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By Dave Goetzinger

When I began my examination of cheaply made handgun safes, one of the first models I opened via covert means was GunVault’s Minivault Standard, model GV1000S. As a result of recent correspondence from people wanting to know if I might recommend a “biometric safe”—that is, a safe with a fingerprint reader—I decided to look at another GunVault product, the Minivault Biometric, model GVB1000. It’s basically a dressed-up version of the Minivault Standard . . .

The GVB1000 is a California DOJ approved firearms safety device. Page four of GunVault’s online catalog tells us that, “GunVault’s products exceed these standards to give you peace of mind when securing your handgun or other possessions.” Anyone interested in learning just how little California DOJ approval actually means should read my discussion of California’s so-called “firearms safety devices” on HandgunSafeResearch.com.

Most U.S. manufacturers of handgun safes—or importers, as is more often the case—have their own version of a biometric handgun safe, often several. I don’t want to sound dismissive of biometric technology, because it’s hugely popular. But I’ll admit that I’m uninterested in biometrics. I’ve found that the security of a handgun safe is far more dependent on how well protected the locking mechanism is than on how one interacts with the mechanism.

Unfortunately for GunVault’s Minivault Biometric, the locking mechanism is not at all protected. The safe has extraneous holes in its sides, and the holes are located next to the housing inside that contains the locking mechanism. Worse, in order for that housing to accommodate the keyed bypass lock, it has a gaping hole of its own in the side of it. To break into the safe, I simply inserted an unfolded paperclip through one of the holes in the side and into the locking mechanism, where I pushed on the release-wire.

GunVault’s Minivault Biometric is one of those safes I call “a paperclip job.” One that requires nothing but an unfolded paperclip to open. Bighorn’s P-20 Security Safe is also a paperclip job, as is Hornady’s RAPiD Safe. A paperclip job is good for a laugh, easy to return undamaged, and fun to demonstrate to retailers. There’s nothing quite like watching somebody’s mouth drop open. But I don’t think I’d trust it to protect a firearm.

 

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77 Responses to Gun Safe Fail: GunVault Minivault Biometric GVB1000

  1. These lightweight handgun safes are not designed to be the end all be all.

    Anything short of a several hundred lbs fire proof safe bolted to the foundation and it’s just a speed bump, not a brick wall.

    It’s there to stop accidents, not malice.

    • Yeah, they’re “vaults” or “lockboxes” or “cabinets” at best, and really shouldn’t be called “safes.”

      I do have something like this by my bedside, and that’s to prevent accidents like you said. To prevent curious people from accessing a gun. It is locked to the metal bed frame with a cable, and the lockbox itself is obscured from sight. I figure if a random criminal brakes into the home while I’m out and finds this thing, he very well may pass it up because he would spend way too much time trying to crack into it and he ain’t breaking that cable or the bed frame. However, if a burglar who knows what he’s doing breaks in, he’ll either have that thing open in no time or he’ll simply snip the cable with his bolt cutters. Either way that means he came in prepared. But it’s really for the safety of well-meaning guests and kids much more so than it’s for the gun’s security.

      • I opened the non-biometric version of the same model (box) in front of my four-year-old nephew. He said “Do that again.” Since I had an equally smart child I knew that the code was like a child’s game. If I had “done it again” he would have memorized the code.
        As a teen I figured out how to get into Dad’s gun room. Not a big deal until I got my license. Then I’d drive out in the country and burn up ammo. Or even go to the Sheriff’s gun range: no charge, no hassles.
        Dad never said anything other than “I thought we had a lot more .223.”
        “I dunno.”

      • Doesn’t take much time at all. Insert screwdriver and twist or simply pick it up and slam a corner into the ground which will deform the box. This stuff is sheet metal and will bend under small amounts of force. Children that aren’t curious will be deterred, but nothing else. I bought a gun vault a few years ago and one day the door just wouldn’t open. No warning, just wouldn’t open. The cable connecting the motor to the release broke without warning. The replacement Canon sent me opened with a tap on the top. Didn’t have to unlock it, just hit the top. The second replacement I gave away with a warning to the friend that wanted it. Do NOT trust your life to these things.

    • All good to know. I worry that the battery will die and I’ll lose my keys. Thanks. Now I have one less thing to worry about as long as I have a paper clip.

  2. Biometric safes are a bad choice for defense guns. If your finger(s) are dirty, scratched, cut, greasy, wet, bloody, etc., the safe most likely won’t read your fingerprint properly.

    Safes like the Gunvault are only good to keep innocents (such as small children) from access. Any determined teen or adult can easily gain access.

    • The safes discussed are not actually “biometric” in that they read fingerprints before opening. The term biometric here is misused to indicate that fingers are used to press the four keys in the proper sequence in order to open the safe without using the key. I have one of these safes, but since I do not trust my security to a battery being hot enough to run the system I keep the key hidden nearby. I have no illusions that this safe will prevent the theft of my pistols as it would take little effort to pick it up and walk away, with or without a paper clip.

      It does, however, prevent unauthorized people from simply picking up my pistols and playing with them.

  3. Having children means that my mini safe is more for them than for a burglar. That being said, I’d like to have one that they can’t open after a quick YouTube search. Why is it so hard to find a reasonably priced (under $200) small non pickable securtiy container?! Which manufacturer will step up and give is more than marketing?!

    • Rob C,

      I have watched a video on YouTube where someone presents multiple small handgun safes to their three year old child with the instruction (to the child) to open the safe. You will be stunned to see how many safes that toddler was able to open … and how quickly he opened them.

      Unless the manufacturers have vastly improved their handgun safes, I would not trust one to prevent my children from accessing my firearm.

    • Have you looked at any of the containers made by V-Line? They’re made in the USA and the overall design and locking mechanism seem to be superior to the typical Chinese crap. No batteries either!

      • Wow, do not google “v-line” without specifying “safes”

        Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote Seinfeld.

    • The absolute best way to prevent children from accessing your firearms is to not have any children 😛 *Avoids thrown objects*

    • Ft Knox pistol safe. Simplex lock and heavy steel. Get it locally to avoid shipping 25lbs of steel.

  4. “Wow” That is unbelievable! How many people have bought this safe and rely on it to protect their firearms & valuables..

  5. Any recommendations on a childproof, somewhat burglar proof safe? My nightstand pistol needs a home now that my daughter is learning to crawl.

    • Anner,

      First of all, wear your handgun on your body while you are awake at home. Your child will not access your handgun and hurt someone if they have to remove it from your body.

      Second, install a small shelf on the wall as close to the ceiling as possible and away from anything that a child could climb upon. Make sure the shelf has a decent “lip” around the edge to reduce the likelihood of something falling over the edge. Store your handgun up there. I would locate it in your bedroom so that it is in a convenient location when you sleep at night. And make sure that your child NEVER, EVER sees you put it up there. Try to also make sure that your handgun is not visible from a child standing on the floor or even on your bed if at all possible.

      This system creates several barriers to prevent your children from accessing your handgun. First, they are not going to remove it from your body. Second, they don’t even know that you keep your handgun on that shelf because they cannot see it and you NEVER, EVER let them see you put it up there. Finally, even if they wanted to investigate that shelf, they won’t be able reach it … even if they drag a chair over. By the time they are old enough to drag over a table and put a chair on top of the table, they are old enough to know to leave your handgun alone.

      • Important Safety Note:

        If you install a shelf near the ceiling for storing your handgun while sleeping, install that shelf in such a way that your children cannot knock it down — either with a long object (like a broom) or by throwing a heavy object at the shelf. If you live in earthquake territory, install some sort of cover or strap to ensure that vibration from an earthquake will not knock your handgun off the shelf.

      • I like the shelf idea. Right now my carry and nightstand pistol are two separate pistols, and neither are ideal to serve in the other’s role, so I’ll have a pistol unattended at night. During the day, between rolling out of bed and crawling back in, all loaded firearms are either in the safe in the garage, or in a small combo-lock safe bolted to the closet floor. Neither are going to be opened without the combo or some serious muscle and a pry bar/cutting torch.

        For vehicle transport, I do similar as some commenters below: a key-locked sheet metal wrap-around container cabled to the seat.

        That’s my next weekend project: a shelf as you described, up where only a 6ft adult can reach even standing on the mattress.

        Thanks!

      • I suspect you don’t have kids.

        You want your kids to not be screwing with your guns? Take the mystery out of them. Let the kids know if they want to look at one or fondle one or snuggle with one or; heaven spare my beating heart, even shoot one that all they have to do is ask and you’ll make it happen. Done properly and consistently they’ll ask a time or two but after that the guns are just stuff around the house and the kids lose interest completely in messing with them outside of supervised situations. They’ll have respect for the fact that the guns are yours but that you’re entirely willing to share. Kids think like that. So do adults even if they deny it.

        • until their buddies come over….then it is group stoopid and all the gun safety can go out the window pretty quick.

    • My vehicle safe is a box that uses a 3 digit roller type lock and a knob. As far as I can tell you can’t push the locking tab out of the way without setting the combo to the set number. It has a coated steel cable that goes around the steel seat member that stops a grab and run. Cost was under $60. Its a lot more secure than any of the battery powered safes that cost 3-4-5 times as much. Every one of those I looked at was easy to defeat by methods shown here. I forget who makes it but it came from a local gun shop several years ago.
      I use it to hold a full size S&W M&P for a SHTF situation that may require a bit more firepower than my daily carry gun.

    • I use the GunVault SV 500 SpeedVault (in combination NOT biometric form). Mounted on the side of my nightstand, it opens very quickly and leaves the top of my nightstand available for all my other crap. Nothing is burglar proof, but it keeps my firearm out of my toddler’s hands.

    • Thanks, I was hoping someone posted that so I didn’t have to.

      I have rare-earth magnets, and it doesn’t require one as big as he uses. I’ve done it as a party trick for a while now – guys who just dropped $1K-2K are royally pissed when you can open their safe in 5 seconds.

  6. I don’t trust biometric or electronic locks of any kind. Sooner or later, they will let you down. I much prefer regular, old fashioned mechanical locks. No batteries, no touchy technology, just hundreds of years of proven utility.

    • Though most of those mechanical locks also have hundreds of years of proven mechanical methods that will easily bypass them. The majority of electronic and mechanical locks only keep out those who aren’t committed or skilled at entry. Be sure to checkout the DEFCON vid posted elsewhere in this thread.

  7. This, and the comments, are very ALARMING to me. The main objective of this type of safe is to keep the children safe, yet keep a firearm near by while asleep (nightstand). I also wanted to keep my safe obfuscated from a burglar (better if no one knows I have a gun, or where it is stored).

    SOMEONE PLEASE RECOMMEND ME A CHILDPROOF NIGHTSTAND SAFE (preferably obfuscated) ????

    • Jake,

      See my comment above. Carry on-body while you are awake and then store your handgun on a shelf near the ceiling when you are sleeping. Just make sure your shelf is some place where your children cannot climb on something (like a bed or dresser) to reach the shelf. And if they never see you put your handgun up there, they will have no reason to try to access it.

      • Important Safety Note:

        If you install a shelf near the ceiling for storing your handgun while sleeping, install that shelf in such a way that your children cannot knock it down — either with a long object (like a broom) or by throwing a heavy object at the shelf. If you live in earthquake territory, install some sort of cover or strap to ensure that vibration from an earthquake will not knock your handgun off the shelf.

      • That’s a terrible idea, and not helpful to the poster’s question.
        If you want a quality safe, I recommend a V-Line. It has overlapping edges and uses a simple mechanical lock that can be opened in the dark. It can be bolted from the inside to the floor or a piece of furniture. Given enough time it would be easy to cut through with an angle grinder and cutting wheel, but you’d have to steal it for that. Eventually a child could figure out the combo, but its something like 600 possible combinations, and there are no number labels to remember (not as easy to go through without forgetting a possibility as a 3-number wheel lock, for instance.)

    • I watched a few more of his videos. I found the video of the night stand pistol safe I have – the Sentry Safe Quick Access Pistol Safe. It has 12 ga steel (better than most handgun safes which are mostly 16 ga steel), and a pry resistant lid. I’ve been very pleased with mine, and am glad that it has a better design than most in it’s category. It is not a paper clip safe!

      Anyway, according to the guy in the video it has some pretty good features. It’s one bad feature is a tiny gap between the opening lid and the mechanical housing which can allow for a shim to be inserted to attack the latch located under the housing. However, bolting down the safe prevents the final step needed to open the lock (picking up the safe and rocking it to free the latch after the latch spring has been removed). This safe is about $100 on Amazon last time I checked and seems to be better designed than most in this price range.

      That gap could easily be filled with something (which I am going to do now having seen this video) to prevent someone from entering a shim, making it much harder to get into. The next weakest point would probably be trying to pick the keyed entry.

      I would like to see a pry attempt on this safe, but I don’t want to ruin mine. I’m curious how strong the latch actually is.

      I also think the Fort Knox Original Pistol box is a solid design; very heavy built (10 ga walls and 3/16″ door), but it has a simplex lock, which limits the amount of combinations available, which means it could be opened in under 15-20 minutes with persistent attempts at the combination.

    • Stack on pds 500. I’ve had one since my son was born. Fits perfect in the drawer, quickly accessed, batteries last forever. $40 on amazon. It’s kid proof, not burglar proof but it works for me.

      • Sorry to burst your bubble, but that Stack on PDS 500 is easily defeated with a screwdriver and paper clip in mere seconds. It has the same lock and housing as the safe in this video:
        link:

      • The Stack on PDS 500 is easily defeated with a screwdriver and paper clip in mere seconds. It has the same lock and housing as the Stack on “safe” he easily defeats with a paperclip in one of his other videos. It is not secure. A crafty young child could easily get into it.

      • Sorry for the dual replies…the first one didn’t seem to go through so I typed out another reply. Oh well.

    • Jake – Nothing is perfect for sure, but there are better and worse designs and some will fit your specific situation better than others. I have kids (well-taught) and their friends and relatives (some hopelessly ignorant of gun safety) so I choose to lock mine away. For quick-access I like the Barska Biometric Safe. It allows for multiple stored fingerprints so I take several images of several of my fingers as well as those of my wife. No codes to remember (best for my wife to access), and it appears to be a smart design overall.

      Will a determined criminal with a carbide saw blade, a bolt cutter, or plastic explosives get in? Yup. But it does the job I need it to do: 3 second access, little to no training for my wife, keeps out of kids hands, keeps out of dumb or hurried criminals.

    • I take it you did not see/read the comments above that show how easily a three year old toddler can open many handgun safes?

    • But your child can open this with a paper clip. That isn’t secure.

      More likely, go with a Fort Knox pistol box. 3/16″ steel cover, 10 ga. body, and simplex lock.

      • Plus, he can play with your gun and put it back in the box without you ever finding out until it’s too late.

  8. I am so glad to see this on here. I have spent countless hours researching safes. Nearly all gun safes are not safes at all, but simply boxes that say “look, all my valuables are located here in this tin can”.

    Nearly any Chinese made safe you find in big box stores are easily defeated (Sentry Safe, Stack-on, and any imported safe – which are too numerous to name), as almost all have poor designs that are easily defeated as demonstrated in this and countless other videos. Some of them you can easily open with a magnet, which physically moves the solenoid. Other are easily defeatable with simple picking. Others are easily pryed into because the bolt work is terrible (any company that brags about the size or number of their bolts without showing you the bolt work is likely bad bolt work, and trying to make up for it by impressive, large bolts that are very shallow in actual strength because they are secured onto the framing with 1/4″ screws). Other safes are easily broken into by shaking them (smaller safes). Others can be defeated easily by a quick drill through the door to deactivate the solenoid. The more expensive safes you find at Cabelas, made by Liberty, usually have poor bolt work that you can easily get into with a side attack, by drilling a hole near one of the bolts, inserting a screw driver, and then hammering that. That bolt retracting will cause all of the other bolts to retract, as well as the door handle to move. All you have to do is hit hard enough to defeat the lock stop.

    It’s staggering how many safes have cheap bolt work. If a company brags about how it’s doors are 5.5″ thick, move on. Who cares if it’s mostly air, and some thin 12 ga steel? That’s easily defeatable. Most top dollar gun safes are UL-RSC rated (RSC means residential security container – see? UL won’t call them a safe, because they are not), which means that with no power tools, the safe can be broken into in 5 mins with an 18″ prybar, hammer, and screw driver. 5 minutes! And these are generally,$1,000+ “safes”. Any steel safe with less than 7 ga steel walls (~3/16″) can be easily broken into through the walls with a fire axe as well.

    The best reasonably priced (comparatively so) gun safes are made by Sturdy Safe. They have minimum 3/16″ walls and 5/16″ door plate. They have really strong bolt work, and have many upgrades available for additional costs. I just can’t afford one right now as they aren’t cheap (but they are competitive price wise, but far superior in construction, to the safes you find in Cabela’s).

    Think about this: For insurance purposes, the lowest rating for a safe is a class B safe. A class B rated safe has 3/16″ walls and 1/2″ solid steel door. 1/2″ solid steel!! Compare that to many gun safes (even $2K+ ones) that have 11 ga, 12ga, or even 14 ga doors with cheap bolt work and crappy locks. No comparison.

    Also, look for UL group II rated locks, at a minimum.

    By the way, this all applies to padlocks, too!! Master Locks are CRAP; poorly designed and easily defeated! They don’t even use security pins to make picking more difficult. Go with Abloy 330 (made in Finland) or ABUS Granit (Germany) for a real padlock.

    I’m not in the safe or lock industry, I’ve just spent many, many hours researching this stuff on my own time.

  9. When I see or hear the word “vault” I naturally expect it to take more than a McGyvered paperclip to open it. With quality like this, It has been reduced to a lockable, tactical Hope Chest.

  10. Great!! Publish ways to defeat guns safes. Kids (or older adolescents) don’t know how to look things up on the internet.

    • It’s been on the internet for several years. Years. Ask any kid. Didn’t you know that? If you didn’t, then consider this post to be a public service message.

      You should know what the kids know. Dontcha think?

    • Hate to break it to you, but kids can also figure things out for themselves, without the internet. I taught myself all kinds of things (including rudimentary lockpicking with tools I made myself) when I was a kid. If, at the age of ten or twelve, someone had given me this crappy lockbox and told me to break into it, I’m pretty sure I could have figured it out.

      The problem is not the dissemination of information; the problem is that it’s a shitty design, shittily manufactured.

  11. I have watched that DEFCON video, and the follow up YouTube one year later. [http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=48HUctXZUNw]

    In the end, they prove the pbs-001 is the only one worth your time. They make two models, both around $300. They are built like tanks, and the locks work.

    I own the digiswipe version. I’m not schilling them. I just accepted their findings. My kids have no idea what is in there, and they are educated on firearms

  12. Forget biometrics until the technology matures. Hospitals use fingerprint readers to protect drugs. My large hands never work on them, and they always have to give me an alternate way for critical access.

    • I worked in some DOD secure facilities. The general entry to the facility was a lobby that required validated entry after normal hours. The choice was biometric (fingerprint reader). What we discovered (it was already known in many non-government circles) was that lifetime wear and tear on fingerprints (just from living a long time) resulted in many failed attempts to capture the fingerprint image at badge set-up, and/or at fingerprint readers. Age can result is less defined ridges and whorls. To my knowledge, DOD has yet to identify print reader that can reliably manage the prints of older workers; works most times, but fails just when you need it. Guess it is too much to hope the consumer-level print readers (battery operated, at that) can do any better.

  13. I just bought the Vline Brute for $219 with free shipping from totalsecuritystore.com. It usually sells for more like $270-300 everywhere else (like Amazon). It was the best “low cost” safe I could find after doing a lot of research on it. Check out this video and maybe you’ll be sold like I was: http://youtu.be/HWfByUgom00

    • That looks pretty nice. The Fort Knox Pistol box has a thicker 3/16″ (7 ga.) door and a 10 ga. body as well for about the same price. Both are good alternatives to the cheap Chinese made boxes. The only downside being the simplex locks only have about 1000 lock combinations, which doesn’t take long to defeat.

      • They have nice looking safes as well…can’t remember why I didn’t go with them. I think it might have been the long sides on the Brute were more resistant to a pry attack, but not certain.

  14. #1) There are two ways it’s designed to open – with a fingerprint and with a tubular key. Although it could be hard to fool the fingerprint reader, it’s relatively easier to defeat the tubular lock. You can take the key with you, but it can still be picked. #2) The unlocking mechanism is so poorly designed neither a key nor a fingerprint is required.

  15. ATTENTION, TTAG –

    How about a bedside ‘secure’ handgun storage shootout?

    That would be a good thing to add to the ‘Guns for Beginners’ series…

  16. I had a GunVault once. It last for a few months until it broke… while sitting in my bag on the way to the range. The locking mechanism no longer worked and wouldn’t let me unlock it. Fortunately, I was able to pry it open using nothing but my bare hands.

    I called the company about getting a warranty replacement but realized that I had no need for something so fragile.

  17. I decided on the GunVault GV300 as my bedside gun box. It’s a TSA rated travel “safe”, came with a 3ft cable, and a three dial resettable combo lock. Heavy sheet steel with pry resistant contours, but the hinge is fully exposed. Few minutes with hammer and punch is all it could withstand before failure.

    It is just large enough to house a full frame 1911 and spare mag. So i bolted it to my ceiling within arms reach of my favored sleeping position. (I live in a 5th wheel trailer, high bed low ceiling) It takes some getting used to, to use it upside down, but the slim dimensions means it can easily be hid by bolting it to the underside of a table or chair, or to the headboard and covered with the pillows.

    The best part is it was less than $100 on Amazon.

  18. Hell I don’t even want batteries in any of my safes/lockboxes.

    It’s a lot harder for a mechanical lock to fail without warning.

    If I want to have a gun ready to go on short notice, I’ll wear it, put it on my nightstand, or hang it in my closet. Locked up=not ready for use.

    But no kids in the house, YMMV.

  19. good lord those things are junk. I’ve sent back two – all THREE had the electronics fail. (First one was a gift- I smiled and said “thank you” but I’d rather have had a gift card.)
    The first one let all the magic smoke escape as soon as I put the 9v battery in. It was covered under warranty.
    the replacement warranty one ate the 9v battery in a day. And another the next day. like- drained. Sent it back, warranty, they made grumbling noises about using the wrong brand battery ( I shit you not )
    the replacement for the replacement one insists the battery is low and beeps every time I open it or every 12 hours to warn me. Regardless how new the battery is. It opens, every time, but insists my battery is “low”

    I’ve spent around $20 in batteries trying to find one that wasn’t “low” for this thing. Now it sits on a chest in the closet and I leave the key in it as I don’t store anything inside.

    Waste of money, time, resources, and batteries.

    I may take it out and shoot it for the satisfaction…

  20. As a later post today hints, the best way to gun-proof your kids (as opposed to kid-proofing your guns), is knowledge. All my kids shoot, and get to shoot (supervised, obviously for the underage) whenever they want to. Guns are demystified for them. They know the four rules (they’re posted on the refrigerator). They know how dangerous they are.

    • What did you do when your kids were too young to learn gun safety?
      What do you do when your kids rebel (or have you not gotten to that stage yet)?

      There needs to be an option to keep guns away from kids that are not capable of safety.
      But at the same time make them safely accessible for your defense.

      • Shamefully cheap gun safe and GunVault when they were too young.

        I have five kids, three in their 20s, oldest turning 30 this month and none ever rebelled to any significant extent. Youngest is turning 10 soon.

  21. Shotlock makes shotgun, AR and handgun locking devices that use mechanic pushbuttons, so you don’t have to worry about a battery going bad.

    They’ve been fine for me for bedside or defensive storage. I have no illusions that they’d stop a determined thief — if he couldn’t pry one open right away, he could just rip it right out of the wall and carry the whole thing away to deal with later.

  22. This does not address the quality of the biometrics. Does it work consistently, as intended?

    How does it compare to ArmsReacj?

    Tjanks

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