Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Trust Your Gun Safe

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“In January 2003 in Vancouver, Washington, the ten year old daughter of a Clark County Deputy Sheriff was accidently shot and killed by her brother who had his father’s department-issued handgun,” security analyst Marc Weber Tobias writes at forbes.com. “As a result, the Sheriff’s Department instigated a new policy that all department-issued weapons had to be secured in gun safes. Detective Ed Owens, the father of Eddie Ryan, was issued a safe which was placed in the closet of his master bedroom. One of his service weapons was locked in the safe on the evening of September 14, 2010 . . .

Detective Owens had four children one of whom was three years old at the time of the shooting. At approximately 9:55 P.M. he and his wife were in the garage of the home when they heard what could have been a gun shot. Seconds later, their eleven year old daughter came downstairs and complained that Ryan had slammed the door to the bedroom and that her ear hurt. Kristie, Ed’s wife ran upstairs and found Ryan on the floor with a gunshot wound. Four hours later, he died in the emergency room.

While it was clear that one of the children had managed to open the Stack-On safe, the forensic investigation conducted by the local police department failed to perform critical tests at the scene and so it could not be determined whether this was an accidental shooting or Ryan was shot by one of his siblings.

I remember the case well. [Click here for TTAG's post on the tragedy.] It was not at all clear if the safe had been locked when young Eddie retrieved the Detective’s handgun. Owens lied to investigators, trying to pin the shooting on his 11-year-0ld. The lack of initial investigative rigor suggests a coverup from the git-go.

In short, the “cause” of the tragic ND is not, as this article suggests, the safe itself. It is, in all likelihood, as Chris Dumm stated at the time, the officer’s negligence combined with his children’s safety training. Or the lack thereof.

Gun safes are not about bad guys. If criminals want your firearms, criminals will get your firearms. If they really really want them and you’ve got a really really good safe, they can get you to open your safe and give them your guns. Done.

The point of a gun safe is to prevent “casual” theft; people who see your gun or guns and think “Ooooh! Shiny!” Including and especially children.

Remember: your children are clever. And they have lots and lots of time. Time to observe your safety protocols (i.e. find out where you put the key or watch you dial in your combo). Time to get your gun.

Nottom line: when it comes to gun safety, gun safes aren’t safe. The only “real” gun safety lies between you and your loved one’s ears. Educate your kids on gun safety as soon as they can talk, with NERF guns if necessary. Teach them the four rules and demo a firearm’s destructive capability.

Anything less is extremely dangerous for all concerned.

[Click here for a technical analysis of Stack-On, Bulldog and GunVault safes]

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

32 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Trust Your Gun Safe

  1. avatarjwm says:

    yes, i learned a lesson without the tragedy. my toddler son, who is now 34 with a toddler of his own came down the hallway with daddies “well hidden” 357 which was loaded. after that i locked my guns up when not in use. my immediate solution to the problem was a toolbox with padlock. as time went by and i got more money and guns and kids the safe came into use. never had an ad at home, hopefully never will.

  2. avatarRalph says:

    Teach your children well. Even CSN&Y knows that.

  3. avatarLTC F says:

    There is no absolutely kid proof method of storing weapons. My kids know that they’re not allowed to touch my guns unless they’re with me on the range. They know the Four Rules. They know that they’re not supposed to talk to their friends about dad’s guns. I also know they’re kids, so all of my guns are in the safe unless they’re on my person. A good safe isn’t cheap, but my kids’ lives are priceless. I can’t begin to imagine Detective Owens’ loss.

    My guns are all in a Liberty Fatboy. My wife and I are the only two who know the combination. It is never unlocked. Is it the best safe in the world? Probably not. Will it keep my kid’s from touching my guns? Absolutely. Will it keep the average burglar out for twenty minutes? It should, and I’m guessing my dog Bubba and the alarm going off are going to make him think twice about spending twenty minutes in the house screwing with my safe.

    As my father always said, locks aren’t made to keep crooks out, they’re made to keep honest people honest.

  4. avatarTR says:

    May I just take a moment to comment on something I’ve noticed on TTAG? This is the only internet forum I’ve ever been on that (with the possible exception of weekend caption contests) nearly all comments are respectful, educated, backed by sources and/or experience, and grammatically correct. That has impressed me almost as much as the caliber (pun intended) of the articles. RF, if you were trying to create a firearms forum of the highest quality, I believe you have succeeded.

    Now about the article, do any of you out there who don’t use gun safes use trigger locks instead? I’ve never been a fan, but I don’t have space for even a gun locker in my apartment, and I figure with a kid just learning to crawl it’s only a matter of time until she finds her way to the back of the closet where the rifles are (handguns are either worn or locked in a toolbox at all times). Any suggestions? Keep in mind, I’m a renter in a small apartment, so space is limited and modifications to the layout of the apartment (such as wall safes) are not an option.

    • avatarDirk Diggler says:

      I have a car safe that has a lock/key. It also has a cable lock so the safe, when shut, is secured to the vehicle. Yes, someone could cut the seat frame to get it. or not. I think you could get one of those and secure to something sturdy in the closet (like the clothing bar). It was $30 @ Cabelas.

    • avatarjwm says:

      to keep kids out of your long guns you could look into those hard shelled gun cases, the metal ones. they’re not as bulky as a safe and should do a good job of keeping little ones out. i also am in the habit of keeping any keys that are needed for opening security devices on my person.

    • avatarbrcSVO says:

      My grandpa secures his long guns with a pretty simple set up. He has a wood frame, with a rest for the stocks and notches for the barrels. The frame is screwed the wall studs, and he has a cable running through the triggers. Not absolutely fool proof, but it takes up a lot less space than a locker/safe.

    • avatarSammy says:

      I have a home safe, bolted to the floor that holds my weapons. And each weapon has at least 1 lock, even while locked in the safe. All have Club trigger locks and the ar has, in addition, a mag vault magazine lock . BTW I took the 3 spoke handle completely off the safe and have developed a way to disengage the handle pin from the door bolt re-tractor. You couldn’t open it even if you had the combination, but as was stated, it stops kids and honest people. If someone could disable the house alarm they could torch it open, or kidnap my wife, but out side of that, the guns will be where I left them. We owe it to each other to use over kill when securing our guns. ANY accident or crime involving a firearm will be used to try to take our 2nd Amendment rights away. We have momentarily dodge the UN threat, and now must deal with c. Schumers magazine capacity restriction hidden in the Cyber Security Act. WE must be as protective of our weapons as we are of our 2nd Amendment rights or others will exploit accidents and thefts for their own ends.

      • avatarjwm says:

        see, this is another thing that bugs me. i lock my guns up. i lock my car up. some crackhead steals my car and runs over an innocent third party i am not blamed,neither is toyota. but let the same crackhead break into my home and force my safe and use my gun in a crime and i’m going to be painted as the bad guy. injustice.

    • avatarSnachnim says:

      TR I think all of here are trying our best. From honest reviews to overall knowledge of firearms and firearm laws in the US. While I would say 90% of us are pro guns we certainly like alternative views and listen to them. You will find most of our replies have thought put into them. Like myself I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that hey I want guns, and lots of them! We have come to conclusions regarding who we are and what it means being a law abiding citizen in our community. That said please post and often to further the discussions and ideas.

    • avatarRokurota says:

      Trigger locks are fine for long guns, but not an ironclad safety guarantee. What if you don’t turn the key all the way or push the halves together tight enough to prevent the trigger from moving? I would remove the bolt or use a cable lock. With your situation, you won’t be relying on a long gun for immediate defense needs.

    • avatarPeter says:

      With long guns, you can often remove the bolt and simply lock the bolts in a toolbox. Before I got my gun safe I had one drawer in my toolbox dedicated to handgun storage.

  5. avatarSnachnim says:

    I pretty much agree with the comments and the article here. Teach your kids! Lock up your guns in the best safe possible. Of it is a gun vault then so be it. Of you teach your kids about guns they won’t or shouldn’t play with them since they help your clean them and shoot them at the range right?
    I would worry about their friends more then them if your teach them well.

  6. avatarMogg says:

    Bumping some of these safes open would not be a concearn
    if the safe were properly mounted.
    Some of the other tecniques shown, however,
    are most certainly a cause for concearn.

    • avatarPascal says:

      Nope, the issue is the locking mechanism. Go the site. He explains it. You can just keep banging on the safe and will eventually pop open from the vibration.

      • avatargyrfalcon says:

        Absolutely not true. You need a shock that exerts enough force to overcome the ssolenoid coil spring. If the safe is properly mounted to a fixed object this method utterly FAILS.

  7. avatarA.Ruiz says:

    A lecture by a locksmith/hacker on how most gun safes and trigger locks are useless when faced by the mighty “paper clip!!!”. It also recommends gun safes that actually do work.

    • avatarPascal says:

      You beat me to the link. I have been live to some of his presentations. I wish the people who made some of these mandatory safe laws would listen to this guy.

  8. avatarDrewN says:

    Unabashed plug for http://www.sturdysafe.com/. Best deal I could find for the money. Far superior to most of the safes in the same price range, most of which tend to be 10 gauge or even lighter.

    • avatarmatt says:

      The thickness difference is negligible. If youre going to cut thru it 10g vs 7g isnt really gona matter.

  9. avatarMatt in FL says:

    I watched some of these videos several months back, many of them by Deviant Ollam, the guy in A.Ruiz‘s video, because I was in search of a small safe or two. I then went to Bass Pro Shops and proceeded to pop open three different safes, on the shelf. I’ve never cracked a safe in my life prior to that day. Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything that Bass Pro had.

  10. avatarSplashman says:

    Some good friends of ours put a barrier around their wood stove (in the living room). Their toddler got over it and badly burned her face and hand. Toddler learned lesson the hard way.

    A little over a year later, when their next child, a boy, got old enough to move around, they got a better barrier — a 4-foot fence with a latch which required two hands (and a strong grip) to open. The boy climbed over, and burned both hands and his foot (don’t ask).

    My wife and I spent twenty minutes training our first child not to touch the wood stove or the hearth. Training involved the word “no” and hard smacks on the hand. She never again attempted to touch it (until she reached the age of about 6, when we gave her the freedom she had earned). We did the same with each subsequent child. Result: zero injuries, zero expense on barriers, and everyone was happier and more secure.

    And from the very earliest ages, each of our children has been taught not to touch stuff that wasn’t their own. Initially, this was intended only to avoid problems between siblings (“she’s touching my stuff!!!!”), but it also resulted in us having zero concerns about our children getting into household chemicals, medications, kitchen knives, my tools . . . and yes, my guns. And when I say zero, I mean zero. (Of course, when other kids are visiting, that’s another matter.)

    The point here is not how virtuous we are. The point is that there exist effective ways of training your children. If you have chosen not to invest the time and skill to train your children to keep their hands off your stuff — whatever that stuff may be — you’ll have to resort to barriers or good luck charms. Both work equally well.

    • avatarDan says:

      This works up until the point when they are unattended and nobody is around to say “no” and smack their hand.

      Forbidden fruit sydrome.

      By making something “off-limits”, you just make that thing incredibly desirable.

      They have to have a self-serving reason not to do something. And if that reason requires your presence to apply, you are setting yourself up for massive fail.

      • avatarWill says:

        Since you say the training of “no” will not work if the parent (the deterrent) is not present, what do you propose is the better solution DAN?

        • avatarDan says:

          For things such as stoves etc, first hand demonstration is sometimes required. SHOW them how hot it is. Kids hate ouchies. SHOW them how a hot stove will give them the ouchie of all ouchies. this does not require injuring them, but you can still demonstrate that touching it causes pain regardless if you are in the room or not.

          self interest is a very powerful motivator.

          For firearms, take the magic and fascination out of it. Let them handle it, unloaded, safely, whenever they want. Let them know they can see it any time if they just ASK. drill the safety rules into them. Take them to the range as early as possible. have them help with cleaning. if something becomes routine or a chore, it takes the mystery and fascination out of it.

          i know you don’t want to hear this, but “no!” is not reliable, smacking wrists is not reliable. making something forbidden just makes it worse.

          kids are fascinated and attracted to the unknown, and 10x more attracted to the forbidden.

        • avatarMogg says:

          I agree with Dan, here.

          I’ve done similar training with my sons, and have
          had zero safety problems regarding my firearms.

          Of course I also use a safe.

          I make the boys recite the firearm safety rules
          before touching a firearm, as well.

          The younger of the two has a poster listing the
          rules in his bedroom to assist his memory,
          we made it together, and the fact that he got to
          participate gave him a sense of ownership and
          responsibility, I think.

          Besides, he got to pick the graphic we used, so I know he’ll keep the poster on his wall.

  11. I have a full sized safe, and also a small Sentry Safe similar to the one depicted in the Forbes videos, with keypad entry. Not exactly the same model, but similar-looking.

    I tried opening the safe the way the kid does in Forbes videos, and mine remained locked. I then tried shaking and dropping with more force than he appears to use in the video, and mine still remains locked.

    I bought mine through Amazon. Perhaps it is a newer (or older) model than that depicted in the videos?

  12. avatarPCnotPC says:

    To some people “foolproof” is just a challenge. To kids, so is “childproof”.

  13. Great Job! I am so grateful to read this such a wonderful post. Thank you for discussing this great topic. I really admire the writer for allotting their time for this impressive article.

  14. avatargyrfalcon says:

    Absolutely not true. You need a shock that exerts enough force to overcome the solenoid coil spring. If the safe is properly mounted to a fixed object this method utterly FAILS.

  15. avatargyrfalcon says:

    Normal safes are “kid proof”. Dial lock and steel will keep most (99.999+) kids out along with the majority of adults.

    Article is utter bullshit written by somone who thinks education and parenting are the best way to secure firearms.

    In reality TRTL and physical security is. Adults attemping to educate their children has failed far more often than security containers.

  16. avatargyrfalcon says:

    I read about kids cutting, grinding, and using thermite lances all the time to break into their parents safes. If you follow manufacture recomendations and buy semi decent quality you don’t have to worry about your safe being easily bypased.

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