By Tom Kubiniec
Safes in one form or another have been around since the days of Julius Cesar. While sometimes disputed, Jesse Delano is credited with the first fireproof safe design patented in 1826. The modern gun safe has its roots in the 1850s designs of Silas Herring. He used plaster and steel to create a fire rated gun storage safe.
What’s interesting and disappointing is that the gun safes of today are not built to standards anywhere near Herring’s 1850 design. Price and profit pressures have caused the industry to move away from true fire rated safes. The majority of what are commonly called and sold as “gun safes” are actually UL (Underwriter’s Laboratories) listed as “RSC” or “residential security containers” and are not actual safes. This includes the “safes” available at all the big chains with popular brand names including “Liberty,” “Winchester”, “Browning,” etc.
Yes, you may have guessed it. The industry did not want to build to the UL Safe classification standard so they created a new standard, RSC – “Residential Security Container.”
(Learn more: Gun Safe: Understanding Ratings and Certifications)
What is an RSC (Residential Security Container)?
An RSC-rated container (gun cabinet) will resist forced opening for up to five minutes by an attacker using simple, non-powered hand tools. We’re talking screwdrivers, hammers (must be less than 3 lbs.), and pry bars (must be less than 18″ long). RSC containers are not rated against any attack by power tools of any kind, or any attack lasting longer than five minutes. This is security designed for an 1850’s threat level.
Today, a high powered battery operated grinder with a cutoff wheel can cut a “gun safe” (residential security container) in half in less than 15 minutes. A small portable plasma cutter will do the job in under 3 minutes. People assume that because it weighs 1,000 lbs it must be secure.
Fire Ratings: RSC Certified gun safes are not fireproof
The only consistent, reliable and independent fire rating is the UL fireproof safe class rating. The lowest rating is “Class 350 1-hour” The ratings go up to 4 hours (Class 350-4). Unfortunately, there are no RSC gun safes that meet this rating as the materials and construction required to offer this kind of protection are deemed too expensive by the gun safe industry.
The fire rating or “fire certified” sticker on the door of an RSC means very little as each gun safe (RSC) manufacturer creates their own standards and fire tests. If a safe does not have a UL class 350 fire rating then it is not a fire safe. It is a thin steel box lined with drywall and covered with some carpeting. The drywall makes the safe heavy and “feel” secure. It is not. Talk to firefighters. “Gun safes” (RCSs) rarely ever survive a real fire.
(Learn more: Gun Safe: Understanding Ratings and Certifications)
Guns Safes and Corrosion
There are a lot of products on the market designed to slow the process of your guns rusting in a “gun safe”. There is a good reason for these products. Drywall or gypsum board used in RSCs contain several chemicals that are highly corrosive to your guns. Formaldehyde is used as a dispersing agent in drywall production and is highly corrosive to steel.
Safes imported from China use drywall that contains additional threats to your guns. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and other agencies have found high levels of pyrite (FeS2) which gives off carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide, and hydrogen sulfide — all of which are corrosive to firearms.
One hundred percent of the problem drywall coming from China also tested positive for the bacteria Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, which lives in pyrite deposits. These bacteria consume iron and sulfur producing highly corrosive sulfuric acid. Have you ever noticed a mild sulfur smell when you open a Chinese import safe? There are many concerns about drywall from China.
Other Disadvantages of Gun Safes
They are very big, very heavy and once in place cannot be easily moved. They are also big and heavy. Did I mention that they are heavy? You get the picture. In our modern, mobile society where people move on average every 6.6 years (US Census Bureau) does it make sense to own a 1,200 lb metal box full of drywall?
If you live in a condominium or town-home, owning a heavy old safe may not be allowed by your HOA.
Gun Safe Capacity: The Industry’s “Little White Lie”
Gun safe capacity is a lie. When a safe manufacturer offers a gun safe (RSC) and claims a capacity of 30 guns, what are they telling you? I’ve seen gun safes rated for 29 guns that can not efficiently store 11 modern rifles. Either safe companies are not very bright or they think their customers aren’t very bright. The VP of national sales for one of America’s largest safe manufacturers told me it was the “industry’s little white lie”.
It seems all safe manufacturers state their capacity based on how many gun slots they can fit in the safe, regardless of how many guns actually fit. In our product testing, using safes from several different manufacturers, we found the actual capacity for traditional guns is about half of what the manufacturers claim. When you add in modern sporting rifles, that capacity drops even further. Gun safe capacity is a sham.
Gun Safes Are Too Deep
Manufacturers all focus on making heavy, complex doors and lock systems in an effort to make you think the cabinet is secure. These doors are so heavy that the cabinet has to be deep…deep enough to offset the weight of the door so when it is opened the cabinet doesn’t tip over.
This depth is counterproductive to proper gun storage. You end up with guns packed in and you have to dig through them to get to the rifles or shotguns stored in the back.
Please note: a thief ignores the door and just cuts through the thin steel on the side or back of the RSC.
Gun Safe Interior Design Hasn’t Changed
American gun ownership has changed dramatically and the safe industry refuses to address it. The number one rifle sold in America is the AR-15 and most shooters now have some sort of scope or optic on every rifle and shotgun. The gun safe industry not only failed to anticipate these market changes, they appear to have buried their heads in the sand and refuse to even acknowledge that there has been any type of change. Gun safes simply do not have the ability to properly store modern sporting rifles.
“They’ve buried their heads in the sand”
Why does a whole industry fail to address a big market change? It almost appears like all gun safe manufacturers are in a big game of chicken. They all produce basically the same product and are all afraid of being the first one to be different. In most industries manufacturers actively look for points of difference. But not with “gun safes” (RSC containers). It is very unusual and not in the best interest of the consumer. These manufacturers and products are dinosaurs and perhaps, soon be extinct.
We see this as a complete lack of respect for the firearms they store, and their customers who shell out big money expecting secure fireproof storage yet really only have a steel box with some drywall and fancy paint. The only advances in gun safe manufacturing in the last 100 years has been the move to cheaper materials, lower standards, and misleading certifications.
Do you need a so-called “gun safe” or RSC?
If you think you will sleep better knowing that your rifles and stored in a big 1200 lb. gorilla in your basement, then that may be the right product for you. You have to understand, however, that the security against both theft and fire is really smoke and mirrors. The whole industry is built around a false perception that because these things weigh 1200 lbs, it must be safe and secure.
When you consider that these so-called “gun safes” (RSC) are no more secure than a simple steel cabinet and fire ratings (which do not meet even the most basic UL Certification) are simply made up by manufacturers, you have to really question the decision.
They are very difficult and expensive to move.
They can be corrosive to your guns by design.
They do not properly store precision rifles.
Older homes may not support the weight and you certainly would not put a safe in an upstairs location.
So what do you do? Knowledge is Power
There are several very inexpensive steel gun cabinets on the market that will keep your firearms secure. Take the time to learn as much as you can before you spend your money.
Tom Kubiniec is President and CEO of SecureIt Tactical which specializes in civilian gun storage and education for gun owners across the nation with the goal to improve lives through safety and better preparation. The company is also the largest supplier of weapons storage units to the U.S. military. More information at https://www.