Gun safes have become much more common place in the home than they used to be. Innovations in technology have made them smaller, lighter and more easily accessible while costs have made them more affordable as well. All of this allows us to feel safe and secure in our ability to safeguard our firearms collection and valuables, protecting them from prying eyes, or the potential loss due to theft. Some even come with a fire rating that allow us to store our papers and important documents for safe keeping. But are they really secure? In this article, we discuss what a gun safe really is (and isn’t) and give you some tips on how to fortify your collection.
Safe of Storage Container?
In having this discussion, we need to begin with a basic understanding that a gun safe is not really a safe, but rather a storage container. Actual safes (think bank vaults) are rated based on construction and performance ratings because the insurance companies that underwrite them require that. Gun safes, for the most part, do not even come close to this level of protection despite what the sellers and manufacturers may lead you to believe. The truth is that most gun safes start at a B rating with the higher-level ones receiving a C rating and true safes receiving an E rating or higher by Underwriters Laboratory (UL), an independent third party evaluator.
This concept is important to understand as it reminds you that the gun safe that you have is doing two things:
- It organizes your firearms and keeps them safe from both prying and damage.
- It buys time in the event of a burglary which may or may not prevent the firearms inside from being stolen.
What it does not do is provide an impenetrable fortress for your firearms and valuables. Knowing the most common ways that a safe is penetrated can allow you prepare for these moments better and hopefully prevent theft in the future.
Materials Will Make or Break a Safe
Construction materials are the single biggest failure point for getting into a safe. The thickness and construction material of the door, walls and liner are all areas that determine the general strength and resilience of the safe itself. The most common way that thieves break into a safe is brute force through prying or hammering. The use of a large or small pry bar will allow most aggressive intruders to find a point of weakness and pry the door open or completely off of the safe. Solid, 1” thick steel doors are harder to pry open than ½” thick and below. In order to save on cost, and increase fire resistance, most safes use a thin steel layer filled with concrete, or in the lower end ones, “composite filler” which is usually nothing more than plywood. These fillers make the door seem thick and heavy, but in reality, the materials have low failure points and can be easily pried open by accessing a corner or other weak point on the hinge side where many cheaper safes do not have locking bars. The gap between the door and liner wall is also important as this determines how big of a prying device can get into the gap. The smaller the gap between the two, the more difficult it is to pry open. Wall thickness and liner thickness also matter as these determine how well the door is secured. It doesn’t matter if you have 1.5” locking bars to hold the door shut of the liner that they recess into is only ¼” thick. Many low-end safes can be accessed and defeated by merely beating on the door or wall with a sledgehammer.
Bolt Your Safe to the Ground For Added Protection
Prying a safe open usually requires some level of leverage. Prying a safe open while vertical is much more difficult than laying it on its back and letting gravity help with the process. Not bolting your safe to the ground is the second way in which you can make your safe more accessible to thieves. Bolting it to the ground prevents the safe from being lifted and relocated by making it difficult to pry up from underneath and adding a perceived weight to the equation in not allowing it to move.
Bolting the safe and securing it somewhere prevents the third method of penetration which is relocation. Relocating the safe out of its environment buys the thieves time, and with time, all things are possible. If a safe can be relocated, it can be opened with a torch or any other industrial grade tool as well as good old fashioned safe cracking.
Get Serious About Safeguarding Your Collection
If you are truly serious about securing your firearms and valuables, there are a few recommendations that can increase the likelihood of your collection surviving a burglary.
- Buy a high quality safe made of high-quality materials and do your research into what that means. More expensive does not always mean better but know what the safe is capable of and get third party reviews on it to see if it does what the manufacturer says it can do. Putting your $20,000 collection into a $200 safe from the local hardware store is most likely not a great option.
- Secure your safe to its position by having it bolted to the floor with industrial grade bolts to prevent repositioning or relocating.
- As much as it seems to be a common thing these days, safes are not meant to be furniture display pieces in your living room. Locate the safe somewhere where only you and your family know where it is. Someone walking by should not be able to look into your window and see your beautiful safe in all of its glory sitting in the open. If possible, put it in a room and add a keypad entry lock to the room so that you can restrict access to the room and its contents.
- Practice decentralized storage if at all possible. Putting your entire collection in one safe or one location means that once it is found, it is easier to walk away with everything. Spreading your collection throughout the home in different safes and different locations increases the chances that some of your collection will survive a burglary attempt.
After doing all of that, the best thing to do is get a good firearm insurance policy that covers your collection in its entirety. Homeowners policies are usually capped at $2500-5000 total loss per event so if your whole collection goes in one moment in time, you will be out the value of the collection. Spend the money to have a good personal articles policy or separate policy with a company that knows the value of your firearms and is willing to take care of you if they are stolen. It doesn’t help prevent the theft but will give you peace of mind and allow you to rebuild your collection should it ever become compromised.
By Jason Kostal
Jason is an Army Veteran and freelance writer for Athlon Outdoors and GetZone, a firearms training and industry consultant. For more information or content on exotic boutique firearms follow him on Instagram or Facebook as well as visit his website at legacyarmsintl.com