Self-Defense Tip: Three Ways to Make Your Gun Safe Safe

When you’re not using or carrying your gun, it’s in a safe, right? That stricture aside, it’s almost a forgone conclusion [by our less firearms-aware cohorts] that a gun in a safe should be unloaded.  Those who are serious about their armed self-defense recognize that adding unnecessary fine motor skill steps to the deployment of a defensive gun is an open invitation for Mr. Murphy . . .

You’re going to be stressed. It may be completely dark. You might be groggy after having just woken up. Your alarm system siren might be blaring or the dogs barking. Who knows what else might be going on. Do you really want to add finding your magazines, speed loaders, or loose shotgun rounds and loading them to your task list? I don’t.

Thus it is accepted practice to keep defensive guns loaded when in a quick access safe. Even the NRA rule, “ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use,” comes with the postscript (quoted from the NRA Personal Protection in the Home guide book):

a firearm that is being stored in a gun safe or lock box should generally be unloaded…unless it is a personal protection firearm that may need to be accessed quickly.

But how does one reconcile this with the rule of always keeping guns pointed in a safe direction? Holstered and cased guns, even loaded ones, are usually given a pass on this rule by virtue of their proper containment. They’re not being handled; their triggers won’t be accidentally pulled.

This is why most people who carry are OK with the fact that a holstered gun occasionally points at feet, legs, kids, dog, etc.  Or, in the case of shoulder holsters, the person behind you in line. Gun’s don’t just go off; you have to mess with them for then to fire.

Bottom line: a safe isn’t always safe. TTAG’s Brad Kozak recently chronicled a case where a gun in a case was almost a case of negligent homicide. Equally true: a gun could “go off” when you reach for it in a safe. Here are some suggestions how to make your gun safe safer.

Secure your safe

Many owners keep a small gun safe by the bedside (highly recommended). In the heat of the moment, you could knock the entire unit off its perch. Make sure the safe is not obscured by books, drinks, photos or other side table-friendly items. If you can, secure the safe to something solid using the lag bolts. If not, check that it won’t go slip, sliding away. Add velcro, glue, new rubber feet—whatever it takes.

Larger gun safes tend to live in closets. Make sure there’s free and clear access; no clothes or other items blocking your path from bed to vault.

Do not group guns and magazines closely. You want to be able to reach in and grab one gun without hesitation, deviation or repetition. If possible, position the gun and safe in such a way that the muzzle will be pointing in a safe direction until you have complete control of the weapon.

Use a biometric safe 

Keys and combos are a recipe for disaster. They can be lost, stolen or fumbled. Most safe manufacturers now offer a biometric solution: you swipe a finger and the safe opens. Any doubts about the technology must be balanced against the difficulty of opening a key or combo safe when it counts. Biometric wins. [Click here for TTAG’s review of the 9G BIOMETRIC SAFE.]

Note: Whether you use a key, combo or biometric safe, make sure your children understand the rules of gun safety. There is no such thing as an impregnable safe.


Under stress, you will revert to instinct—especially if you’re facing a BITN (Bump In The Night) scenario. So train yourself how to safely and efficiently extract your gun from your gun safe. Unload your weapon, store it properly and set the alarm for the middle of the night. Wake up and get your gun. (If you’re worried about the world’s worst coincidence, place the magazine or shells nearby).

Although TTAG recommends home carry, if you don’t carry at home, practice getting your [unloaded] gun from all rooms in the house, moving as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Above all, remember that a gun safe is merely part of a self-defense system. Which is merely part of a self-defense plan. You need all three elements in place to prevent a negligent discharge and protect the ones you love.