Tips and Tools for Safe Firearms Storage

Responsible firearm ownership includes an obligation to secure one’s firearms, keeping them away from those who should not have access to them.  No one firearms storage technique or tool will work for every type and purpose of firearm and no technique or tool can secure firearms 100%.  However, there are some options that work well in many situations and tools that should be considered.  In this article, we briefly explore some of those options, their pros and cons and discuss how to choose between them.

Note:  Ownership of firearms is a deeply personal decision and, for many, a divisive and emotional issue.  This article is not intended to take a stance on whether firearms ownership should be permitted, nor whether there is or should be any legal definition of how and where firearms are stored. Rather, it is intended to encourage responsible firearms ownership by those who choose to own them.

Must-Do’s of Safe Firearms Storage

Regardless of the type of firearm and its intended use, there are certain must-do’s when it comes to the safe storage of a firearm:

  • Neither the firearm nor its ammunition should be accessible to those ineligible or unauthorized to have access to them. Eligibility typically is defined by the laws of the state, county and municipality in which the firearm resides. Authorization typically is defined by the owner of the firearm.
  • Where possible, the firearm and its ammunition should not be stored together. This generally is not an issue for sporting or hunting firearms, but may not be feasible or possible in the case of firearms intended for defensive use.
  • Firearms should not be loaded until they are ready to be used. Again, this generally is not an issue for sporting or hunting firearms that can (and should!) be stored unloaded, but “ready to be used” takes on a different meaning for firearms intended for home or personal defense.
  • Anyone eligible and authorized to have access to a firearm should be knowledgeable in how to unload that firearm and render it safe, regardless of whether they ever are expected to use that firearm for its intended purpose. Ignorance is one of the single largest contributors to negligent discharges and these often occur when someone incorrectly attempts to unload a firearm.

Tools For Safe Firearms Storage

While there is no foolproof safe storage device for any firearm, these are my personal recommendations for various types of firearms.  Please note that many other options are available and that all available options should be considered prior to making a decision:

  • Defensive handguns in the home.  This type and purpose of firearm is one of the most difficult to secure because it must be readily accessible and stored loaded or with the ammunition nearby ready to be loaded. Traditional keyed or coded lockboxes or safes seem on the surface to be a good option, until one considers that under extreme stress (such as one might experience upon realizing there is an intruder in the house) most people lose all fine motor control skills and that inserting a key into a lock or keying in a numerical code may be all but impossible.  The GunVault, produced by the company of the same name, provides an alternative with many of the security features of a traditional safe or lockbox and security mechanism that depends only on gross motor skills (a fingerpad or a biometric scanner).  Secured to floor or wall studs, GunVaults can be very difficilt to remove and their reinforced steel construction will slow (but not prevent entirely) brute-force attempts at unauthorized access.  I personally like the Deluxe models which feature a battery backup, motion sensor alarm and unauthorized entry attempt indicator.  These retail for between $150 (fingerpad version) and $300 (biometric version).
  • Defensive long guns in the home.  Safely storing defensive long guns (rifles and shotguns) in the home can be equally, if not more challenging than safely storing defensive handguns due to their increased size and the fact that many of them have internal magazines rather than external magazines that could be stored separate from the firearm. The same issues around loss of fine motor skills under duress apply here as well, further complicate safe storage choices.  While I have not found a single option I would consider perfect, an option I believe is worth a closer look is a RACLOC Gun Lock.  This device bolts or screws to a structural member such as a floor joist or wall stud and uses a tubular cylinder key lock (marginally easier to open under stress than a traditional lock).  However, a firearm should never be stored loaded in a RACLOC Gun Lock as it might be possible to load a round into the chamber and discharge the firearm from its locked position given that the fire controls and ejection port of the firearm will be accessible.  These retail for less than $100.
  • Defensive handguns in the car.  Firearms should not be left unattended in a car unless absolutely necessary. Safe storage of a defensive handgun in a car is complicated further by the fact the car itself can be stolen, leaving the thief able to search the car and compromise locks at his leisure.  When it is necessary, simply locking a handgun in a glove compartment, console or trunk often provides few barriers to unauthorized access or theft. While the safest technique is simply not to do it (either do not keep a defensive handgun in a car or become authorized to carry it on your person when outside your car), I have found one safe storage device that provides marginally better security than the flimsy locks typically installed on trunk and console lids and glovebox doors.  The Key-Lock Car Safe, marketed by Center-Of-Mass, provides a locking (key or combination), all-steel, reinforced mini gun storage safe that can be secured to a structural component of the car’s interior such as a seat mount via a braided steel cable.  These also can be bolted to the floor of the passenger compartment or trunk, further complicating its removal.  Retailing for less than $50, these safes also provide a cost-effective option for safe storage of non-defensive handguns in the home, assuming they can be secured to a structural member such as a floor joist or wall stud.  Please note this device is not designed to provide “fast access” to a defensive handgun in an emergency situation and should not be relied upon for that purpose.

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  • Non-defensive firearms in the home.  Non-defensive firearms, meaning those that are not required to be kept ready (or near-ready) for immediate defensive use, also must be secured even if kept unloaded, separate from their ammunition and partially disassembled.  For such firearms, I beleive that a good-quality gun cabinet or gun safe — properly secured to structural members such as floor joists and wall studs or buried in concrete — represent a good balance of security and cost.  A gun cabinet usually is constructed of a single layer of heavy gauge steel and has strong door hardware, costs far less than a gun safe ($100-200), and is lighter. Gun safes typically have multiple layers of various armoring materials and have the same door hardware as a quality document or currency safe.  Gun safes also tend to be more expensive ($300+) and weigh at least several hundred pounds.  Stac-On is one of many companies that manufactures both gun cabinets and gun safes and is mentioned here only to provide one example of a potential source for this type of safe storage device.

The Bottom Line

No combination of techniques and tools can guarantee the secure storage of firearms, but responsible firearms ownership requires that every reasonable precaution be taken.  Those techniques and tools discussed here are a starting point for new and existing firearms owners to consider, rather than being definitive solutions.  A Home Firearms Safety course, taught by an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, can provide additional information and insights to help responsible firearms owners safely store their firearms and equip all interested parties with the knowledge, skills and attitude required to safely unload firearms with which they may share a home.


One Response

  1. […] If you own guns, store them so that they are inaccessible to children and other unauthorized users […]

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