How to select the best gun safe for you
Someone once said that with great power comes great responsibility. And as a proponent of the 2nd amendment there are few responsibilities greater than keeping your weapon out of the wrong hands. Striking a balance between security and availability can be a challenge, and navigating the array of features of American firearm safes can make anyone’s head spin. Luckily we’ll cover everything from the basics to biometrics to help you understand your options a little better.
Obviously we gun owners have to material types of guns to house – long guns and handguns. As such we’ve reviewed both categories – starting with handgun safes.
Quick List: The Best Gun Safes for Most People
Our Handgun Safe Recommendations
After researching the majority of firearms safes from the major manufacturers and inspecting more than a dozen, including testing the fit of various rifles and handguns with the help of two experts, we recommend the Vaultek VT20i Biometric Handgun Safe as the best safe you can get for your firearms.
Its mix of multiple entry mechanisms, lighter weight, and variety of advanced features makes it a fantastic handgun safe.
- COMPACT DESIGN can securely hold 1 handgun, magazine(s), passport, cash, and is easily mountable or...
- TOUGH AND RUGGED 16-gauge carbon steel construction features a durable powder coat finish to prevent...
- QUICK ACCESS to your valuables and documents from the auto open lid. Get in quick when it matters...
- EXTERIOR DIMENSIONS: 11.5″ wide X 9.0″ deep X 2.75″ tall
- INTERIOR DIMENSIONS: 11.0″ wide X 5.75″ deep X 2.0″ tall.
Billed as a smart safe, the Vaultek VT20i is small enough to work well on a desk or larger nightstand. At just over 3” & 11” wide it’s got room for a gun and 2 mags.
It’s outfitted with anti-pry bars and has interior mounted hinges, making it appear to be a steel brick when closed and latched. We also really liked that it has 4 separate opening mechanisms – fingerprint, key, electronic keypad, and Bluetooth app.
What’s more, the fingerprint scanner can store up to 20 user IDs so if you want to provide multiple people access to your safe (say a spouse or your sibling) that’s a fantastic feature.
Lightweight & well-lit
There’s also an interior LED light so you can avoid bumbling around in the dark. These additional options make the VT20i easy to get into quickly but also make it work as a standalone safe if you just have a home defence piece you need to store. It only weighs 7 pounds so it would work as a travel safe as well.
- GUN SAFE - If you have young children who don’t understand the potential danger of firearms,...
- 3-POINT ENTRY with the upgraded smart biometric scanner with immediate access mode, rapid fire...
- TOUGH & RUGGED - Expertly crafted using sturdy steel construction, the RPNB handgun safe will...
The RPNB Gun Security Safe is a good option if you can’t spend more over $100 on a gun safe but still want some of the bells and whistles of more expensive models. It has 3 opening mechanisms – biometric scanner, electronic keypad, and manual key. No app with this guy.
A plus is the RPNB safe is a little larger than the Vaultek – it’s is rated for 2 pistols – so you get some additional capacity. That capacity comes with a cost though, as this safe is much heavier than the Vaultek at 13 pounds. This bad boy won’t travel. But all things considered, it’s a solid option with some of the major features we were looking for at a little over $100. There’s also an RFID version without the biometric reader that’s generally
- Exterior 11.81″ x 9.84″ x 2.55″
- Interior: 11.69″ x 7.48″ x 2.36″
- Weight: 13.1 pounds
- Exterior: 10.2 x 12.5 x 4.5 inches
- Weight: 21.4 pounds
This is the lean and mean option – no fancy biomechanical touch sensor – no backlit keyboard or LED lighting – just a Simplex mechanical lock and 20 lbs of 10 gauge steel.
A brick that pops open in a snap
It’s a stripped-down, impenetrable brick of a gun safe with room for 2-3 handguns. It has a gas strut to pop open the (heavy) door and keep it open (presumably so you can get at the interior without smashing your fingers with the door).
It’s on the more expensive side, but if you’re someone who would rather not be concerned with batteries or electronics this safe comes highly recommended by our experts.
Our Long Gun (Rifle & Shotgun) Safe Recommendations
After researching the majority of firearms safes from the major manufacturers and inspecting more than a dozen, including testing the fit of various rifles and shotguns with the help of two experts, we recommend the SecureIt Ultralight as the best safe you can get for your long guns.
Its mix of high-end features and novel approach to build quality without creating a 300lb monster makes the SecureIt a great place to house your rifles.
- ULTRALIGHT GUN SAFE – Don't let a traditional gun safe slow you down. The Agile 40 is strong and...
- KEY OVERRIDE - A keypad control panel with the addition of a hidden key override as back up, keeps...
- EASILY ADJUSTABLE - Comes standard with SecureIt’s CradleGrid Technology for organized and...
- External Dimensions: 52″ x 20 1/4″ x 15 1/4″
- Internal Dimensions: 51 3/4″ x 19 3/4″ x 13″
- Weight: 105 pounds
- Capacity: 6 guns
The SecureIt Ultralight is lower capacity than either of our Stack-On recommendations, but it’s leagues above in terms of quality and engineering.
The power’s in the grid
Their CradleGrid Technology is a super flexible organizing feature which gives you a lot of adaptability in a small package.
The CradeGrid backing allows you to use the room around your rifles to attach bins, pistol pegs, mag holders, and a huge array of mounts for anything you’d want to store. I
t’s super customizable and feels like a real organizing system than just a safe and shelf.
A higher tier of quality and price
It’s in another pricing tier from the other 2 recommendations at $599, but that additional cost gets you a truly customizable safe that’s just over 100lbs – so it’s much more approachable than a 300lb+ monster.
It also ships flat – which makes it cheaper to ship than other safes – and can be assembled & broken down if you have to move it.
Budget Long Gun Safe:
- Holds 10 rifles or shotguns up to 52 tall
- Steel top shelf provides additional storage or is removable
- Shelf is positioned in the back of the cabinet so longer guns can be stored in the front of the...
- Dimensions: 13.5 x 17 x 53 inches
- Weight: 61 pounds
- Capacity: 10 guns
Calling this a safe is definitely an overstatement – this is more of a locker – but it will work to store your rifles away from children – which is a good objective.
Light on features, but we like that about it
The Stack-On GCB-910 is the smaller version of the above 22 gun safe, and is identical with the exception of lower storage capacity – both in terms of guns and overhead shelf space.
It also only has a keyed lock and as a budget option it ‘s going to save you ~$50 off the 22 gun safe – so if you’re working on a budget this Stack-on gives you the peace of mind that your rifles are out of sight and safely locked up, storage for ammo, accessories (and possibly a handgun) along with the quoted 10 long guns (of course your mileage may vary.)
At just over 60 pounds it’s not massively heavy, so this safe would benefit from bolting down. Not RSC-rated either.
- Dimensions: 18 x 21 x 55 inches
- Weight: 86 pounds
- Capacity: 22 gun
The Stack-On GCB-1522 is a larger version of their 10 gun safe and has a similar set of features but obviously the 22 gun safe has a lot more storage capacity.
Much more capacity
While it only has a keyed lock we felt you got a lot more room for not much more investment (~$50 more) which provides additional storage for ammo, accessories, and handguns, which the 10 gun version lacks (it’s really more of a locker in our humble opinion.)
Heavy & imposing
This 22 gun version is also more than 80 pounds so it’s a huge hassle to move and looks imposing – both are pluses for discouraging thieves. It can also be bolted to the floor and comes with the necessary hardware.
Worth noting: it’s not RSC rated and it’s the thinnest steel we’d consider for a long gun safe, but it’s the cheapest way to get a long gun safe with decent capacity
Why should you listen to us?
Knock on wood – I’ve never had to access my handgun in an emergency situation – but in researching this category we worked through a number of quick access situations to simulate emergency scenarios accurately and learn how these safes would perform in hurried situations.
My father and grandfather were both gun enthusiasts – and my grandfather, in particular, had a few situations over the years where he needed to access his piece in the dark. Naturally, I discussed those situations with them as well as retailers and gun safe brand representatives.
They helped me define the criteria that would be critical for enabling unhindered quick access in dimly lit conditions. I also reviewed the UL certification standards to understand what the certifying body is looking for when it tests safes.
Who should consider these recommendations?
Anyone interested in storing their firearm safely.
Firearm safes are meant to provide a barrier between your weapons unwanted users, but also protect from water and theft. These are a must for any gun owner who wishes to protect their family, guests, and guns safe in an office or at home.
They work for both important firearms and your run-of-the-mill pieces – but it’s often best to ensure heirloom guns as firearm safes can offer fire protection but are generally not fireproof.
Anyone who owns a firearm can find a good use for a safe, whether they want to house their firearms away in a safe place or provide themselves quick access to a handgun but ensure it’s inaccessible to anyone but those who should be handling it.
To be clear, no safe is burglarproof – and they’re not meant to serve as an impenetrable time capsule.
If you have high-value items (things like jewelry, precious metals or important personal documents) which you don’t need frequent access to – a better direction would be a fireproof safe for personal items or even a safe-deposit box.
Gun safes are not designed to house valuables or documents and should not be used as such.
How to choose the gun safe for you
For this guide, we didn’t consider expensive professional installations but rather he kinds of safes you can purchase at retailers or gun shops.
We’re assuming if you’re going to be building a safe room with keyless entry you’re probably going to be discussing those requirements with a dedicated contractor or gun vault expert.
The kinds of gun safes we reviewed fit under a desk, next to a bed or on a nightstand or in a closet. These are heavy enough to be secure but not a permanent installation in your home.
These safes can be lifted and moved if necessary (e.g. in the event you sell your home.) We also look for manufacturers which were included in California’s Safety Device Compatibility chart. Knowing that California has some of (if not the most) strict gun laws in the country, we considered their stamp of approval a good sign.
A quality gun safe needs to be heavy enough to provide a secure place for your firearms and provide some kind of locking mechanism that keeps opportunistic intruders out.
The three major brands you’ll tend to see when looking for a new gun safe are Liberty, Stack-On, and SecureIt. Here’s what we looked for when deciding which models to assess for this guide:
Fire rating & warranty:
To be clear – no gun safe can ever be considered “fireproof” but many brands offer a time & temperature-based fire rating.
This gives you a sense of how long the manufacturer claims a safe will withstand fire and at what temperature.
Gun safes are not, in general, rated and verified by the UL (Underwriters Lab) and each manufacturer can make their own time & temperature rating claim. The good news is most back it up with their own version of a warranty.
We reviewed manufacturer fire ratings with their warranty to ensure that – given the vague nature of “fire ratings” – the consumer would be protected to some degree in the event of a catastrophic fire. Some manufacturers also specify and fall or drop rating, which lets you know how far a safe can fall and still remain intact.
I’m not sure how often you’d mount a gun safe on the 2nd floor of your home, but it’s at least another measure of how these products can keep your firearms safe.
A number of safes are rated as RSC (“Residential Security Container”) by UL (technically UL 1037) which is a standard that defines performance requirements for security and fire-resistant products.
Gun safes are designed to keep unwanted people out of your collection – people tend to use things like drills, hammers, chisels, pry bars, and screwdrivers to crack your safe – but they don’t use fire (unless they’re maniacs).
The RSC standard takes these kinds of physical attacks into account and has incremental layers of performance to define additional degrees of performance protection (e.g. higher ratings mean more punishment for a longer time). We wanted to see RSC ratings on the products we recommend.
- UL geekery ahead: It’s important to know these two categories under UL 1037 – security products and fire-resistant products – each has its own standards. You won’t see safes rated for fire resistance by UL because security devices and fire-resistant devices have different performance requirements. Gun safes are security devices – not fire-resistant containers (at least in the eyes of UL.)
Size & Capacity:
When it comes to size & capacity, there are two things that should guide your decision-making:
- The size of your collection – If you have 10 guns to store you’re probably not in the market for a 5 gun safe. That being said, the one important thing to note about manufacturer’s claims on capacity is they are rated without scopes. To ensure you can get all your tricked out pieces in the safe of your choosing you should double the capacity you think you’ll need.
- The space available for your safe. If all you have available is a 3×3 closet you’ll struggle to get that 8×8 double-door safe in there without a contractor or knocking out a few walls. Plus – once you get a 400lb safe through your front door the last thing you’ll want to do is find another place for it. As my shop teacher always drummed into me “measure twice & cut once.”
No organization tests or certifies how waterproof gun safes are, so we leaned on the companies’ claims about their safes’ water resistance.
We also tried to verify these claims by soaking handgun safes in a kiddie pool.
Another consideration if you live in an area with high humidity is a safe dehumidifier. These aren’t terribly expensive – but guns are – so if you store your guns for the majority of the year or don’t access them regularly a dehumidifier makes a good investment regardless of the manufacturer’s claim about water or humidity resistance.
We don’t expect any gun safe to be burglarproof, but a good locking mechanism is a top feature.
We tested these for consistency to make sure that the keys or keypads opened the safe consistently. Of course, the goal of a gun safe isn’t just to prevent access but to also provide it relatively quickly in an emergency situation.
We took into account the variety of locking mechanisms available for our recommendations, generally, these mechanisms come in a few forms – mechanical or electronic in nature:
- Keys or even combination locks. These are the classic “bank vault” kinds of safes. Key locks aren’t advisable if you want quick access to your firearm, but tend to be great for longer-term storage.
- Electronic keypads. These come in digital keypad and rubber button formats, and reliably registered taps in our tests. They’re not as fast as a biometric lock, but are much faster than a key lock – plus you don’t have to locate the keys in a hurried moment.
- Biometric (fingerprint) locks. Bio locks will open with the touch of a finger, which is fantastic for quick access but can be fickle and inconsistent to open. They also will require batteries, which have a limited shelf life.
- RFID or Bluetooth locks. These are designed to work with smartphone apps and are fairly reliable but the downside is you need to use your phone to open them. Generally, these are supplementary to bio locks and rarely serve as the primary locking/opening mechanic.
- Failsafe Locks: Just like your phone locks when you try the wrong code combination too many times, some gun safes will lock a user out with one too many incorrect code entries. Yes, this can frustrate you if you fat-finger your code – but it’ll also add some peace of mind.
A well-built safe is likely to keep your guns safer, all things considered. Based on the previous testing, we’ve seen hammers knock chunks of metal off with relative ease or a hand hacksaw blitz through a corner of a safe.
There were a few things we considered when it came to build quality:
- The gauge of the steel. Gauge is a measure of how thick steel is – the smaller the number the thicker the steel (like shotgun gauges). Our experts recommended staying in the 16 to 12 gauge range – which provides the best mix of cost, strength, weight, and affordability. The thicker the exterior steel gauge the more time it will take for thieves to get through it, so in addition to the lower likelihood of theft -so there’s also additional peace of mind. Of course, thicker steel also means more weight – and more cost – which might not meet your particular needs.
- Door Weight & Depth. Your access door is the obvious point of entry for a would-be thief, so door depth impacts how available the inside of your safe (both the locking bolts the stuff you want to protect) is once a thief breaks into it. A thicker door will slow assailants down but adds weight.
- Locking Bolts: The doors of your gun safe engage with the frame via locking bolts (think bank vault doors with what look like pistons jutting out.) These prevent the safe from opening when engaged by extending from the door into the safe body & frame. Thicker bolts add durability – and the more of them the more work it will be to cleave the door open.
- Price and availability: Like many things in life, the right answer to “what should I spend” is – it depends. All of our experts said a good general rule is what you spend should be informed by the amount already you’ve invested in your collection. How much would it cost you to replace it? Someone with $25,000 in guns has different needs than someone who only needs to store their SKS with an aftermarket stock. Let your gut (and reason) be your guide. A safe isn’t an insurance policy but it can be one of the next best things.
If you need a safe place to house your handgun for quick access with multiple entry mechanisms, the Vaultek VT20i Biometric Handgun Safe is our top pick. With the right mix of technology, light weight, and entry mechanisms, this handgun safe will keep your piece away from unwanted users ut available when you need it.
Our long gun safe pick is the SecureIt Ultralight Gun Cabinet. We think their approach to coupling a lighter weight safe with a modular storage system makes the SecureIt Ultralight a great safe for rifles, shotguns, and all the accessories you’ll need to store.
- Chip Lohman, How to Choose A Gun Safe, January 16, 2018
- State of California DOJ, Safety Device Compatability Chart
- ATF, What qualifies as a secure gun storage or safety device?, September 10, 2015
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