Gun Safe Buying Guide – The Basics

‘Love thy neighbor’, the bible teaches us to respect and love one another but it never says, ‘trust thy neighbor’. In a world that is progressively isolating itself, with families constantly growing smaller and more localized, trust is a commodity that must be dealt with caution. And in this economy, topping the list of stolen items in any burglary are guns. Then come prescription medicine, alcohol, cigarettes followed by video equipment, stereo equipment and finally jewelry and cash. Here is a trivial observation made by the FBI – ‘those homes with gun safes usually came out unscathed with prescription medicine and electronics being the only items stolen. Cash, guns and jewelry stored inside safes are never touched’.


Truth is, a burglar doesn’t have the time to melt through 10 gauge steel or drill his way through 12 gauge steel in the middle of the night when he is sure to have tripped some alarm or someone might have seen him enter the house. Simply having a gun safe is your first step to protecting your investment. In fact, I advocate the necessity of a gun safe if you own firearms for the safety of your children, your community and your own life. Remember that gun safes also protect items from fire, water damage and accidental access to children.

Here are seven basic factors you ought to consider when buying a gun safe.

The 7 Essentials Of Any Decent Gun Safe

Type Of Locking Bolts

Bolts are what provide safes with firmness against forced entry. They are secured into the body of the safe and lock deep into the doors preventing them from being pried open. These bolts are usually thick and made from steel, hidden from view inside the safe. Turning the handles lock the bolts into the door.

locking boltThe first thing you must understand is that more the number of bolts, the better it is. Personally, I like seeing at least 4 bolts on my safe. Bolt coverage is what you should ask the salesman. This term refers to the number of sides of the door that have got locking bolts. Majority of inexpensive manufacturers tend to put bolts to just one side with hinges on the other.

Another thing to consider is whether the bolts are inside or outside the safe. Some say that external bolts are easier to cut through but many believe that this doesn’t matter as long as they are of 8 gauge or less. Finally, consider how tightly the bolts secure the door and the space left to each side and the frame. The tighter this seal, the harder it is to pry open as well as helping the safe withstand fires longer.

Thickness Or Gauge Of The Metal

gaugesteelHow thick is thick enough? Well to start with most gun safes come with bodies that range in thickness from 12 to 7 gauge. 12 gauge is too thin at about 0.081 inch and can be easily broken into with a blowtorch and drill machine. Ideally, you want to have 10 gauge or lower doors and sides. Remember that the thicker the walls are the more its going to cost you.

Some manufacturers tend to thicken the doors but use 12 gauge steel for the side and back. Not much help having a safe with an impervious door that can be smashed into from the remaining three sides. So, ensure you get a safe that has an overall thickness of 10 gauge or less (8 gauge is most ideal).


lockWhile not the most important of all considerations to start with, Locks definitely play a big role in the long run. They impact how quickly you can access your guns, whether it is child safe, if it can be opened with power loss and the life of your safe. Basically, you have two types of locks namely, electronic and mechanical. Electronic consist of circuits, keypads, biometric scanners and more while mechanical comes in the form of key lock, combination lock and dual locks.

Electronic locks draw power from a battery source, which must be regularly replaced. They are quick and efficient but often last less than half a decade. On the other hand, mechanical locks are bulky, difficult to handle, open slowly and need zero replacement or maintenance. Good mechanical locks can last a lifetime.

I’ll discuss more on the lock system later on in a separate addendum to this buying guide as this is something that tends to dumbfound most first time buyers.

Fire Rating

fire ratingA residential fire can hit 1,200 degree F real quick and if the windows give way, a sudden back draft is going to make it even hotter. Remember the fire department can take time to reach your burning home and even longer to bring the raging fire under control. Based on the construction, material used and various other factors, different safes are laboratory tested to resist fires of certain intensity and for a particular period of time.

Conventionally most gun safes come with a 30 minute guarantee at 1200 degree F. This is just a gimmick as most domestic fires rage for 20 to 45 minutes reaching 1400 or higher degree F before they are brought under control. Moreover, even after the fire is extinguished, the safe still remains super hot, taking time to cool down. This radiant temperature can easily destroy any sensitive material such as paper, magnetic material inside. Best advice therefore, is to purchase a safe with a good fire rating, use a fire safe box to store documents and tapes of a sensitive nature inside the safe.

Size Or Capacity

sizeNever buy to satisfy your current stash of firearms. If you own firearms like I do, then you are definitely going to expand on your stash. Always get something larger than your requirement. This lets you add more ammo, guns and the likes without having to remove jewelry, albums, money or documents to make space. It isn’t uncommon to find safes today offering additional space in the form of side hangers, pouches and variable rack size.

Additionally with sidearm safes, the smaller the better as it helps in concealing them.



Not an issue related to the safe or manufacturer, rather an issue of where to keep it. Remember the more discreet your location, the harder it is for a thief to find it in the dark. I know many folks who love showcasing their collection but some of them have also lost all their valuables and gun collection to burglars because they kept their safe in plain sight. My advice, choose a secluded location such as the basement or attic room, or even a separate room that you reinforce to keep thieves away.

Warranty And Support

warrantyFrom the time you order your gun safe to the time it eventually breaks down, the warranty cover plays a major role in ensuring that you spend less in fixing, maintaining and repairing the vault. Some companies offer lifetime warranty on their products with a few limitations, such as the locks, against fires above 1400 degree F and so on. But the best brands tend to provide a no-holds bar warranty repairing anything and everything that may or may not happen to your safe for free.

Quite naturally, customer support of every brand will differ. Some offer 24 hours support and answer every query you may pose while others are only bothered with closing a sale, making the most of their investment and aren’t much interested in answering your questions. A good measure is to call them before purchasing anything and clarifying doubts directly with their customer support. Nine out of ten times, companies that have patience to answer your pre-sale questions clearly and precisely are trustworthy with a better support and warranty service.

Read what it takes to protect against forced entry in our next part, Gun Safe Buying Guide – Theft Protection Advanced

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