Protecting and Securing Firearms

I shouldn’t have gotten in trouble for it but I did get in trouble.

– my cardiologist

I had to make a visit to my cardiologist last week. We had an enlightening conversation about the gun story of his childhood. He comes from a country where there is no gun culture to speak of but double barrel shotguns are sometimes found in rural homes. As a young boy, he visited his uncle’s country house. There, unsecured in a mud room, he found the uncle’s shotgun. Being an intelligent and inquisitive young child, he picked up the shotgun and brought it into the house. The gun was loaded. Fortunately, a family member came from behind him and took the gun away from him before any harm resulted. Then, he got in trouble. Although incidents where a child causes an unintentional discharge tend to be well publicized, the ones where a small child gets hold of a gun but doesn’t fire almost never do. I’m willing to bet there are many many more incidents where the gun doesn’t go off, fortunately.

What probably happens in those cases is the same thing that happened to him; the child ‘gets in trouble’ and is either scolded and/or punished. In our times of constant media bombardment that guns are bad, per se, having an Early Childhood Trauma involving a firearm is likely to prime the platform for that child to dislike and fear firearms. I would call that a long term Negative Outcome for our Second Amendment right.

The term ‘Rule 5,’ which I express as: “Always store firearms so that they are not accessible to unauthorized persons” is becoming heard more often in the industry and community. I’m glad of that. Further exploration of it is in order for the firearms community.

My jihad, as my colleague Tamara Keel calls my periodic bursts of enthusiasm, at the SHOT Shoe this year was to see what methods of securing firearms were commercially available. Not only did I end up looking at the devices but I had several pertinent conversations about them and gathered two worthwhile quotes.

Don’t buy a firearm until you have the means to secure it, even if that’s just a metal toolbox and padlock from Sears.

–John Holschen

               Safes are ugly.

Melody Lauer

The conversations sparked my thinking about the difference between what I will call protecting firearms and securing them. I’m not emotionally attached to the terms but I think we should start recognizing there are two different concepts and end objects at work.

  • Protecting a firearm means storing it in such a way that a casual curiosity seeker, such as a child or untrained adult, cannot gain access. This prevents household tragedies but doesn’t do much to avoid theft.
  • Securing a firearm means storing it in such a way as to increase the difficulty of stealing it. Securing starts with protection and then adds additional barriers to access and movement.

We can protect firearms through a variety of methods.

  • The manufacturer’s boxes for some firearms can be padlocked for access control.
  • A metal tool box.
  • Putting a lock on a nightstand drawer.
  • Trigger locks and cable padlocks also serve this purpose. However, the idea that someone who keeps a handgun for personal protection or home defense is going to unload it, put the lock on when they need to protect the weapon, and then reload it each and every day seems unlikely to me.

We secure firearms generally through the use of safes and strong rooms. Especially in the home, safes and strong rooms represent significant resource expenditures; not just money but also space and effort. There are some less resource intensive methods that can serve but safes and strong rooms are mostly going to be it. In a vehicle, we can also include cabled lockboxes that provide some degree of security when a handgun has to be doffed before entering a denied area. Real vehicle safes are back into the resource intensive category.

As a person who has Certificate in Interior Decorating, Melody’s comment immediately struck a chord with me.

Claude Werner Interior Design certificate

All right, I’ll buy one. But not one of those ugly black things.

–a comment by a woman at a gun show whose man wanted her to buy a gun.

As I looked around the Shoe at safes, the truth of Melody’s statement became readily apparent. While they’re okay for hiding in a closet or the basement, someone who pays any attention to aesthetics is unlikely to want them out where they can be seen. Frankly, a refrigerator with a hasp on it has more visual appeal than most of them.

Melody’s additional comment was that it might make sense to start thinking about a pistol safe that had the ability to be moved around the home. Not everyone wants to wear their pistol on body 16 hours a day. The ability to have some way to move a secure pistol around the home might be useful to those people. There was only one solution at the Shoe that had any visual appeal. It would have needed some spray paint applied to it so it wasn’t black, though.

In doing further research on the subject, I came to the conclusion that, for handgun safes, I personally am sticking with a standard key or non-electric type combination lock. If you do just a little research, you’ll find out why I made that decision. Keys are a proven technology with thousands of years of demonstrated effectiveness.

If we are serious about keeping guns out of the hands of children, we as a community are going to have to think much more deeply about the subject. Something that disappointed me at the Shoe was the extremely low level of interest in safes and Project Childsafe. Professor David Yamane commented that the woman sitting at the Project Childsafe booth looked like the bored Maytag repairman. This is a more important topic than worrying about ‘magic bullets.’ It’s enough so that I devoted an entire Section of Advanced Pistol Practice to it. Advanced Pistol Practice announcement

Project ChildSafe edit

6 responses

  1. Many years ago my first grandson found my 870 shotgun(unloaded) in my bedroom. He was about 3 years old. We were sitting in the living room and here he comes down the hall dragging the 870. This was a wake up call for me. I purchased a gun safe with in the month. Now any of my guns are in the safe or on my body. That was 28 years ago.

  2. Koefod Richard G.

    One unique device is the Titan gun vault. It secures a single handgun in a metal container with a simplex lock (no batteries, no key and no bio tech stuff). It can be attached and unattached to many places, including vehicles. One can get as many platforms as one wishes and move the safe from place to place. Take a look on the web at The owner is a good guy and his invention is worth considering. Not cheap but it works and works very good.

    1. Richard – I have corresponded with Claude on this very topic. I purchased a pistol safe (brandname withheld, but not Titan) with a simplex locking system. Like you, when I was doing my research on “quick access” safes, I liked the idea of no batteries, no biometric fingerprint sensor that may fail, etc. The “old-school”, manual locking system seemed like a logical choice to me. I spent close to $250 on the safe. Upon receiving my safe, I could not set the combination because at least two of the simplex buttons were sticking. I called the vendor and they said that this was a common issue/complaint for safes with simplex locks. After further discussion and inquiry of the representative, he mentioned that he has seen safes with simplex locks work fine for the first 2-3 years, only have its buttons start to stick/fail after a few years of use. The representative offered to send me a replacement, but I chose to return the safe free-of-charge. The last thing I wanted was to have my pistol(s) “stuck” in a safe I can’t open – especially if I needed it quickly.

      Therefore, if the Titan gun vault works for you, that’s great! For me, I agree with Claude’s research – the lock-and-key system is tested and proven for thousands of years. Yes, a key might be a few seconds slower, but in terms of reliability, I am not sure it can be beat. Just my two cents! Thanks, Claude for the tips!

  3. Great article, as usual, Claude! I have within the past year come to appreciate the value of securing firearm(s) from the potential “casual curiosity seeker.” I had a laugh reading some of the quotes in the article because I have to agree that safes are, in fact, “ugly.” Yet, the value of that ugly box/container is that it helps mitigate the risk of needless tragedies.

    As many of the leading instructors will indicate, we don’t have “range rules”, we have life safety rules. Being a gun owner involves living with a gun and handling that gun multiple times throughout the day. As I have heard John Farnam say before, “I don’t sleep with a gun on (despite popular belief). I don’t take a shower with a gun on.” So, there will be times – even for the most religious “everyday carriers” among us – where we need to take the firearm off. Securing your firearm(s) is critical. Unfortunately, for many, it is also seems to be an afterthought.

  4. Humphrey Slim

    Maybe the old ones are better? I have a several pistil safes with simplex locks that have never given me the slightest bit of trouble. One of those has been subjected to harsh treatment (dust, vibration, moisture, heat, cold) in a Jeep for over 10 years. Always works, never the slightest problem. I just wish they were cheaper while retaining that same quality.

    I feel that a simplex lock or similar mechanical push button lock (if any) represents a very practical trade off of security & convenience. There are many situations when I might need to get in but do not have a key handy.

    I did have an electronic push button safe. I dismantled it when I accidentally reset the combo by accessing it quickly without looking. I plan to repair & reassemble, but that hasn’t happened yet. Most modern electronics are usually very reliable, but “usually” is not good enough when it comes to situations that may require quick access under duress.

  5. Ernest Gammom

    I consider the Simplex lock to be far superior to the old fashioned “key & lock” — unless (a) one carries the key 24/7 and (b) there is sufficient lighting to facilitate insertion of the key.

    I don’t trust electronic locks (am a firm believer in Murphy’s law).

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