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The decision to purchase a gun safe is a smart one. Numerous studies have shown that a gun safe can make a big difference in accidental shootings, theft of weapons, and protecting firearms and other valuables from natural disasters like floods and fires. Getting the right gun safe is tricky becuase there are a number of inferior products on the market or designs that don’t meet the lofty abilities some manufacturers claim. Unfortunately, it is only after a safe has been compromised that an owner can truly understand the importance of a good-quality safe.
This guide will aim to answer every question you might have about what features to look for when choosing a high-quality gun safe. It will help sort out the gimmicks from the got-to-haves and will simplify your search for the best firearms safe for storing and protecting your investment.
There is no formal description for what makes a gun safe a gun safe. Generally, you should expect a gun safe to be made from heavy-guage metal with a secure locking assembly. Gun cabinets sometimes look like safes and often have similar features, but cabinets are meant for storage and display. A gun safe should primarily keep your guns safe.
A gun safe should offer excellent protection from all but the most determined thieves through a combination of quality materials and a secure locking assembly. A gun safe should also provide protection from disasters such as earthquakes, fires, and floods. A heavy, permanently-mounted gun safe is the best way to protect firearms, important documents and photos, jewelry, and other difficult to replace items, but not all gun safes are up to the task.
Metal thickness is referred to as a “gauge.” A lower number indicates a thicker metal in the same way that shotgun pellets are measured. A numerically lower gauge will men a safe with thicker metal construction which is less easy to compromise with a drill or a torch. Thinner metal safes and safes made from aluminum alloy are easier for thieves to pry open and offer far less protection from moisture, fire, and crushing.
Look for a minimum thickness of 12 gauge. Some safes are made from metal as thin as 14 or 20 gauge which offers very little in the way of protection from prying and drilling. Thicker metal will lead to a more expensive safe, but the extra you spend is worth the price. Some gun safes feature metal construction as large as 6 gauge which is virtually impenetrable.
Next to the thickness of the metal, the ability of a gun safe to protect the contents through disasters is key to a good safe. Gun safes are fire-proofing that uses sheets of fireboard. The more layers, the better the ability of the safe to withstand fires. A common rating for a gun safe in an average home would be 1,200 degrees for 30 minutes. Few house fires will ever exceed these temperatures or last longer than half an hour -an unsettling thought on its own.
As to waterproofing, most gun safes that have a fire rating will also have sealing doors. These offer a good deal of protection from floods, leaks, and carelessly placed sodas. You can add desiccant packets to the interior of the safe that absorb moisture to help prevent rust and reduce ambient moisture from harming your guns and other valuables.
A safe is only as secure as the lock. A key-only lock is relatively simple to defeat and offers the least amount of protection from break-ins. Mechanical locks are the most common designs used in gun safes. These designs have a dial lock collar with a key that locks the dial. They are very reliable and difficult to defeat, but take time to operate.
More modern safes include electronic locks. This design has improved over the last few decades and is one of the most effective and difficult to defeat locking systems around. Electronic locks make opening the safe as simple as typing in a code.
Gun safe brands use two types of bolts called active and dead. Active bolts move when you open the door to allow the door to open while deadbolts are fixed in place. Deadbolts are found on the hinge side while active bolts are on the leading edge or the top and bottom. A good safe has at least two active bolts on the top and bottom, four on the leading edge, and at least two deadbolts in the hinges.
One of the most frequent mistakes that gun owners make when buying their first safe is to purchase one that is too small in the long run. Even though many safes are marketed as having capacities of 8, 12, 24, or more guns (what most hunting gun safes have), it is not common to actually put that many firearms in the safe. Various things like scopes, bolts, and magazines will make most rifles and shotguns take up too much space and prevent firearms from being removed without bumping other firearms.
Always buy the biggest gun safe you can get away with. Once you start adding your firearms, accessories, ammunition, and other shooting accessories, most of the space is taken up. Add in important documents, photos, records, and jewelry and you can easily imagine how quickly a small safe would become too full to be useful.
Another aspect to consider is that the primary way thieves steal firearms from a safe is to actually remove the safe from the home and open it at a safe location. A large, heavy safe that is bolted to the ground is going to be nearly impossible for the average thieves to steal. Small, lightweight safes may be an attractive option for one or two firearms, but the lack of space and the limited protection from theft make these safes a poor choice.
Choosing a gun safe is a responsible decision and one that can pay off massively if a natural disaster happens. A number of years ago, a friend of mine lost a collection of World War II firearms during a wildfire in California. He had a safe, but the fire-rating was inadequate and his collection burned and melted inside the safe. Save yourself from the horrible feeling my friend had that day prying his safe open and buy a thick, heavy, fire-rated safe that will hold all of your most treasured items securely.