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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.

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  1. “Above all, remember that a gun safe is merely part of a elf-defense system.”

    If those rotten little elves ever get into my house uninvited, they’re toast.

  2. When you say combos are a recipe for disaster do you mean all combos or just dials? I use a gunvault with pushbuttons that I can open in the dark by straight muscle memory. Thankfully I’ve never had to attempt getting it out under real life stress but during practice I can get it in under 5 seconds. Any thoughts?

    • Spinny combos for sure. I’m torn on the biometric vs pushbutton combos. Biometrics are quite a bit more reliable that I initially thought, albeit expensive. Pushbuttons are more affordable, but easier to get to fail under stress, IMO.

      There’s nothing like rushing to enter the code and then being off (horizontally or vertically on the keyboard) by one or not pressing one of the buttons hard enough and then wondering whether if you should press another key to hurry the little computer in the keypad along so you can reenter the code or wait for 5 seconds until it resets on its own.

      One other alternative to the electronic pushbutton combos is the simplex-type mechanical ones…no computer to get confused. But these typically don’t care what order the 3 or 4 numbers are entered and this drastically reduces the uniqueness of the combination which, if you have kids around, could be a concern.

      • “Biometrics are quite a bit more reliable that I initially thought…”

        That’s a bit of an eye opener to hear. The main reason I haven’t gotten one yet is that I don’t trust the technology. Am I just being a luddite here?

        • No. You’re just fine to question the technology. Not all fingerprint scanners are equal. The one on my laptop isn’t up to task for using in a gun safe. But some are good.

          Clearly, RF’s experiences with have been great (and this is part of the reason for the recommendation above). My experiences with finger scanning safes have exceeded expectations. Couple that with my numerous stress free, not to mention my once stressful, keypad fumbles and, while I’m not a fanboy, I think biometric safes are worth serious consideration.

        • We had a push button type then decided we needed an additional unit. The wife and I tried a bio. It worked fine the first day but then failed more times than not. Replaced it another push botton.

        • At the end of the day, use what works for you, there is no one right answer. I’d like to think it was just a bum unit or a poorly implemented model.

    • We also have a gunvault with the pushbutton combo. We drill frequently to make sure the combo is in muscle memory and we can retrieve our guns without fumble. In fact, one or the other of us will randomly initiate an alert to make sure we’re both ready.

  3. I keep a S&W 686 in my bed-side safe. It is loaded but the cylinder is not locked in place. As pointed out, I don’t want to be fumbling around with the speed loader in the middle of the night. Grab the revolver while simultaneously pressing the cylinder in as my thumb moves up to pull back the hammer. As far as I am concerned, it is the safest way I can store a firearm that may need to be immediately put into service.

    • The potential problem I can see there is that if the cylinder is not locked in place, there is a possibility that in fumbling around for the gun, you could rotate the cylinder out and some or all of the rounds could fall onto the floor. Now you’re not only faced with the blaring siren/barking dog/bump-in-the-night but you have to try and find an reload your rounds.

      KISS – that revolver isn’t going to go off just by being in the safe (BTW my bedside gun is also a 686) so the safest way to have it in there is fully loaded with the cylinder firmly locked in place.

      Whoops, just noticed this:

      as my thumb moves up to pull back the hammer

      Oh, HELL no! Never manually cock the hammer of a DA revolver in a self-defense situation! That is an accidental shooting waiting to happen – a slight twitch on the trigger finger and BANG!. That revolver was designed to fire in DA mode. Manual cocking is for target shooters and/or dramatic scenes in firearms-ignorant movies and television shows.

      • I like SA because I don’t rest my finger on the trigger. So once I do move to the trigger, there is less resistance. Though you do make a valid point.

        I’m curious what others practice with a SA/DA firearm as their bedside piece.

        • When I had my S&W 637 Airweight I stored it in my bedside table in a small safe loaded with the cylinder locked in, hammer down on an empty chamber. I didn’t have any kids at the time and only my wife and I knew the code. I only had to remove it for a home defense situation twice, once when a drunken friend of my neighbor came pounding on my door instead of his at an ungodly hour and once more during the aftermath of hurricane Ike when someone tried to steal my generator. Both times I went to answer the door in my gym shorts, undershirt and the pistol in hand with the hammer back. That little monster had a ridiculous trigger pull that would often cause me to go wide on the first shot, however when I fired the pistol in SA first and DA on the second I all but eliminated the wide first round. If you practice trigger discipline and keep your finger on the guard or off the pistol all together until you are ready to fire you won’t have any accidental discharges.
          I traded that pistol for my HiCap 1911 which I keep in the same safe beside my bed loaded with a full magazine but the chamber is empty and the hammer is down. I haven’t had to retrieve it for home defense yet, but when I carry it, usually there is one in the chamber but the hammer is down. I tried carrying it with the hammer back and the safety on, but because it is a large full size pistol if I turned the right way I could feel the hammer poking me in the side and made me feel uneasy as well as uncomfortable. With my compact Para I don’t have that problem, but I still carry it hammer down even though I know it is just as safe either way.

        • there is one in the chamber but the hammer is down

          Presumably that pistol safe against a blow to the hammer.

        • Presumably nothing will strike the hammer with enough force to set off the round when it is on my hip. Unless the random hammer carrying gnome that is prone to ruining my wood work, decides to attack just the hammer of my pistol.

        • I think you’ve been watching “The Shootist” too much. You should be able see that it is not possible for the hammer to hit the firing pin while the hammer is down.

        • +1. No modern DA revolver will fire even if you strike the hammer with force. That’s from the Old West days of the Colt Peacemaker. Even the S&W revolvers with the firing pin on the hammer nose use a “rebounding” firing pin that will not reach the primer unless the trigger is being held back (don’t take my word for it, try for yourself and see.)

        • For a safer DA pistol, the answers are (a) trigger job and (b) practice. There’s no reason DA should not be as smooth and easy as SA, it’s just that most revolvers don’t come from the factory that way. IMO the SA mode on DA revolvers is an anachronism. Note that many police departments that used DA revolvers until recently had them modified to fire in DA only.

  4. Keeping your go-to handgun holstered in the safe is probably a good idea, as is keeping a fresh and ready flashlight beside it, on the uncluttered shelf that you specifically use to store them on, for just such a situation.

    • A flashlight is a must, I agree. I prefer the Scorpion streamlights myself, though I think the Sure-Fires are more popular.

    • Agree on the holster in the safe, that’s what I do. I’ve got an IWB kydex that I no longer use, but it holds the pistol when in the safe. I feel more comfortable that I won’t accidentally bump the trigger on something when putting the gun in the safe, or taking it out.

  5. My gun is secure and accessible…
    Along with a flashlight and extra mag.
    Close at hand and another is not far away of a much larger caliber.
    It is only in a safe when I am not with me and that is rare, very rare…Like never…

  6. I prefer a flintlock musket for home defense… nothing tells an intruder ‘FU’ like the intimidating sounds of an old school smoothbore being loaded up and cocked!
    And I mounted a Yankee candle on the end to both blind and entice the perp with the smell of warm cookies.

  7. My gun is secure and handy. Mags are on the dresser, and unloaded gun is under the mattress, when at home. Otherwise it’s loaded in the safe at all times as are all the other handguns. High power flashlight is there too.

  8. Aside from the obligatory pistol and flashlight, I also keep a hatchet handy. Not a “tactical” tomahawk, a hatchet. The damn thing is so scary, it even scares me. It can be weilded like a hatchet, a hammer or a knife. It’s the ultimate CQC weapon and needn’t ever be kept in a safe.

  9. While I understand the sentiment that “mechanical things can fail”, I am completely comfortable with having a loaded DA revolver in the quick access safe. A DA revolver is completely at mechanical rest even when loaded with the cylinder closed. If it has a transfer bar, even better. I am moderately comfortable with my SW1911 in condition 1 in the quick access safe because while it is not mechanically at rest I check it often enough to be sure the safeties work mechanically, including the positive firing pin block which engages through the grip safety. I am less trusting of 1911 without positive firing pin blocks, even with reduced mass firing pins and stout rebound springs because while extremely unlikely, a drop fire is mechanically possible.

    Glocks kind of freak me out a little bit because I don’t really know much about their mechanisms and it is my understanding that the firing pin spring remains half tensioned when a round is chambered. I don’t know if the trigger safety lever is coupled to a positive mechanical firing pin block or anything like that. This is nothing against Glock, my apprehension is due to my own ignorance of how they work.


    • Don, if a round is chambered in a glock, then the firing pin and spring are fully tensioned I believe. However, the firing pin safety must me disengaged in order for the firing pin to reach the primer of the round and set it off. The firing pin safety is disengaged by pulling the trigger. Without the trigger disengaging the firing pin safety, the firing pin is blocked from reaching the round. No other way will the firing pin and spring cause it to fire. It’s no less safe than any other loaded semi-auto handgun and safer (as are all modern) than very old semi-auto’s.

  10. One of my few gripes with my 1911 is that this “load and lock” gun is a ND waiting to happen if you chamber a round. My go to dark-of-the-night weapon is the wife’s M-9. I feel comfortable leaving it in the gunvault with a round chambered and the hammer de-cocked.

  11. Let me argue something for a minute here. Whats the point of these small gunvault safes if you don’t have kids? If someone is burgling your house and see’s your safe they’re just gonna grab it and open it later at their convince.

    • You nail it down and attach the security cable. Will it stop the well prepared thief who has a wish list in mind? Of course not, but it will stop your local knock down the door and ransack your house kind of thief. He will take a quick whack at it and then abandon the effort. These kind of theives don’t plan on spending more then five or ten minutes in your house. If you have a dog or two they aren’t even coming through the door. The professionals can be in your high security fire proof safe inside of 20 minutes. I’ve seen the locksmiths get into equivalent safes in minutes in the Pentagon.

    • I’ve got my Gunvault bolted to the concrete foundation of my house with hurricane bolts. It’s not going anywhere. It’s located next to my bed. I can roll off in total darkness and have a gun in my hand in five seconds. I have the old push-button kind (for over 10 years now).

  12. Caveat on any electronic safe, bet it biometric, most push buttons, etc. Where you live may make a difference in it’s reliability. Here in Hawai’i, most electronic gear suffers failures of one kind or another after 2-3 years. High humidity + salt air. I have a combo safe as a result

  13. I would not get a biometric safe at all. There have been many people who have shown that it can be opened easily by other things such as a copy of someone’s finger prints, even finger prints that do not exactly match it. There are better ones but those tend to up really expensive.

  14. Happen across this blog looking for a safe way to load and unload my home gun Glock 17 Gen 4, I use a VANGUARD HOLSTER SYSTEM (I tell my wife Never touch my Guns.. (No Kids at home)
    I load my Glock in my car the worst that can happen is I blow a hole in my Volvo floor board. I Keep a central alarm system and small safe combo at home for use when not home I carry a Seacamp in my right hand pocket and a Kahr PM9 in a pouch, fanny pack always one in the snout, other wise it would be like carrying around a paper weight.

  15. I liked when you talked about how when it comes to gun safes it is a good idea to try a biometric safe. It makes sense that knowing all the pros and cons of the different systems can help you make sure you choose the best for your home. I would want to make sure I take my time to consult with a trusted professional that knows and understands of these systems.


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