If you are a gun owner, safely storing your guns is an ethical mandate and also good practice for protecting them. It does not matter if you are currently carrying and using one or not: your guns are always your responsibility no matter where they might be.
If you have children, will be around children or children will be around your guns, you must be triply cautious and sure that your guns are safely stored.
When unattended guns are left unsecured and curious little hands find them, tragedy always follows with terrible reliability. In order to mitigate these risks, gun owners must make secure storage of their guns a priority and treat it with the life-and-death seriousness that we do any other facet of gun handling.
The trick, as always, is to balance safety and security against speed and certainty when we need the gun for defense.
In this article I will attempt to tackle this touchy subject as thoroughly as possible and give you the information you need to make the best possible choice for securely storing your guns to keep them out of children’s hands.
Table of Contents
Accident or Negligence?
Finding verifiable, trustworthy numbers on the number of accidental shootings that occur by children is tough since too many anti-gun people like to inflate those numbers artificially (including “children” up to the age of 21 who were killed by gang violence!) in order to push an agenda.
I personally don’t care too much to know the exact numbers since even one child’s death resulting from an unattended, unsecured gun is too many.
The simple fact is that incidents of this nature are reported on commonly and one does not have to look too far to find one.
These shootings are often chalked up to accident; a toddler “accidentally” shot themselves or their sibling, a smaller child shot their playmate “accidentally” with a found gun, an adolescent preteen “accidentally” killed themselves with a parents gun showing it off to a friend.
Folks, these instances are not accidents- they are negligent! They are negligent since kids don’t know any better, at least until they are old enough to be trained and follow instructions. These tragedies result entirely from the negligence of the adult or adults to whom the guns belonged to
These gun owners ultimately are the sole people on earth who should know the status of their guns, and know they should be secure against unauthorized use, but failed to do so. There is no other way to put it.
I can scarcely fathom the arrogance or the idiocy it would take to leave a gun in, say, a sock drawer or a box on the shelf and trust that a child cannot or will not get to it.
Similar classically negligent techniques for storing a gun include tucking it behind clothes in a closet or placing it on top of something tall like a refrigerator or bookcase. “Take that, tiny children! You’ll never reach it now! Job’s done, ha ha!” Give me a break…
None of the above will cut the mustard, and you must never, ever trust your gun to anything but complete security against unauthorized use.
Even in the case of an informed and well-behaved child you cannot see all ends; friends in the home, curiosity and the “forbidden fruit” effect can all lead to lapses in judgment and behavior, with disaster hot on its heels.
Instead of worrying over such things, you should instead take concrete action and devise proper solutions for keeping your guns secure against unauthorized access, especially little hands.
Do Keep in Mind
Before we go to in-depth on any one element of safe storage, you must understand that no security system, device or plan is 100% foolproof: there is no safe that cannot be defeated, no hiding spot that cannot be uncovered and no method of entry that will not be discovered.
You must also, always consider the faultiness of what is historically the weakest link in any security system- the human, in this case you! A key left handily about, a written combination scrawled on a note or some other piece of valuable intel can help a determined child break in to your fancy safe or lockbox.
Consider also that this article is not written from the standpoint of deterring thieves or burglars; our solutions are only intended to keep honest people honest, and the assumption is there that your child would not engage in serious break-and-enter attempts to open up a secured container.
If this is the case, you will need both a heavier gun safe and the services of a child psychologist.
You must never forget just how persistent and determined a child can be in their travels to get into something they know they are not supposed to get into.
From mommy and daddy’s closet to the knife drawer to the secret stash of unwrapped Christmas presents, children are notorious for their forays into the forbidden. If you truly need examples of this, I would advocate you simple think back to your own childhood.
Many children are more observant and more intelligent than adults give them credit for, and for this reason you cannot trust that something like a written combo or key to your safe or lock will go unfound. You and you alone are responsible for all elements of security for your guns!
Speed vs. Security
The single biggest point of contention among gun owners who are talking about secure storage, especially gun owners with children, is how best to secure the gun while still being able to access it in a hurry if it is needed.
That is a great question, and a conversation that needs to happen. My answer is an elegant and simple one, though not very popular. My answer to the question is to advise that you keep your home defense handgun on you, if it is a pistol.
Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’m serious. If you are serious enough to carry a pistol outside of the home for self-defense, why is it suddenly too great a cross to bear to carry your pistol at home?
The reasons for doing so are abundant: your pistol will be on your body in a holster ready for instant use, the same as it would be outside the home and a gun that is on your body is under your immediate control, no question about it.
There will be no accidental discovery and subsequent tragedy that attends a child finding and picking up a pistol stored elsewhere when out of sight and earshot.
If this is untenable or a situation arises that would best see you ditch the gun, you should invest in one of the latest generation quick-access safes, the kind that pop open with the entry of a series of digits on a keypad, or even by way of a simple mechanical push-button lock.
Some high-tech models even use programmable fingerprint recognition tech, so called “biometrics” to unlock and open, though in my humble opinion these are far too fiddly for me to trust my life to them in a pinch.
None of these options are perfect, but each has its own host of things it does well and things it does not do so well. You will find my breakdown of safe storage solutions in the section below.
Locking Containers and Small Safes
If all you are trying to secure is a handgun, you can consider using something along the lines of a typical hard shell case or a small pistol safe for the purpose.
A gun stowed in one of these with the addition of an appropriate lock will keep prying hands and eyes off the gun even if the interloper knows what is inside. Neither obviously does much to prevent theft, but again this article is not focused so much on that as simply keeping unauthorized people off the gun.
Any case that you consider must be inspected thoroughly: design flaws might allow the case to be pried open easily at the corner opposite the locking device for instance.
The case should also be rugged enough to resist incidental drops and the like. Of course, the choice of lock will also need due consideration, be it a combo or key operated one.
Make sure that any lock big or small that you choose to install is quality and will not come unlocked by itself with a little jiggling on the shackle or housing.
You’d be surprised at the lack of quality among some locks out there. Any add-on lock will be a roller-dial combo, a knob-dial combo or a keyed lock. None are ideal for fast and sure access. Keep that in mind if considering for self-defense.
Pistol safes are a step up from a locking case, and will include an integrated locking system (combo by way of keypad or a few buttons and occasionally a dial or biometric fingerprint recognition) and will be made of metal.
Most have mounting points that allow it to be bolted to a hard point in the home like a wall stud or floor joist. These will provide significant security for the gun within and are often an affordable option that may allow quick access in an emergency.
Think long and hard before committing to a combo option that is not specifically designed to be opened rapidly, ala the popular GunVault line. Even these, while appearing foolproof in calm conditions in a well-lit showroom, can become seriously difficult at 2:00AM when your house is being broken into.
On the other hand, “no-fumble” systems like the aforementioned fingerprint readers may not be ready for prime time yet, and I have personally encountered several that flat out refused to read its owners fingerprints any longer, forcing them to go to a backup key.
Large safes are a good choice for long guns and multiple handguns, and are a good deterrent against theft as well so long as they are bolted down.
Your biggest drawbacks with large safes will be their cost, difficulty in moving and installation, and the fact that they obviously advertise valuable contents compared to smaller cases and pistol safes which can be hidden from casual observation.
Large safes as a rule will have an electronic keypad or mechanical dial combo lock, sometimes with a key as a failsafe option. Take care with electronic keypads that their batteries don’t run out, marooning the contents within.
These electronic models are also highly attractive to children who all love pressing buttons. Make sure that the combination is a lengthy one, unable to be guessed by a child and not one that is logically entered, e.g. 12345, 54321, 11111, or anything else that is similar.
A safe is only as good as its lock and/or combo! Like the smaller models above, these are as a rule not the fastest units to get into in the middle of the night, so you must either make alternative plans for safe storage at night. This could be a smaller, supplementary quick-access safe mentioned above, or it could be special procedures for bed time. More on that in a bit.
Mounts and Racks
For long guns and some handguns, you might install a mount or rack in your bedroom, or wherever you keep the gun handy for immediate use.
A mount as its name suggests is usually affixed to a firm point in the wall of the house and then securely holds a gun in place (pointed in a safe direction, naturally!) with the action or at the minimum the fire controls covered up. The rack is then held closed by way of a separate lock or integral locking system.
These can be an ideal way to keep a long gun safe and secure and still accessible if you choose the model with care! A unit that relies on a separate padlock (and thus a separate key) will be little better than any other externally locked solution discussed in this list when it comes to speed.
Some units will employ rapid-release simplex combo locks as mentioned or even a biometric lock that will spring open releasing the gun into your hands when needed.
Seconds to count in a self-defense scenario and these can definitely save you time over a traditional safe so long as they are chosen and emplaced with care.
Gun Locking Devices (Gun Locks)
Gun locks are a special subset of locking device that do not seek to hold something closed that is holding the gun, but instead render the gun inoperative or unable to be used. The most common is the trigger lock, a bulky contraption that fits over the triggerguard of a firearm, blocking access to the trigger.
Other popular models are cable locks, designed to be threaded through the action of a gun to prevent it from being loaded and going into battery, and internal locking systems, which are built into a firearm and make use of a special key to arm or disarm the gun’s fire control.
As far as securing the gun against unauthorized use, gun locks’ efficacy ranges from ‘okay’ to ‘very good’ but all of them suffer from being very fiddly to remove in a hurry, making them a poor choice for securing a gun that might still be needed quickly for defense.
Trigger locks are a one-size-fits-most proposition, and should never be used on a loaded gun; some can be moved enough on their own to fire a loaded pistol!
I much prefer cable locks which can be threaded through the magazine well of a semi-auto firearm or through the chamber or other parts of the action for other guns to prevent it from going into battery and firing even if it was loaded.
Lastly, quite a few guns have internal locking systems that make use of tiny, special keys to disable the gun.
While these are often highly reliable (for disabling the gun) some, like the ones that come in Smith & Wesson revolvers, are notorious for turning on by themselves under recoil.
What’s more, the keys and their respective keyholes are always exceedingly fiddly and tiny, and so extremely difficult to use under any kind of stress or time constraint.
Don’t trust these for your security! About their only use is disabling a gun that you have in storage.
So How Do I Keep a Gun at the Ready, Safely?
Assuming you are not willing to wear your pistol at home as you would when out in the world, or if you rely on a long gun for defense but have children about all the time, the solution is fairly straightforward.
When it is time for you to settle down to bed, simply lock the door to your master bedroom and have the gun set somewhere handy for your immediate use.
I know all of the readers that are moms or have moms nearby are listening to their own terrified shrieks right now, but please hear my reasoning. Most parents object to closing the bedroom door at night in case their child “needs” them in the night.
Well, this is something of a self-solving problem in my eyes. Any child that is very likely to need care during the night is probably an infant, and since they are crib bound one need not close the door for fear they get at a gun in the first place.
Older but still young children who move readily around under their own power can simply call for mom or dad if they need something or, should they get up in the night, can just knock on the master bedroom door, waking mom and dad who, now aware and awake, can deal with the kiddo and put the gun away of necessary.
Of course one may also rely on the previously discussed quick-access safes, and to many these are an ideal compromise, but I must again warn you here that even the fastest and “surest” of these units require much practice to be considered truly foolproof lest you prove yourself to be a better fool, on unable to get your gun out when you must, must have it.
Education Saves Lives
Above all of the hardware solutions, the single best thing you can do for all of your children to inoculate them to the risks of firearms is teach them right from wrong when it comes to guns, and do this as soon as you determine they are ready to listen and learn.
This is a highly personal choice, and very much dependent on the child’s attributes- intelligence, focus, attitude, etc.- but history has proven time and time again that education is the one thing that will keep a child out of danger when all other methods fail.
You needn’t even get into proper use and safe gun handling until the child is ready for such endeavors; as made famous and practical by the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program, the policy of “STOP! Don’t Touch! Tell an Adult!” is easy to teach, easy for a child to remember and functions in or outside the home. This initiative has doubtless saved many lives and prevented countless tragedies.
Once the child is ready to learn accordingly, immersing them into proper and safe aspects of gun handling and shooting will go even further toward equipping them for safe interactions and outcomes with guns no matter where they are or where they find one.
Not all children take to guns in this way, but one may make a case that like it them or not they live in a world brimming with guns in every corner of the globe, and they had best learn the ins and outs of them the easy way.
Depending on the child, you might consider starting rudimentary safety training as young as 4 years old. Some children are ready and able to learn then, others not till much later, even pre-teen years. This is a decision you must make as a parent.
If you are in doubt about such things, or have doubts about your ability to teach gun safety, seek the assistance of a qualified instructor who is skilled in children’s’ classes.
While security and ease of access might seem mutually exclusive, you must still nonetheless endeavor to achieve both if you are to be a responsible gun owner who is still able to protect your family.
No matter what you do, keeping the inquisitive and curious hands of children off of guns is a mandate that you must attend to. Use the information in this article to devise a solution that works in your household and with your family dynamic.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.