consider about long gun safes
- Size. Buy a safe that is bigger than what you think you need. The last thing you want to do is invest in something as large and expensive as a safe, only to run out of space. Keep in mind that a good safe is more than a gun locker. You are also storing your family’s valuables in there, and you’ll find that you quickly fill up the space.
- Fire resistance. Check the fire resistance rating of the safe. No safe is “fire-proof”; however, some safes last longer and can take more heat than others.
- Brand. Nobody wants to pay extra for branding, but when it come to gun safes, different brands can offer you exclusive features. For instance, Browning safes have a unique door-mounted rifle rack (patent pending) that you cannot get with other long gun safe brands. This feature allows you to store more firearms without paying for a bigger safe.
- Location. Just like the quick access gun safes, you’ll want to pick a spot before you shop for your safe. Know the dimensions of your space and whether or not you can deliver a giant steel box to the location you want (can it fit through the door?).
- Safe specifications. Check the steel gauge. A heavier gauge steelis much more difficult to drill through than less-resistant light gauge steel.
- Tampering. Does your safe have extra armor or devices to counteract drilling? Most low-grade safes can be opened with battery-powered tools in just a few minutes. A good safe will have relockers that trigger when the safe is under attack. These relockers can only be retracted after hours of drilling. Look for a safe that has two or more relockers.
Best gun safes: Top 3 Long Safes
#2 Amsec – Gun Safe: 90 Minute Fire and Burglary
#3 Steelwater – Extreme Duty 22 Long Gun Fire Protection
Drawbacks: Lesser known brand.
Best Gun Safes: Top 3 biometric handgun safes
Admittedly, we’re skeptical on biometric safes, however, after visiting ISC West and getting a hands-on demonstration of The Gun Box, we are warming up to biometrics and RFID. We still recommend pattern locks for quick access safes but here’s our list of the top biometric brands:
#3 GunVault – Speedvault Biometric Pistol Safe
No safe is completely impenetrable. Given enough time, every safe can be broken into. But a gun safe can help prevent in-home tragedies by keeping your guns out of unwanted hands. Think about how many—and what types—of guns you have in your home. Your guns and your situation will determine what kind of safe you need. Although a gun safe is a bit of an investment, it’s money well spent, when you consider it as an investment in your overall personal and home security.
What types of gun safes do you use and how do you feel about the protection they provide you? Leave us your comments below.