Handguns, rifles and shotguns do one thing, and do it very well: they blow holes in things. This is a good thing—if the hole you’re talking about is one you’ve put through a bad guy intent on harming you and yours after disobeying a direct order to stop and drop. If, on the other hand, the gun falls into the hands of a child, that’s a very bad thing indeed. All responsible gun owners should secure their weapon so that it cannot be accessed by unauthorized personnel (read: “kids” and “bad guys”). Failure to do so could lead to tragic consequences. And even if it doesn’t, in some states, you can end up in jail. Just ask Richard Runyan . . .

Earlier this week, The Bay State’s  Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Runyan could be prosecuted for violating the state’s gun lock law. More specifically, the Billerica resident failed to keep his semi-automatic rifle in a locked container or trigger locked when “not under his [the owner’s] control.” Even states with less stringent storage requirements tend to have laws severely punishing gun owners who put assembled and lock-free firearms within reach of unsupervised children.

That means you, Mr. Gun Under the Pillow Who Has Kids in the Bed From Time to Time and Gets Up At Night to Relieve Himself. And you, Mr. Back-Up (“This product is not intended for use in homes with children”).

The resulting problem suggests itself: how can you get to a combat-ready gun quickly and safely when you need it AND stop a child or criminal from getting a hold of it? Follow gun lock rules, and you may be reduced to using your as a blunt-force trauma deliver system, at best.

Truth be told, trigger locks are useless. They only work if you attach them properly. There’s no way you’re gonna be able to find the key, insert it, and remove the lock in the case of an emergency. Removing a trigger lock from a loaded gun in the heat of the moment increases the odds of accidental discharge. Trigger locks encourage owners to rely on them (instead of proper handling and storage). No self-respecting home invader’s gonna wait politely while you look for a key, insert it, and ready your weapon. Did I mention that thieves can remove trigger locks quickly and easily with household tools?

As an alternative, some people keep their weapon disassembled. Good luck with that. Do you really think you’d have time to reassemble and load a gun in an emergency? Do you want to bet your life on it?

Self-defense experts advise gun owners to keep their weapon loaded and a round loaded in the barrel. Of course, gun-control advocates shudder at the thought of a loaded weapon that has a cartridge in the pipe, ready to rumble. The only thing that would stop the gun from firing in that condition is the safety. Some guns have ’em. Some don’t. Some safeties are merely trigger locks, which can, in theory, be defeated by a shock to the weapon (i.e. if you drop it).

So how do you keep a loaded weapon out of the hands of everybody else, and still keep it available? Simple. You lock it up. A gun safe is the only possible answer to these competing needs. With a proper gun safe, you can prevent and guarantee access to a loaded firearm. The key is to ditch the keys and lose the combo. To paraphrase Mr. McGuire in The Graduate: biometrics.

The last thing you’ll remember in a life or death situation: where to find the keys to your gun safe or the code for the dial. With a biometric lock, you or another designated hitter simply place your finger or fingers on a pad and the safe automagically opens.

Before I continue, note: some people believe gun owners SHOULD have a mentally and physically challenging step between seeking the option of deadly force and having a gun in their hand. They focus on the “bump in the night” (BITN) scenario, where a homeowner hears a strange sound and suspects the worse. They believe that a gun owner needs time to wake up; a key or combo safe forces them to do so.

I don’t hold with that theory—if only because guarding against a BITN gone wrong does nothing to help you during a daylight home invasion. Also, most gun accidents do NOT involve shooting the wrong person in the middle of the night; they entail improper cleaning or transportation or—in VERY rare but often highly publicized circumstances—children playing with a firearm. And lastly, you’d be amazed how awake you can be during an “fight or flight” adrenalin rush.

Don’t get me started . . .

It’s certainly true that whatever safe (or gun lock) you choose, you must practice using it in “emergency mode.” Dry run with an unloaded gun a number of scenarios: from the bed, living room, kitchen, yes, even the shower. Unless you think you’re going to have an Ambien episode, make opening the safe second nature. Share your emergency safe opening routine with family members and make it part of a coherent home defense plan.

[ED: the safest way not to shoot your family in a home invasion is to have them behind your gun. See: How to Defend Your Home with a Shotgun.]

If you are prone to sleep walking or semi-conscious nighttime behavior, consider giving the power of safe/lock opening to your partner. Establish a key word to “activate” your sleeper. Then practice that.

Biometric safes are more expensive than key or combo operated vaults. But they don’t cost that much more and they are completely secure and totally idiot-proof. Let’s face it: in an emergency you’re gonna act like an idiot. A biometric safe is, literally, a no-brainer.

There are dozens to choose from. Despite manufacturer’s claims about fingerprint recognition rates and construction, as Farago would say, they’re all pretty much of a muchness. One thing to consider: screwing it down. Even if you buy one of the best-constructed biometric handgun safes, you don’t want a child or a burglar easily removing the whole unit from its original location.

You can also place your rifle and/or shotguns behind a biometric barrier. Browning is now on board, offering the SecuRam biometric lock on some of their high end safes. Given the size (i.e. probable location away from living spaces) and cost of a proper biometric long gun safe, the best answer may be two safes: a premium safe for your main collection (biometric, key or combo) and a smaller, cheaper biometric safe (e.g. Paragon’s Commandant FP 1200) closer to where you might need it (e.g. a closet) for a home defense long gun or two.

Some gun owners keep their ammunition in a separate safe from their gun, which they keep unloaded. No question: that strategy reduces the risk of children accidentally discharging your firearm to practically zero. Equally obvious, it severely complicates (i.e., totally removes) the possibility of a rapid response.

If you’re OK with that, all systems are go. If you’re not, it’s not a bad idea to keep the majority of your ammo in a separate safe (some large safes have internal safes for documents and ammo). Of course, you could have a THREE safe strategy: on safe with a loaded home defense weapon and the appropriate amount of ammo, one safe for non-mission critical weapons and a third safe for the ammo for the non-mission critical weapons.

Nobody said this was going to be easy. But we are talking about deadly force.

An even more difficult question: how to secure a gun in your vehicle. Valuables stored in a car or truck are much more likely to be the target of thieves than whatever’s in your home. There’s not a locking glove-box on the planet that can withstand a determined thief and a crowbar. So if you’re gonna have the gun in the car, you’d best stash it somewhere discreet (why advertise valuables?) in a small biometric unit. SUV owners will have to sacrifice the console between the seats, while everyone else can use the space under the seat or inside the glove box (with an anchor chain).

That said, your car may not be suitable for a biometric safe; there may not be enough room to operate it easily/effectively. There are car gun safes which make it easy for you to grab the weapon when you open them, but remember: an assault takes a couple of seconds, at most.

So why spend the extra money in a biometric car safe? Especially if you live in a state where you are allowed “open carry” in the car. In which case you should still have a gun safe in your car—for those times when you will not be able to carry the gun in public (government buildings, hot tubs, etc.)—but instant access isn’t an issue. As most automobile owners use a car key (how’s that Mercedes wallet key card working out anyway?), you can attach a small gun safe key to your main fob with a reasonable expectation of having it when you need it.

If you’re really worried about an assault in an automobile, have a look at The Judge. And then move to a state where it is legal to carry a gun on your person and/or within reach in the car. If you have children and it is legal to do so (not have children; carry a concealed weapon), the best place to keep a gun in the car is on your body.

What if you don’t have the scratch for a safe and there are children around (don’t forget visiting)? There are places you can secure a weapon— above the door frame, inside a closet door—that can keep the gun away from “casual observers.” Forget it. Kids love to explore, climb and get into your stuff in ways you’d never imagine. If they can do a Rubik’s cube, they can find, load and fire your gun.

Equally important, perhaps most importantly of all, teach you children about gun safety. Show and demonstrate your [unloaded] weapons. Take them to the range, so they know the devastation that occurs when you pull the trigger on a gun. Tell them what to do if they find a gun (don’t touch it). I know it sounds strange, but if you encounter a policeman with your child, ask the policeman “Excuse me officer, but should children ever play with guns?”

Bottom line: NEVER allow children even the POSSIBILITY of unsupervised access to firearms. For any reason. Ever.

If you don’t have any kids in the home (EVER), live alone and don’t mind playing the odds, you can live without a gun safe. However, the minute a child comes into the picture, secure your firearms as best you can (trigger lock, dis-assembly) and forget about rapid response.

My recommendation: buy the damn safe. Period. A biometric gun safe offers the best combination of accessibility and safety for almost every situation. Of course, the best way to have immediate access to a gun is to have it on your person. But that’s another story.

2 Responses to Gun Safety: Thinking Inside the Box

  1. Good post, you’ve detailed the conflict on how to store your gun quite well, on one hand you want to keep your gun out of the hands of others and on the other hand you need to be able to get to it quickly and be ready in emergencies.

    A gun safe is definitely an excellent middle ground, it keeps your gun out of the hands of others and most locking mechanisms make it easy for you to gain access quickly.

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