CONCEALMENT 10 Fast and Secure – Quick-Access Gun Safes Steven Kuo Join the Conversation Safely Store Your Firearms Within Quick and Easy Reach You’re roused out of a deep slumber by the sound of crashing glass. Glancing to your left, you see your wife’s eyes wide as saucers, darting around the bedroom. Between you, deep asleep and oblivious, is your 5-year-old daughter. More sounds of glass breaking downstairs are followed by faint muttering and whispering. Your wife is already dialing 911. Your fingers quiver as you punch your security code into the quick access gun safe next to your bed. Pew Research Center surveys from 2017 show that two-thirds of gun owners cite protection as a primary reason for owning guns and that four in 10 say they have a gun that’s loaded and easily accessible to them all of the time when at home. A recent Rasmussen Reports survey revealed that a majority of Americans who have guns in their home feel safer as a result. Our readership may have some strong beliefs about how to store firearms and have them readily available for use. Certainly, we all wish to maintain control over who has access to our guns, whether keeping them secure from theft or unauthorized users. No matter your situation, it’s easy to see the benefits of secure storage that can be accessed quickly. Especially for new gun owners, folks with a reluctant spouse, parents with young children, people with roommates, and so forth — these types of products can be invaluable to make them comfortable having a loaded gun in their home. Fundamentally, a gun safe is simply a box with a door and a locking mechanism. As always, you have to strike a balance — between physical security, convenience, speed of access, features, and price. The type of traditional burglary safe that Road Runner likes to drop on Wile E. Coyote would be very secure, but also heavy, expensive, and slow to access, especially in the dark. On the other hand, a cheaply manufactured pistol safe might offer a very low price tag and pushbutton entry, at the expense of being easily opened with a paper clip or swift smack. Assess Your Needs It’s important to carefully consider your needs: What type of firearm are you storing? A handgun or a long-gun? Most of the products in this guide are for handguns, but one is intended for long-guns. A number of manufacturers offer products similar to those shown, sized for long-guns. Under what circumstances do you expect to need to access your gun? If it’s purely for storage, you could consider any type of gun safe, which is outside the scope of this article. We’re focusing on safes designed for reactive situations, where you need to quickly access your weapon. And in such an emergency, while under stress and perhaps in the dark, the process of opening the safe and retrieving your gun needs to be reliable and reasonably quick. How many people need access to the safe? Most safes have lock systems with a single security code, so multiple users need to share the same passcode (and could change it if so desired). Even safes with digital keypads typically don’t allow for multiple passcodes — note to manufacturers, this would be a nice feature. On the other hand, biometric locks usually store multiple fingerprints. Safes with RFID-based keys often come with multiple unique RFID tags that different people could use. What threats are you protecting against? Thieves, young children, and teenagers (or roommates) with unfettered access to your safe and Google to research vulnerabilities present different types of threats. Including concealment as part of your security strategy can also help. Some safes will let you know if someone has unsuccessfully attempted to open your safe. And, importantly, don’t neglect to harden your home with overlapping layers of security (see Issues 8 and 21). Key Considerations John Dean runs Dean Safe in California and has been selling safes for four decades. He cautions that over the years, he’s seen what he calls a “race to the bottom,” with new product offerings on the market dropping in both price and quality. Indeed, Dave Goetzinger of HandgunSafeResearch.com has been evaluating handgun safes for a number of years, finding that many safes are “easily compromised using paperclips, coat hanger wire, and other ordinary materials found in the office and home,” without leaving any evidence of unauthorized entry. Key elements of safes include the following: Enclosure: While some safes are showing up in sexier shapes, most are simple boxes. Just like big safes, thick steel and solid construction better mitigate brute force attacks. Holes in enclosures, such as behind trim, around doors, and next to controls, are key vulnerabilities that Goetzinger exploits. Mount: If a safe isn’t secured, someone can simply walk off with it and break into it at their leisure. Consider also that whatever you attach a small safe to may also be compromised. For example, if it’s bolted to a drawer, can someone simply yank out the drawer? Dean stresses, “Please bolt them down.” Lock: Two primary types of locks are mechanical and electronic. For small handgun safes with mechanical locks, the overwhelming choice is the five-button Simplex lock made by Kaba. You’ve probably seen or used them in door lock form in restricted access areas for businesses and governments for decades, so it’s reliable and reasonably secure. However, due to its mechanical design, there are only 1,081 possible combinations, so with enough time and dedication, an attacker can eventually figure out the combination. Electronic locks may utilize a digital keypad, biometric sensors, or other means (e.g. Bluetooth, RFID) to initiate an authorized unlock procedure. Biometric methods have improved a lot over the years, but still make us wary. Even our beloved iPhones and MacBook Pros, which cost thousands of dollars, don’t unlock every single time with the press of a finger. If Apple can’t get TouchID to work every single time, is it reasonable to expect safes that cost a couple hundred bucks to do it? In general, we favor a lock that’ll reliably unlock 100-percent of the time, more slowly, than a lock that unlocks faster but not every time. Still, we were pleasantly surprised by how well the biometric sensors worked in our testing. And to be fair, it’s not hard to fumble a manual combination when you’re stressed or groggy either. With the price points of most products in this article, secure and reliable UL-rated electronic locks that you might find on large gun and burglary safes unfortunately aren’t economical or practical for manufacturers to incorporate. Locking mechanism: Big safes typically rely upon a combination of a strong steel frame and door along with fixed and retractable bolts to secure the door to the frame. These small safes generally utilize some sort of latch or bolt mechanism, with the electronic ones using a motor to release the latch, move the bolt, or actuate a solenoid. There are many offerings on the market. In selecting products to review for this article, we sought to avoid safes with known or likely vulnerabilities and assembled a group of safes representing various different approaches and feature sets. We also favored companies that have promptly acknowledged and worked to resolve vulnerabilities discovered in their products, shying away from those who don’t address them. Recommendations Caveman simple: We suggest you look at any of the mechanical Simplex lock safes shown in this article first. They’re all armadillo sturdy and dead-nuts reliable. They don’t have nice features like lighted keypads and interiors, but they’re pretty easy to actuate by feel once you get used to it. And they work every time. The key caveat is that a Simplex lock has a limited number of possible combinations. While a thief is unlikely to punch one combination after another into your safe for hours on end, a systematic person who has access to your safe could. If this isn’t a worry, one of these safes would be great. Pick whichever one offers the right combination of form factor, features, and price for your needs. Value: With a street price of $140, the electronic push-button Stealth Tactical handgun hanger safe is spacious and boasts nice features. However, keep in mind that tubular key locks are easy to pick with specialized tools. Tech-lovers: If you want a space-age safe, look at the Vaultek; it has a strong case, both a fingerprint reader and keypad, a harder-to-pick key override, and a ton of cool technology, including an app. The Liberty is roomy and stout, and its fingerprint reader worked really well — which is good because it doesn’t have a keypad. The Hornady is a nice option if you need something small and portable. Note that the latter two products use easier-to-pick tubular key locks. Price no object: To keep a pistol readily available, if you have the budget and are able to install it in a convenient location, we’d opt for a UL-rated burglary, jewelry or gun safe with a UL-rated electronic lock over any of these small handgun safes. For a long-gun, the Amsec DV652 under-bed safe is essentially a purpose-built, lighter-duty horizontal gun safe with a UL-rated electronic lock; alternately, you could step up to a brawnier full-size gun safe if you have room for it. Mechanical locks American Security Products PS1210HD Dimensions (External): 10.3 by 12.5 by 4.3 inches Dimensions (Internal): 9.5 by 11.5 by 3.9 inches Thickness: 10-gauge body, 7-gauge door Weight: 22.4 pounds Lock Type: Mechanical Simplex Manufactured In: USA Warranty: 1 year MSRP: $410 URL: www.amsecusa.com Notes: The ankylosaurus of the bunch, this Amsec pistol safe is an absolute beast. It has a 10-gauge body and 3/16-inch-thick top-opening door. While the hinge is exposed, it’s inset and, like a large burglary safe with external hinges, it has fixed bars that claw onto the frame behind the hinge, so you couldn’t remove the locked door even if you cut the hinge off. The large locking bolt is 1.5 by 0.5 inches across, and the entire Simplex lock mechanism on the inside of the door is encased in yet another steel housing. A gas piston holds the heavy door aloft and prevents it from making too much noise when you open it. However, the lid clanks shut unless you ease it closed. The interior is spartan, with two layers of foam sandwiching a layer of pick-n-pluck foam. You can fit two full-size pistols in it; you don’t have to use the middle foam layer unless you wish to completely swaddle the contents in foam. There’s a folding chrome carrying handle and four pre-drilled bolt-down holes with plastic inserts. The safe has a dark gray textured finish and a large removable American Security logo. Fort Knox Personal Pistol Box Dimensions (External): 12 by 9.5 by 5 inches Dimensions (Internal): 10.5 by 8.3 by 4.8 inches Thickness: 10-gauge body, 7-gauge door Weight: 18.4 pounds Lock Type: Mechanical Simplex Manufactured In: USA Warranty: Lifetime MSRP: $235 URL: www.ftknox.com Notes: Fort Knox clearly subscribes to the “keep it simple, stupid” philosophy. Their top-opening Original Pistol Box is a popular and oft recommended handgun safe. The Personal Pistol Box mixes it up with a front-opening door, while still offering the basic bombproof formula of a thick steel box with a reliable mechanical lock. The internally hinged door, 3/16 inch thick, is even beefier than the 10-gauge body, and Fort Knox opted to use a hefty, well-supported bolt (1 by 0.5 inches across) to secure the door. The door is conveniently spring-loaded but lacks damping, resulting in a clank at the end of its travel if you don’t catch the door. The interior is lined with carpet-wrapped cardboard, but otherwise unadorned. It’ll accommodate a large handgun plus some additional smaller items. You can squeeze more in it, but with a front-opening door, this may compromise your ability to easily retrieve your weapon. There are four plastic bumpers on the bottom; when removed, they reveal holes that you can use to bolt down the safe. V-Line Industries Quick Vault-In Wall Handgun Safe Dimensions (External): 17 by 15 by 4 inches (including outer frame) Dimensions (Internal): 13 by 11.3 by 2.3 inches Thickness: 14-gauge with 12-gauge pry brackets, 14-gauge door Weight: 19.6 pounds Lock Type: Mechanical Simplex Manufactured In: USA Warranty: 1 year MSRP: $303 URL: www.vlineind.com Notes: This handy safe installs between the studs in your wall. Cut a rough opening between studs (16 inches on center) and bolt the safe in from inside the enclosure. The outer frame of the safe lies against the drywall, while the body sits inside the wall cavity. The door is recessed, making it difficult to pry and resulting in a flush installation, which can be hidden behind a picture frame or other wall hanging. Note that the knob protrudes just a tiny bit. The hinge is exposed; with such configurations, we like to see fixed bolts on the hinge side to secure the door. It lacks this, but V-Line recessed the hinge and welded the end to protect it. The ivory powder-coated body and door are 14-gauge steel, with 12-gauge pry brackets doubled up in some areas, including where the locking bolt passes through. The locking bolt is 5/16 inch in diameter, guided by a 3/8-inch lock block on the door. The interior of the safe is lined with felt, with an adjustable shelf that screws into pre-drilled holes. A service pistol occupies about half of the safe vertically; as a tall, shallow enclosure, it feels like a medicine cabinet. Extra shelves are optional if you’d like to store additional valuables in your wall safe. V-Line includes a small Cortec sticky foam square for corrosion protection, a nice touch. V-Line Industries Slide-Away Heavy Duty Large Capacity Handgun Safe Dimensions (External): 10 x 4.5 x 13 inches Dimensions (Internal): 8.9 x 12.5 x 2.5 inches (drawer) Thickness: 12 gauge Weight: 22.7 pounds Lock Type: Mechanical Simplex Manufactured In: U.S.A. Warranty: 1 year MSRP: $324 URL: www.vlineind.com Notes: V-Line’s Slide-Away model features a convenient pull-out drawer design, making it handy for securing not just your firearm but other items as well. The body and door are made of 12 gauge steel, with a black textured powder coat. The locking bolt is 5/16-inch with a 3/8-inch lock block. Four screws thread through holes in the enclosure into a separate mounting bracket — you can buy additional brackets if you want to be able to secure the safe in multiple locations. Or you needn’t use the bracket for an even more secure installation. Removing the drawer allows you to access thumb screws on the bottom of the outer shell; there are knock-outs on the top surface if you wish to under-mount the safe, such as below a desktop. The drawer springs open when you unlock it and rides on smooth, heavy-duty ball-bearing slides, rated to 100 pounds. It accommodates two full sized pistols, lined with a bottom layer of thin foam and another layer of pick-n-pluck foam, should you wish to customize cut outs for your gear. If you want to max out the storage in this safe, optional half and full length trays are available to nest on top of the drawer, though you need to be conscious of potentially delaying access to your gun, depending on how you configure the drawer. V-Line includes a small Cortec sticky foam square for corrosion protection. Electronic Locks American Security Products DV652 Dimensions (External): 52 by 15 by 6 inches Dimensions (Internal): 43.1 by 13 by 3.3 inches (slide-out tray) Thickness: 14-gauge Weight: 90 pounds Lock Type: UL Type 1 electronic keypad Manufactured In: China Warranty: 1 year MSRP: $580 URL: www.amsecusa.com Notes: With the DV652, Amsec basically took one of their smaller economy gun safes, placed it on its side, and designed it to go under a bed. The 14-gauge body is similar to their TF series safes (less fire protection), with a flip-down door and slide-out tray to present a long-gun ready for use. A locking bar almost 3/16-inch thick hooks into five slots on the door. After punching in the code, slide a lever to release the door and pull out the large rubber-lined tray. To close it, push the drawer in, flip up the door, and slide the lever back. There are four pre-drilled holes to bolt the safe to the floor underneath your bed. The lock, Amsec’s ESL5 model, is a UL-rated Type 1 electronic lock with a backlit keypad. With keys ranging from zero to nine and six digits in the security code, there are a million possible combinations. The lock on this safe is the type found on large gun safes and of much higher quality (and cost) than others in this guide. The DV652 is a clever method of securely storing a long-gun within easy reach in your bedroom. If you’re open to this price range, you could also consider stretching to a heavier-duty regular gun safe if you have a spot to install it. Hornady RAPiD Safe 4800KP Dimensions (External): 10.5 by 12 by 2.9 inches Dimensions (Internal): 7 by 11.5 by 2.2 inches Thickness: 14-gauge Weight: 8.9 pounds Lock Type: Digital keypad, RFID, tubular lock override Manufactured In: China Warranty: 1 year MSRP: $227 URL: www.hornady.com Notes: This safe is nicely appointed and features a clamshell design made of contoured 14-gauge steel. It can be opened via a digital keypad on the top cover, RFID tags, or a tubular lock override. The lid is spring-loaded, snapping open with a bit of a racket to catches at about a 45-degree angle. You can program a four- to six-digit security code for the four-button backlit keypad; this allows 256 to 4,096 possible combinations, so we suggest a six-digit code. It has membrane switches that protrude just slightly, tricky to work quickly by feel. The safe also includes RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. Hornady includes several passive RFID tags (two self-stick decals, a key fob, and a wristband), which are read by the safe when held an inch from the RFID reader on the lid. You can program five RFID tags into the safe. They all worked reliably, not a single failure to open during our testing. However, you need to be very disciplined about maintaining physical control of the RFID tags, so think hard before using them. It’s powered by four AA batteries and/or an AC adapter, which will keep the RFID reader always active. The enclosure has egg-crate foam on both sides and will just barely accommodate two full-size pistols. It also comes with a security cable. Goetzinger found it to resist his usual battery of safe cracking methods, though it has an exposed hinge. Liberty Safe HDX-250 Smart Vault Dimensions (External): 11.3 by 7 by 12.4 inches Dimensions (Internal): 10 by 4 by 11 inches Thickness: 16-gauge body, 14-gauge door Weight: 14.4 pounds Lock Type: Biometric swipe fingerprint sensor Manufactured In: USA Warranty: 5 years MSRP: $279 URL: www.libertysafe.com Notes: The roomy Liberty HDX-250 features a responsive biometric fingerprint reader. It has a textured gray 16-gauge body, thinner than the others. On top are the fingerprint reader, several LEDs, and a tubular lock below a cover. The only ways to open the safe are with your fingerprint or the key. Just swipe your finger across the reader, which stores 15 fingerprints. When concentrating on consistent finger swipes, it worked every time. Swiping too quickly or at too much of an angle might confuse the reader. On battery power (a single 9V battery), you need to hold your finger on the sensor for about a second to wake it up lest you swipe prematurely. Much better to plug in the AC adapter to keep the sensor live at all times, though the AC on our test unit was faulty and would need to be replaced. We’d have liked a digital keypad as a backup. The front-opening door is spring-loaded and flops down with a clunk, as a small blue LED illuminates the soft foam-lined interior. It’ll fit at least two large pistols, more if you’re good at Tetris. There are three pre-drilled bolt-down holes that can also be used to attach to an optional mounting plate to use the safe in multiple locations. Goetzinger was able to break into an earlier version of the safe, which Liberty quickly remedied. He noted that its latching mechanism is particularly strong. Stealth Tactical Handgun Hanger Safe Dimensions (External): 9 by 9 by 12 inches Dimensions (Internal): 7.8 by 8.5 by 11 inches Thickness: 13-gauge body, 13-gauge door folded over with 1/8-inch reinforcement Weight: 17.3 pounds Lock Type: Digital keypad, tubular key override Manufactured In: China Warranty: 1 year MSRP: $200 URL: www.stealthtac.com Notes: At a street price of around $140, this safe provides well-thought-out features and good bang for the buck. It has 13-gauge steel all the way around, with a glossy textured black paint job and a recessed reinforced front-opening door. On top is a keypad with four lighted buttons, an LED, and a tubular lock override. With four backlit keys and a six digit security code, there are 4,096 possible combinations. The key travel for the buttons is short; occasionally we’d mispress a key when in a rush. The door springs open, hitting a piston near the end of its travel to cushion its impact, while a night vision-friendly red LED turns on. The safe takes a 9V battery. The large enclosure is lined with high-density foam, nicer than the soft foam found in most others here. Three rods are secured to the back wall, convenient to hang three pistols for easy access in a deep enclosure. If you have a weapon-mounted light or an optic, you need to unscrew and flip over the hanger rods (or remove them entirely). There’s also a small removable shelf in the back. Goetzinger found a vulnerability in an earlier version of the safe, which Stealth Tactical quickly addressed. Vaultek Pro VTi-BK Dimensions (External): 14.5 by 10.6 by 3.5 inches Dimensions (Internal): 13.7 by 6.5 by 2.8 inches Thickness: 12-gauge Weight: 18.1 pounds Lock Type: Biometric static fingerprint reader, electronic keypad, smartphone, key fob, double-sided internal cut key override Manufactured In: China Warranty: 3 years MSRP: $380 URL: www.vaulteksafe.com Notes: Vaultek is trying to make safes that are smarter than your average congressperson. Its well-designed Pro VTi safe bristles with technology and attention to detail. The safe is an internally-hinged clamshell; two banks of pushbuttons flank a static fingerprint reader and status lights. The lid springs open and glides to a stop, while an adjustable white LED lights up the interior. High density closed cell foam that doesn’t retain moisture lines the enclosure. Two large pistols will fit, if they aren’t too tall. The safe comes in black, tan, urban camo, and white. Just place your finger on the fingerprint reader, like a smartphone. Our first unit had some problems with the reader, so Vaultek sent a replacement. The reader worked well; programming the same finger several times helped with sloppy finger placement. A proximity sensor lights up the keypad, which takes a four- to eight-digit code (4,096 to 16.8-million possible combinations). Each set of buttons works well by touch, but it’s cumbersome to enter a code across all the buttons with one hand. We liked having the keypad as a backup. We wouldn’t use the key fob, which is like a car remote. An android or iOS app connects via Bluetooth to change settings, manage fingerprints, monitor status, view logs, and open the safe. It’s powered by an included 18650 rechargeable battery and via a micro-USB port. Goetzinger found exploits on earlier models, which Vaultek promptly resolved. Additionally, Vaultek uses a double-sided internal cut key, more difficult to pick than the tubular key locks on other safes. Explore RECOILweb:Best Fixed Blade Knives For EDC (Under 4-Inches) [Hands-On Review]Phase 5 Weapons Systems, IncMake your iPhone 5 part of a Swarovski Optik systemSureFire Stiletto Pro: A Great Sequel NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. 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