Safe Gun Storage

Safe combination lock
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Storing guns in a locked gun safe helps ensure the firearms stay out of the hands of children or anyone who should not have access to the guns.

Responsible gun owners not only train to use their guns in a safe manner, they also make sure that their firearms are stored safely when not in use. That may sound like common sense, but a large study published in the Journal of Urban Health found that 4.6 million minors in the U.S. live in homes with at least one loaded and unsecured firearm. Those are disasters just waiting to happen. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to keep guns secure and away from those who should not use them.

Safe storage is a multi-step process:

  1. Guns should be unloaded before they are brought into the house. Store ammunition and guns in separate locked containers.
  2. Use individual firearm locking devices to make guns unuseable until the device is removed.
  3. Store guns in locked cabinets or gun safes.

Gun Locks

Individual firearm locking devices include trigger locks and cable locks. When in place, trigger locks prevent the gun from being fired until the lock is removed, usually with a key. Many new guns come with trigger locks. Use trigger locks with unloaded guns only.

Cable locks consist of a loop of steel cable with a vinyl coating whose ends connect to a keyed or combination lock. The technique varies among the different types of guns, but in essence they all involve a cable installed through the working parts of the gun, rendering it unusable. For example, for a revolver with the chamber open, the cable is run down the barrel and out the chamber opening and locked in place.

Gun lock.
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When installed, cable locks make the gun unusable.

Both trigger locks and cable locks are designed to prevent a child or someone who should not have access to the gun from using it. But if the gun is stolen, the thief can easily remove these types of locks.

Gun Storage Safes

Many safety experts believe that locking devices should be used along with storage in a gun safe. Safes come in a variety of sizes, from those that can accommodate a single handgun to large vaults that can hold dozens of long guns (rifles and shotguns).

Small safes are sometimes called strong boxes or quick-access safes. These are portable containers that provide access to a handgun in an emergency. Most have combination locks or biometric (fingerprint recognition) controls. Because they are portable, they are a favorite target of burglars. Many homeowners choose to attach the safe to tables or some other object that is hard to move. They can cost $200 to $400 and up.

Larger safes are often sized by the number of guns they can hold. Better products have padded interiors and adjustable shelves. Some safes can weigh over 800 pounds and take up a large chunk of floor space, so advance planning on where the safe will be located is important.

Handgun in Safe Box
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Some quick-access safes, or lock boxes, can be opened with fingerprint recognition technology.

Depending on the project, large safes can accessed by a keyed, combination or biometric-controlled locking mechanism. Many homeowners bolt the safes to the floor to prevent the safe from tipping over. A good-quality safe that can hold a number of firearms can cost from $1,200 to over $5,000.

Here are a few things to consider when purchasing a gun safe:

  • The thickness of the steel. You can determine this by checking the gauge of the steel. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the lower the gauge number the thicker the steel. So 11-gauge steel is thicker than 14-gauge.
  • The fire rating. Many safes are advertised as being fireproof. They are not. What they are is fireproof or fire resistant for a certain period of time at a certain temperature. Look for terms like "fireproof for 30 minutes at 1,200 degrees," which is acceptable for a good-quality long gun safe. Small gun safes usually don't list a fire rating.

Report Lost or Stolen Firearms

Each year thousands of guns are lost or stolen. Help law enforcement track down these guns or identify them if they are used in a crime by providing as much information as possible about the gun when you report it lost or stolen. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has a downloadable record-keeping form where you can record information about your firearms. The form is for personal use only. Keep it in your personal records so that you can refer to it if one of your guns is lost or stolen.


Fran J. Donegan

Fran Donegan is a writer and editor who specializes in covering remodeling, construction and other home-related topics. In addition to his articles and blogs appearing in numerous print and digital media outlets, he is the former executive editor of the consumer magazine Today's Homeowner and the managing editor of Creative Homeowner Press, a book publisher. Fran is the author of two books: Paint Your Home (Reader's Digest) and Pools and Spas (Creative Homeowner Press).