Go Big! There’s no Skimping in Gun Safes

What is a gun safe?

Close your eyes and picture a gun safe. I’ll do the same thing. Our visions are almost certain to be different. In fact, if we asked 10 people to describe a gun safe, we would get 10 different definitions and they would all be valid. To put it simply, the gun safe you need is the gun safe you need. It is not the gun safe I need, nor is it anyone else’s idea of what a gun safe should be. You will be storing your guns and your valuables in that safe. The safe must fit in your house, your budget, and your lifestyle. In short, it is your decision, but you must have solid information to make that decision effectively. And, good advice never hurt either.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that you buy the biggest safe that will fit in your house. There are certainly a number of married couples right now looking warily at each other and wondering what kind of trouble I am about to start. So, consider this: that safe is not just for guns. At the risk of being sexist, a gun safe is not just a “man thing.” A good gun safe is part of a household security plan. Certainly, a safe will be used to store guns. It will also be used to store jewelry, valuable papers, family heirlooms. And a gun safe can fill up quickly, so buy a big one.

“You might own eight guns right now,” says Don Pannier, VP of Stack-On Products, “so you shop for a safe that can hold eight guns. One of the biggest mistakes people make is forgetting to plan for future purchases or getting a gun or two handed down to them. We really believe you should plan for those possible future additions.”

There are considerations when you decide to get a big gun safe. The first is fit. What is the biggest safe that will physically fit in the space you have selected? Will the safe fit through every door and around every corner during installation? Is the location you have selected big enough to contain the safe and provide access to the safe and its contents? Don’t just measure the footprint of the safe. Measure the width of the door and the arc of the door swing. You will need this information before the safe is sitting in front of your house, or worse yet, wedged into a doorway as you try to move it into its resting place.

Next, consider things like weight and installation effort. You can put a gun safe in the basement, but make sure your stairs can handle its weight and ensure that you have a means to control humidity inside and outside the safe. Do you plan to move? Seriously. If you might change residences, think hard about that safe. Moving it down a flight of stairs is easy compared to hauling that monster up some stairs. Installation impacts the cost of your safe and the effort impacts the installation. Maybe the safe simply becomes part of the house, and you make plans to include the value of the safe in the sale price and buy a new safe when you move.

If you are installing the safe anywhere not supported by concrete, you might need to check with a contractor to make sure your floor can support the safe and its contents. Remember the contents! Your one-ton safe might weigh three tons after you load it up with guns, ammo and valuables. This could put serious strain on your floor joists.

The shopping begins
Now that you have given the location and access of your safe some thought, you can start thinking about which model to purchase. Do you want a combination lock or an electronic lock? The combination lock is traditional, long-lasting, and effective. Electronic locks are great, but batteries can fail. Still, most modern electronic-lock safes feature a backup system that allows you to change batteries from the front, and often some sort of backup key to ensure you are never locked out of your own safe. With an electronic lock, you get to choose your combination and can quickly and easily change the combination.

Other elements to consider include how well your safe will stand up to fire and flood. Fire is the danger most people think about first when it comes to a safe. Most manufacturers use 1400 degrees Fahrenheit as the benchmark. The fire rating of a safe will be based on how long the safe stands up to 1400 degrees F. Longer is better, but also more expensive. Fire ratings between 30 minutes and 75 minutes are common. Again, go as big as you can afford. If your house burns completely to the ground, a safe rated to protect at 1400 degrees for 30 minutes might protect what’s inside depending on where the hottest spots of your house fire are, but 75 minutes would be better.

Flood protection is now provided by some higher-end safes, but we are not talking about protection against total immersion. We are talking about protection against about two feet of water for 72 hours. This adds cost to the safe but provides peace of mind if you are in an area where water might be an issue. Most people won’t need such protection, but if you live in a flood plain, or are worried a broken pipe might flood your basement, this feature might be worth the money. (There are more insurance claims for water damage than fire damage in the U.S., and many people are under the false impression that their gun safe is waterproof when, in fact, many are not.)

Locking points are the next big thing. The best safes have four-way locking points: top, bottom, right, and left. The more locking points the better. Once you hit 10 locking points you know you have a safe that is virtually impregnable. A safe with eight locking points (three on each side and one each on the top and bottom) is going to defeat your average criminal.

The elements in this story simply address size, installation, and security. The internal configuration of the safe becomes entirely personal. How and where you like to store your guns and whether you like your shelves on the right or left is completely up to you. But all this and more goes into selecting the right safe for your needs.

Just remember, any safe will fill up fast. You need more room than you think.


     Kevin Michalowski is a long-time firearms writer from Wisconsin and an active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers.