Last Updated on October 19, 2020
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If we could boil down the various reasons to own a gun safe down to just two, it would be to protect your firearms and other valuables from a house fire and against unauthorized access (burglars, kids, anyone else, etc.).
Regardless of how many guns you personally own, owning a gun safe to store your guns is a good idea. As a gun owner as it not only protects the investment and/or the sentiment you’ve put into those guns, it again also helps prevent your firearms from falling into the wrong hands, and thereby at least mitigates some of your possible liabilities. That being said, not all gun safes are created equally, and some are much better (or worse) than others. In this article, we will outline and discuss the various qualities that your gun safe must have so you can select the very best gun safe for your needs.
The first thing your safe needs is enough storage capacity to actually hold all of your guns.
Take note that the marketed storage capacity of gun safes is often not what they can actually hold. For instance, if a safe claims it can hold 20 long guns on the marketing label, chances are good it will only hold fewer than that (similar to how tents will rarely be able to comfortably sleep their advertised sleeping capacity as well). The manufactures don’t take into account bolt actions, scopes, lights mounted on Picatinny rails, and other things that increase the footprint of a long gun, or scopes and lights on handguns. Their estimates are a marketing tool.
Therefore, as a rule, buy a safe that claims it can fit more guns that you actually own. If you own ten (10) long guns, for instance, a gun safe marketed as holding twenty (20) long guns would be a good choice.
10 Gauge Steel
The type of steel that your gun safe is constructed of is of critical importance. Steel thickness is measured in ‘gauges,’ and as a rule, you’ll want to go with a safe that has at least ten (10) gauge steel (which comes out to about .1345 inches).
Why? If a safe has less thick steel than ten gauge it’s not as likely to do a decent job of protecting the interior of the safe from a house fire or against being broken down with an ax or sledgehammer or whatever.
1 Hour Fire Protection Rating
The fire protection rating is another very important factor to take into consideration when looking for a gun safe. As with the type of steel you need, there’s a rule to follow with your fire protection rating as well: one hour of fire protection at the very minimum.
Many gun safes will have a fire protection rating of thirty to forty five minutes. You may think that’s sufficient, but the truth is that it can take first responders up to fifteen to twenty minutes to arrive on the scene AFTER they’ve been alerted. All in all, it typically takes about one hour before a house fire is put down, and this is why you’ll want to have a fire protection rating of one hour at least (more than that, obviously, would be preferable). If you can buy a gun safe that has at least a one hour fire protection rating with an internal temperature of three hundred and fifty degrees, you’ll be in good shape.
Multiple Locking System
While there are different types of gun safes available, they also come with a wide variety of different types of locking mechanisms.
After narrowing down your selection of gun safes based on the fire protection rating and thickness of the steel, the type of lock is the next most important thing to pay attention to. These days, the four most popular types of single locks are, in alphabetical order:
Out of these, the combination and the key lock are the most traditional option. They cost the lease and have been available for decades. All you need to do is spin the dial repeatedly left to right until you get the proper code for the combination lock, whereas key locks obviously just require the key. Opening either of these in an emergency is something that should be considered as they take presence of mind and precious time to either find the key or to spin the dial correctly. And the emergency doesn’t have to be getting to a gun to save your life, it could be an emergency evacuation where valuable insurances papers are better taken with you than left to the results of the impending emergency, no matter the steel or fire protection levels. In the case of a flood, earthquake or severe weather who knows where the safe could end up.
The electronic lock is faster than the combination lock and allows you to just punch in a code. The main drawback, of course, is that they are reliant on electric power, usually a 9-volt battery. I have changed my battery once in the past 5 years, and the lock indicates a battery-low condition. Something to consider, the more digits required, mine requires six (6), the more secure the more time it takes to operate.
Finally, the biometric lock requires you to scan your fingerprint in order to access the safe. This manufacturer of a gun lock claims it takes .3 seconds to operate. Make your own judgement about, again, as to operating it in an emergency.
So, which of these locks is the best option?
The answer is possibly none of them, at least not individually. Rather, you’ll want to go with a gun safe that has a multiple lock combination, meaning it has at least two different locking systems.
For instance, one popular type of safe is to have an electronic lock with a secret key lock beneath the keypad so you can also open the safe with a key. Many people like this type of safe because it means you can still open the safe and access the guns inside in the event of an EMP attack or solar flare that would knock out all electronics within a particular vicinity. Another popular option is for the gun safe to have both an electronic lock and a biometric lock.
Last but not least, this is another factor that you will need to consider. The more money a safe costs, the ‘better’ it’s going to be, meaning it’s going to have thicker steel and a better fire protection rating.
But on the flip side of things, safes aren’t cheap, and the absolute best safes on the market will cost you two to three thousand dollars. What if you don’t have that kind of money to spend? What if you don’t even have a thousand dollars to spend on a safe?
The good news is that there are a number of budget minded safes on the market that will be serviceable. These safes will cost around $500 or less, and while that may seem like a very reasonable price, it’s also going to mean you’ll need to make sacrifices.
For example, a $500 or lesser priced gun safe is probably going to be of a smaller size and have less thick steel and a shorter fire protection rating (maybe around thirty to forty minutes). The best solution here is to simply buy the highest quality safe within your budget. If you only have $500 to spend, and that’s totally fine, buy the absolute best safe that you can find for that price range (meaning find the safe with the most amount of room and the thickest steel and longest fire protection rating for that price).
In summary, the best gun safe for your needs will need to meet each of the following qualities:
- Have enough room to store more than just your current guns
- Be constructed of at least ten gauge steel
- Have a one hour fire protection rating
- Have multiple locking systems
- Be within your budget
If you can find a safe with each of these qualities, you can rest assured that your guns and whatever else you choose to put in your safe are well protected against fires and unauthorized access.
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