Gun Safe "Failures"
Copyright 2014 By Ken Dunckel
Expert Safe and Vault Service in the San Francisco Bay Area
Did The Safe Fail?
Gun safes are perhaps the best example of unrealistic expectations.
I recently declined a job that involved a steel gun safe that was breached by burglars, who used a cutting wheel to make a large rectangular hole in one side and extract the contents. In the safe owner's eyes this constituted a gross failure on the part of the safe. His lawyer wanted me to support the claim that the safe failed. If I had taken the lawyer up on that job and gone to court to support that claim, somebody on the other side would have had a field day cutting my testimony to pieces.
Based on what I knew, the safe did not fail. It wasn't designed to hold off an attack like that. The safe owner's complaint was like the man who buys a VW bug and later complains that it failed miserably when he entered it in the INDY 500.
Seemingly everyone has different expectations when it comes to safes. Just because a box has a combination lock on it doesn't make it invulnerable to the efforts of every bad guy out there. And just because it's made from steel doesn't mean you can't cut a big hole in the side or top or door.
Yet when their box gets defeated by some yahoo with the right tools and the right idea about what to do with those tools a great many safe owners want to say their safe failed.
As soon as you tell the owner of a breached safe that he or she shouldn't have expected his safe to win out over a determined and well-equipped burglar, the owner usually reacts with anything from annoyance to rage. One of the most common after-burglary comments is that for the amount of money the owner paid, it should have put up more resistance than it did.
Well, yes, a gun safe usually does cost appreciably more than a safe the same size that was built for use by a business. The extra cost of a gun safe is usually about the cosmetics. In order to appeal to a person who wants to protect his firearms, it needs visual appeal. Gun safes have that for sure. Many have admittedly beautiful (at least comparatively) paint jobs, along with ornate decals and shiny finishes on dials, handles, and even the hinges. But visual appeal adds nothing in the way of burglary resistance.
Technically and physically, a gun safe fits the general description of "lightweight box." When reminded of this, the distraught gun safe owner often gets even angrier, citing the fact that it took him and two friends a good deal of effort to move the safe into his home, "lightweight" indeed!
When we in the safe industry use terms like "lightweight" we're not inferring that someone can easily pick it up, move it, or hurl it across a room; it's a comparative term, one that acknowledges the fact that another plain-Jane safe with the same outside dimensions can easily outweigh the gun safe by a factor of two or three. A commercial safe will usually have steel walls and a door two or three (or more) times as thick as the gun safe, and a U.L. rating for burglary resistance. And yes, I know, many contemporary gun safes do come with U.L. ratings, but the ratings they usually qualify for signify low resistance to a destructive attack with heavy tools.
The tools I'm referring to aren't really special. An average person can legally buy all the heavy destructive tools he needs to breach a gun safe. The tools are easily available at a well-stocked hardware store, and nobody's suspicions are raised when someone buys them.
Electric saws outfitted with metal-cutting wheels are a great example. The metal-cutting wheels can and do make short work of an assignment to cut a big square hole in the door or top or back of a gun safe. If the user doesn't mind a shower of sparks and the loud noise they make, figure on ten or fifteen minutes of work, work that requires virtually no skill on the part of the operator.
Vulnerability to cutting wheel attacks is probably the best example of why a gun safe is the wrong choice for protecting high value contents, but other equally available heavy tools, all legal to buy and own, have been used to breach gun safes. Gun safe buyers don't want to hear that the safe they're considering, which looks nice enough to be the centerpiece of a well-appointed man-cave, is a poor choice to protect their firearms collection.
So . . . the buyer ends up with a very nice-looking seven or eight hundred dollar box that will be protecting maybe twenty thousand (or much more) dollars' worth of possessions. Happens all the time.