Gun Safe Security

Copyright 2012 by Ken Dunckel
Serving San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California
CA License 1985 CA Contractor 553337

Gun Safes and User Expectations

One of the biggest mistakes gun safe owners make is expecting too much from their safes.

If you buy a gun safe to store a collection of expensive long guns and handguns, you're doing the right thing safety-wise. If there are children in the home, any firearms need to be stored where a kid can't lay hands on them; no brainer, right? Second, an owner doesn't want to lose one or all of his or her weapons in a burglary. Firearms are popular theft items. Losing personal property is hurtful enough, but it's more disturbing to think yet another nice handgun will end up in the hands of some lowlife.

Fact: Most residential burglars don't come equipped with the knowledge or tools needed to defeat a safe that can't be carried off.

That last comment doesn't apply to all burglars, however. Some residential burglars are resourceful and energetic enough to have a serious go at defeating a safe they can't take with them. Such a burglar will either bring tools, leave and return with tools, or use tools found on the safe owner's premises.

Another fact: With time, effort, tools and determination, that burglar is going to defeat a gun safe. Did you notice I said "defeat?" The burglar won't necessarily open the safe door because the majority of residential burglars don't know much about the internal workings that keep safe doors closed and locked.

But let's keep the burglar's objective in mind: Is he there for the challenge of opening your safe's door, or is he there to extract the safe's contents? Thus, if the safe's purpose is to keep the contents secure but a thief extracts the contents by whatever means, did he defeat the safe?

In other words, as long as he gets what's inside, does a thief care if the door actually opens? He's just as happy to make a hole in the side, back, or top and remove contents that way.

In short, burglars aren't safe technicians; they don't worry about damaging your safe or making a mess.

Getting back to what I said in the first sentence, though, the safe owner's mistake is assuming that his gun safe will keep the contents secure from all comers. Safes, especially (most) gun safes, are far from invulnerable to destructive force.

A reciprocating saw (like a Sawzall) or electric metal cutting wheel works just fine on a gun safe wall or door. Yes, they're real noisy, and yes, they throw off showers of sparks. However, if a burglar is relatively certain nobody will hear the tool and raise the alarm, that's what he'll use if he's thinking. 

It doesn't take much skill or knowledge to make a big rectangular hole in what amounts to nothing more than heavy gauge steel.

And heavy gauge steel is what the walls of most gun safes are made of. If you don't know a lot about terms used to describe steel, "heavy gauge" sounds impressive, but to a safe technician (or a burglar) a safe with "heavy gauge" steel walls is not considered hefty, especially when you're talking about resistance to a powered metal-cutting tool. A powered cutting wheel will cut through steel over twice the thickness of an average gun safe's "heavy gauge" steel walls.

Once again: If someone cuts a hole in the side of a gun and removes the contents, was the safe deficient?

The short answer is no.

A safe like that can't perform beyond the abilities of its heavy gauge but nonetheless thin steel walls. Safe makers are (rightly) concerned about vulnerability to pounding and prying attacks, and their door, handle, and boltwork designs reflect those concerns. Safe makers are also careful to install combination locks in a way that slows or deters tool attacks on the door.

At day's end, though, a gun safe is not considered heavy-duty protection. This fact doesn't stop some people from putting one (or many more) high value guns in their gun safes and expecting that they will be protected. Well, something is better than nothing, right?

The reason people are willing to settle for the level of protection afforded by most gun safes is cost and appearance. Gun safes are generally a lot better-looking than most other contemporary safes, with their shiny trim and glossy paint. The cost factor has to do with the comparative cost of a UL rated safe (TL-15 or higher) of the same dimensions. A safe with a TL-15 rating that is large enough to hold 10 or 20 rifles will cost (not to mention weigh) a lot more than a much prettier gun safe of the same size.

Buyers rationalize, telling themselves or the salesperson things like, "Well, I don't really need anything that heavy-duty, and besides, I have a really good alarm system." After opting for the nicer looking gun safe, they go home and store a gun collection worth a small fortune in the new safe, often along with other personal valuables. All that can be said about such practices is that if a gun safe is the only safe in the house, then the owner's valuables are best stored inside it.

But are the valuables secure? Based on what I know about the needs and situations of most homeowners, as well as the safe-opening skills of most residential burglars, I'd say "probably." But much depends on the answer to the question, "Who are we expecting?" Raffles, Jimmy Valentine, or Joe Schmuckatelli from down on the street corner?

Please feel free to comment.


Jason Damon said…
If you call yourself a responsible gun owner it is your duty to keep your firearm and ammunition secured in a high quality gun safe. I got mine from Godby Safe and Lock at their store down in Lantana, Florida. Check out their variety
Oscar Taylor said…
I saw that the best gun safes are mere thin metal boxes.
Free Gun Safe said…
Most safes have a secondary means of entry. I once saw gun safes reviews opened in the school system by drilling a 1/2 hole at a certain location, inserting a rod and tripping out the locking mech. The hole was welded shut, and "that's all I'm going to say about that"!
kapil swami said…
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