[Editor: The author’s previous piece, Toddlers, Guns and Passion Politics, led to our desire to republish her piece from A Girl and a Gun; executive editor Robyn Sandoval graciously agreed.]
One of the first questions I asked myself when I bought my first firearm, seven years ago was, “How am I going to store this thing safely when I’m not using it?” My children were not small anymore at that time, but I was still concerned about unauthorized access – whether during a burglary or simply a teenage slumber party.
My choices were somewhat limited at the time. The cheap push button safe that I purchased served the purpose when I needed it, but it is probably not what I would choose were I starting over again today. Why? Because there are so many better options now than there were even seven years ago.
I had been advised by my home insurer to put all of my expensive belongings in a secure safe. This would keep my contents insurance valid if we ever needed to claim. If you don’t yet have insurance, you may want to see here for different types of contents insurance to get yourself covered. My recent trip to SHOT Show afforded the opportunity to investigate the wide array of safe storage and quick access options that are available for today’s first-time gun owners. I limited my search to smaller options, thinking that if you already had or could buy a large floor model safe, then you probably weren’t a first-timer.
While I was looking, I imagined myself as perhaps a young single mother in a rented apartment, who had limited options for space or renovations, and I narrowed the search accordingly. If you don’t live in a home with small children, you don’t have quite as many safety worries, and you’ve got more options you might store your safe in a lovely cupboard from an antique shop or somewhere similar because your safety concerns are less pressing, so I adopted the perspective of this more difficult demographic. For people in this demographic, there may be extra security measures you want to take to make your home more secure, such as installing something like a home camera system. This can deter any potential trespassers or vandals from attacking your home, but for many people, this does make you as safe as a firearm.
Presented here is just a small selection of what I found. The categories break down roughly as hiding places, lock boxes, and true small safes. There is also a separate category for newer long gun security.
Bear in mind as you read this, that I am no security expert. I am only offering advice based on personal experience, having been down this road myself, as I would to any of my girlfriends. If you are the nervous, litigious sort, you should probably consult a professional security company, and a lawyer, depending on your state and local firearm laws.
First, there are the “Hiding in plain sight” options. While not as physically secure as a steel safe, these offer easy accessibility and concealment/camouflage in your home environment. These would need to be used with extreme care in households with small children, as they either have no actual locks, or are easily unlocked with a magnet or RFID device. If your kids can figure out where you hide the Christmas gifts, they probably also know where you hide the guns, AND where you hide the key/magnet/RFID device. Use these options with extreme care please – your kids are smarter, stronger, more agile, and more observant than you think.
Several companies offer options like this. The ones I saw at SHOT were a Clock, a shelf and a mirror by Tactical Walls/ and a false air vent by QuickSafes.
For actual secure storage and not just concealment, you need to step up to the steel lock boxes and “pistol vaults”. The steel lock box options are vast, and available from many different companies. The smallest of them fit a small pistol and extra magazine, and come with a cable to secure the box to a car seat frame, a bed frame, a metal desk or filing cabinet drawer with holes in it, or even a sink drain pipe in a hotel room. While this is the cheapest option, drawbacks include limited storage space, thin cables that could be cut, and keys that could be lost or not readily available when you need them. These type boxes are meant to deter inquisitive little fingers and the idly curious. They won’t stop a determined thief, and won’t be the quickest access when you need your gun NOW.
A step up in the lock box category (and for more money) are the touch combination type pistol vaults. Big advantage here is there are no keys to lose, so there is less fumbling in an emergency. They do come with back-up keys though, in case you forget the combo or the battery dies. These models are still small enough to fit under a car seat or in a drawer, and secure with a sturdier cable, so your handgun is locked up, but still quickly available if you have to put it away to go into the school or courthouse.
A further step up in this category is the fingerprint recognition type pistol vault. This is the kind I currently have in my car. I don’t even have to remember a combo when my brain is spinning – I push a button and swipe a finger. The model I have stores many different iterations of several fingers, in case one hand is incapacitated or the finger swipe is at an odd angle.
I have even flown with this model as my “hard sided pistol case” in my suitcase. The cable can be secured around the inside ribs of the suitcase, and since my fingerprint is the “key”, TSA can’t demand the keys to open it away from my physical presence.
True small safes are the better bet for home use, as they hold more of your guns/valuables, and tend to be more durable/secure. Portability is what you don’t want in this category – you want to make it as difficult as possible for a burglar or other unauthorized person to gain access. You want screw holes and ways to bolt or screw the safe down – either to the closet floor, or the inside of a kitchen cupboard or heavy piece of furniture. This especially important if you live in an apartment, and can’t put permanent holes in anything. If you have a dining room hutch or entertainment center that belongs to you, you can try screwing a small safe to a (non-removable) shelf, or an inside divider. It would take a fairly determined thief to take the time to either pry the safe loose, or drag out the entire piece of furniture. Nothing is a sure bet though when it comes to criminals (or small children for that matter) so use your best judgement here.
I had the thought while I was looking at some of these larger models that they might even fit an entire purse inside. While I am not a purse carrier as a rule, many women are, and as a pediatrician I worry about kids and purse-gun access. I was thinking that one of these larger models with fingerprint access, installed in an upper cupboard, could be a great place to just stick the whole purse when you get home. This would reduce handling the pistol so much to get it in and out of the purse, and would also keep the kids out of your lipstick, checkbook, and medication. What do you think?
Companies I visited at SHOT offering all of the above were:
A newer category in the market is designed to appeal to those who prefer a long gun for home defense. A tactical shotgun or AR will obviously not fit into a quick access pistol vault, so the market has been developing alternatives. What I saw at SHOT were various iterations of a wall-mounted locking bracket. In an apartment, you could probably mount it inside a free-standing wardrobe or something, so as not to mar walls that don’t belong to you. The two of these that I looked at were from SHOTLOCK and BoomDock
Alternatively, SecureIt has a bed frame mounted long gun safe, called the Fast Box which is a viable option, and SnapSafe has a cable-secured under-bed long gun safe as well. Neither of these last two options would require you to put holes in your apartment in order to securely mount them, but would still offer rapid access to your long gun in an emergency.
Many of the safe storage options listed here are available from your local gun shop or sporting goods store. An even wider selection can be had through online sources such as Amazon. Sadly, the days of your grandfather’s glass front walnut gun cabinet are pretty much over. With the wide array of options on the market today, there really is no excuse to not have secure firearms storage available to meet your needs. There are many options to meet many requirements and price points. If you are a woman looking to get into self-defense and the shooting sports, worries about safe storage should not be the thing that stops you. Happy Shopping and Happy Shooting!
—“Dr. LateBloomer” is the pen name of a female general pediatrician (MD, MPH, FAAP) who enjoys competitive shooting sports, including IDPA, USPSA and 3-Gun. Evil semi-automatic firearms are her favorites.
All DRGO articles by “Dr. LateBloomer”