Firearms Storage and Security
Chris 25-NOV-2000 (Prices Update 8-MAY-00)

The survival of the right to own firearms in the USA and those remaining free countries around the world just might depend on our ability to safely store them.  Every time some 11 year old finds his father's loaded gun and shoots someone, every time a burglar steals guns from a honest citizen and sells them to criminals, another nail is driven in the coffin of gun ownership.

The Problem

It is truly shocking the number of firearms owners that buy guns without the slightest thought as to how they will safely store them.  "On my top closet shelf where Junior can't reach, loaded and ready for any burglar" seems to be the most common plan.  Then Junior manages to get the gun and shoot the neighbor's kid, and he wonders why they want to take away his right to own a gun... (I wrote this years before that 6 year old in Michigan found the gun on the top closet shelf and killed another kid with it.  The prosecutor, eager to not be of any real use, ruled there was no negligence, that the gun was properly stored.)

The Youth Handgun Safety Act (YHSA) in the USA

In the USA in 1998, the BATF sent all the firearms dealers posters that they must display under penalty of law, and pamphlets about the Youth Handgun Safety Act (YHSA), 18 U.S.C. 922(x).  The Youth Handgun Safety Act was passed in 1994 by Congress.

One of the points they make is if you allow a youth access to a handgun by improperly storing it, you could spend up to 10 years in a Federal prison.  And, as a felon, never be allowed to possess a gun again!

For more information go to the BATF Site.

Note that in the year 1999, Congress completely "forgot" about passing the YHSA, that it had no effect, and tried to pass it again attached to the so-called Juvenile Justice Bill.  No, they don't think it will work any better if passed twice, they just think most folks are dumb enough to let them pass it a few times to show how they are "fighting youth violence."

Anti-Gun Forces "Solution"

The antigun forces have their own advice, and coming from people who do not own or use guns it isn't of much practical use.  They suggest you keep the gun unloaded and lock up both it and the ammo in separate places.  This isn't very practical for the single woman that wants her pistol handy in case some pervert breaks into her house during the night.  Have you ever heard the episode of Rescue 911 where a lady was cowering in her closet with her cordless phone, waiting for the police to come as a man broke into her house?  She had her gun with her right there in the closet, all locked up with the key on her key ring out in the living room.

A lot of good that did, didn't it?  I'll give a similar suggestion about drunk driving, which kills more children that handguns -- if you must own a car, keep it locked in the garage without any gas in it, and lock up that gas separately!

The recent push has been for trigger locks.  This can be a better idea, but it has many problems of its own.  Please, read on.

A Gun Owner's Responsibilities

There are two different things a gun owner must do, two different types of security that they need to provide for each gun he/she owns:

Sometimes they both have the same solution, often times not.

Security From Theft

The only way to secure a gun from theft is to lock it down, or lock it inside somewhere/someplace a burglar can't break into.  An example would be a gun safe.  With excellent locks and a good alarm system, someone's entire basement or even house might qualify.

There is no way to 100% prevent theft.  The thief could always wait out behind your garage till you got home, point a gun at you, and he'd get every gun  out of your $3,000 2000 lb. safe -- wouldn't he?  The idea is to give a reasonable level of security so that some neighborhood kids, or your nephews, can't break in and get them, to make sure some typical burglar that breaks in and spends 90 seconds in your house doesn't take any guns with him.

Obviously a good gun safe can provide this security, provided it is either too heavy to move (700+ lbs.) or secured to floor or wall.  There are smaller gun safes that can prevent unauthorized use (next section) but some can easily be broken loose of the house and taken.  These can still be an excellent source of security provided the house itself provides a high level of security and the safe is not an an obvious place, would likely be missed during a 90 second burglary.

I have found some good alternatives to a big, expensive gun safe to secure guns from both your kids and burglars.  One even has some excellent extra benefits.

If you put the gun on the top shelf of your bedroom closet, or anywhere in your dresser -- it will be taken by any burglar who burgles your house There are few sure things in life -- this is one of them.

Preventing Unauthorized Use

There are many other ways, including many gadgets, people try to prevent unauthorized use.   Please don't confuse these with your duty to stop theft of your guns -- they can be stolen just as easily with a trigger lock as without.

So many, many novice gun owners sincerely believe they have their guns stored safely away from kids, and they simply don't have a clue.  They think they are safe because:

They just don't get it!  I wish they could all so clearly visualize their son or daughter lying lifeless in a pool of blood, their marriage broken forever, criminal charges being filed and them being arrested.  They wouldn't drive without their child belted in or in a child carrier, but they just plop that gun on the top shelf in their closet.  Wake up!

Guns can be secured from unauthorized use by any of the ways in the previous section on how to make them theft proof.  Or they can be disabled by attaching some gadget to them -- a trigger lock, a barrel lock, a small lock box, etc.  These won't stop a thief, and many won't stop a determined teenager.  But they will stop young children -- and if I can't get you to care about anything else, think of the young kids.  At least buy a trigger lock -- the Speed Release and the Saf T Lok are my favorites for still making the gun accesible when you need it.

Never think any of these ideas or gadgets are foolproof.   A trigger lock won't withstand an attack by a 16 year old with a hammer and screwdriver for more that a few minutes.  Besides, he can always borrow your keys -- and if it had a combination, you left it set to 1-2-3-4, didn't you?

In general, any device that uses keys is almost worthless in preventing unauthorized use.  Now you have to control or hide the key, just exchanging one problem for another.  The kids will find the key, I guarantee, and the odds are you won't have the key when you need it. Always go for a combination lock.  Combination locks that consist of just 3 digits do not provide any real security and can be opened by a second grader in about 30 minutes -- unless they are electronic locks that shut down after 5 or 10 bad guesses.   And, for God's sake, don't leave it set for 1-2-3-4!!!  (Or 4-3-2-1 either!)

Here is a table of all the gun security devices I know of, along with my evaluation.  No, I haven't carefully tested each and every one of these, don't take my word as gospel.  And see the notes for this table at the bottom.
 
Model Links Approx.
Cost
Type of Lock? Safety from Theft Safety from 
 Children
Safety from Teenagers Used in Dark? Opens in Seconds? Stores Guns Loaded? Comments
This first set are enclosures of various types:
Gunlocker Safesmith.com $299 Illuminated 4 Digit Electronic Superior Good Good Yes Yes Yes Near Perfect Storage
GunVault GunVault $150-200 4 Digit Electronic Good Good Good Yes Yes Yes Easily liberated with a pry bar
Stay Ready Stay Ready! $150-400 Key or Mechanical Pushbutton Good Good Good Perhaps Yes Yes Get combination model. Might be liberated with a pry bar
V-Line V-Line
Botach
$100-400  Simplex Mechanical Pushbutton Good to Superior Good Good Perhaps Yes Yes All sorts of models for different applications
This next set are open racks that secure guns:
Gun and Pistol Models Firearms Security Racks Inc. $40-70 Less
Padlock
Superior Good Good No No Maybe Use with a 4 digit comb.lock
Gun Clamp MUL ? Key Good Good Good No No No Key type
The rest are all Gizmos that attach to guns.  Most provide no theft protection, except some can have a cable attached for minor protection.  Most will stop your kids from shooting themselves.  Some locks of this type are true junk:
Trigger Lock Napier $23 Key None Good Good No No Maybe Key type
Saf T Lokô for Automatics Saf T Lok $70-100 4 Digit Mech. Comb. None Good Good Yes Yes Yes Replacement magazine, not for all guns
Saf T Lokô for Revolvers Saf T Lok $70-100 3 Digit Mech. Comb. None Good Poor Yes Yes Yes 3 Digit Locks are not as secure, not for all guns
Lock and Loader Royse Lock Industries $6.95 ppd. Less Padlock Some Good Good No No No Only Fits Autos, very secure for price paid
Speed Release Speed Release Gun Locks $35 Illuminated 4 Digit Electronic None Good Poor Yes Yes Maybe Plastic, for children only
Gun Trigger Lock Common Sense $3 Key of Sorts None Good Poor No No Maybe Cheap protection for small children only
Gunlok Mr. Lock $18 Key Some Good Depends Depends Depends Maybe Can be used in several levels of security
Alarm Lock Hodge Products $25 Key None Good Good No No No Has tamper alarm

Notes:

  1. Safety from Teenagers means with their hands or some hand tools.  Anything can be broken in time with the right tools.
  2. "Less Padlock" means you must add your own padlock.  Use a 4 digit combination lock.
  3. Under Store Guns Loaded?, "Maybe" means the manufacturers says don't, and the lock can easily pull the trigger.  Might be used on a loaded gun with safety on, round not chambered, etc. with some risk of accidental discharge.  You must make you own risk assesment.


The Big Picture

First off, the majority of the guns you own should be locked up in a big, heavy, gun safe, or in honestly lockable racks like those from Firearms Security Racks.  These are all the guns you won't count on for self defense from some sudden threat, such as an intruder.  The less secure your house is, the more expensive your collection, the better the safe.  If you can't afford a safe to keep your guns in or some other genuinely secure method -- sell them!  If you can't be a responsible firearms owner, we don't want you!

Now, what about that loaded gun or two you keep around for when something goes bump in the night -- your self defense weapon?  Let's look at three types of households:

1) The wide-open family with kids house in a good neighborhood:  This is a house that rarely has its doors locked,  has kids and neighbor's kids running around everywhere without supervision.  There is only one way to keep that self defense weapon -- securely locked up with a combination lock. No matter how well a gun is hid, no matter how high on a shelf, how deep in a drawer or under the waterbed, your kids or the neighbor's kid will find it and shoot someone.  You life will never be the same again.

For pistols there is a good device available which has the brand name of GunVault.  It is a heavy steel safe just big enough to hold 2 or 3 handguns.  It opens from a combination that is entered on an electronic keypad.  The keypad is designed so it can be used in the dark or other locations where it can only be felt, not seen.  Mounting one of these inside your bedroom closet, or bolting it under your bed provides excellent security from unauthorized use.  If a burglar with a pry bar spots it, he will likely take it safe and all -- you'll have to fall back to the security of your home for theft security for your single self defense weapon.  Life is often a compromise.

Even better, but somewhat more expensive is the Gunlocker from Child U. S. Incorporated which was previously described.  This will keep the gun safe from burglars and kids -- and ready if you need it to protect those kids.

Not quite as secure as the Gunlocker, but much more than the GunVault is the line of enclosures from Stay Ready!.  BTW, this is the only device I know of at this time to keep a shotgun loaded and ready for quick access.

You can also try a locking rack from Firearms Security Racks which is much more burglar proof, but a bit less accessible in an emergency.
 

2) The family home with all the kids off to college, occasional visitors and parties:

Again, the GunVault, the Gunlocker, the Stay Ready!, or the Firearms Security Rack would be just an excellent idea.  If you truly don't ever, ever, ever have kids over, never have guests stupid enough to handle any firearm they might find -- a big if -- then some sort of hiding place might work.  I'd still use the GunVault or Gunlocker.  In any case, try to put the gun somewhere a 90 second burglary won't find.  Again, anywhere in your closet, anywhere in your dresser -- it's gone!

3) The home of a "hermit" who rarely has visitors, and then is very careful about where they go in the house:

This situation leaves a lot more latitude, but you still face the same basic problem of a burglar breaking in and taking your guns.  Just cause you live alone doesn't mean you can leave guns out on racks all over the walls, in the drawer next to your bed.

Summary

You need to keep the majority of your guns securely locked away from kids, friends, and burglars.  Most burglars will be stopped by most  gun safes too large to be carried off  -- they rarely spend more than 90 seconds in your house.  On the other hand, a determined thief can get into any safe.

You might decide to take a few more risks with a single gun or two you want to keep ready for self defense.  It will be a compromise with no perfect solution -- if you blow it and a kid gets it, you'll think of nothing else as you sit in your Federal Prison cell.   Just stop and think!

Read my advice and that of others.  Think about each risk -- kids, burglars, drunken friends at your party -- think about everything they possibly could do (they will) and how you will be safe from it.  Decide what works best for you.

And -- no I don't work for any of them -- take a good look at the Gunlocker, the  GunVault, the Stay Ready!, and Firearms Security Racks Inc.

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Notice -- This is the advice of Chris who is not an expert in these matters.  You need to decide for yourself what makes sense to you, consult experts for advice.  Chris cannot be responsible for the results of following or not following his advice above.


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