I separate firearms safety rules into two categories: gun handling and general firearms safety. The gun handling rules are simply the rules that keep us and others safe when we are handling a firearm. Students who are learning new material have a lot of information to absorb and, when people become overwhelmed, they can make mistakes. I have my students focus on these two rules:
- Keep the firearm pointed in a safe direction.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
Then there are the multiple rules in the category of general firearms safety, which help keep us and others safe when firearms are in our area. They include not drinking or doing drugs, knowing how to operate the firearm, and knowing your target and what is beyond it. These rules are important for everyone to follow for our safety and the safety of others. In my opinion, the rule in this category that is highest on the priority list is:
Keep your firearm secure so it is inaccessible to unauthorized access!
Who Should Not Access Our Firearms
Older children, such as pre-teens and teens, are little balls of emotion caused by the hormonal changes they are going through. It is a confusing and stressful time. Parents have told me they trust their teenager and “know” s/he would never do anything with the firearms. I again think this is foolish. I personally know a few families with teenagers who committed suicide who thought the same of their child.
Another group we must prevent accessing our firearms is friends and family who have substance abuse or mental health issues. At one time we might have trusted some of these people with our firearms, and it may be difficult for us to think that we no longer should. I know of a few cases where people with these issues have been given access to firearms and robbed people for drug money, shot themselves, or shot someone else. A famous example is the spree killer from Sandy Hook Elementary School, whose mother gave him access to her safe.
Next we have criminals. We in the firearms community like to talk about the fact that criminals have guns and it is not the gun that shoots someone. True, but we must remember where criminals get their guns. They get them from those of us who do not secure our firearms properly. A petty thief who is breaking into cars and stealing radios will be very tempted by the pistol he finds “hidden” in a center console, under a seat, or in a glove box. Although this criminal may not be violent himself, he is looking to make money. Getting rid of a gun on the streets would be easy and a nice payday for him. This gun can now end up in the hands of someone who does have violent intentions, or it may inspire our car burglar to try for bigger targets. It is our responsibility to do everything in our power to make sure our firearm does not get into the hands of criminals.
The last group of people we want to keep our firearms away from is “anyone who does not know the rules for safe gun handling.” This could be anyone, and unless you have firsthand knowledge can be hard to judge. I have seen people with domestic staff in their homes and firearms simply lying out on tables. You do not know if the person dusting these tables knows anything about firearms or if they are mature enough to be around them. Someone who is ignorant of the rules of safe gun handling picking up this firearm could be extremely dangerous. Even worse are people who think they know but act recklessly to show off.
How To Prevent Unauthorized Access
Let’s discuss the options for preventing these people from accessing our firearms. I am not a fan of trigger locks or the locks that come with firearms when you purchase them. These locks only help keep our firearms safe from children and people who don’t know the rules. A criminal or person with substance abuse or mental health issues will not be deterred by these devices and can simply take the firearm to another location to remove the lock at their leisure.
There are three types of safes that every responsible gun owner should have:
- 1. Long-Term Storage
- 2. Ready Access
- 3. Vehicle
Long-Term Storage Safe
A long-term storage safe is the large safe that you keep the majority of your firearms in. This safe can vary from a simple security cabinet to a large fire safe or even a specially built room. The safe itself can be tailored to your needs and budget, but two things are musts.
First, this safe should have a combination lock rather than a key lock. A key lock may work if someone breaks into your home while you are away and have the keys with you. But a child or person with mental health or addiction problems who is ether a family member or friend just needs to find the key. With a key lock, a person can get into your safe and steal a firearm and you may not even know it until you go to retrieve that gun. Most of the safes available with key locks are less expensive, security-cabinet style safes. If you do get one of these safes due to budget, consider getting a small key safe that has a combination lock similar to what a realtor would use. These are available at most home improvement stores and can be secured to a wall with the key locked inside. You then must use a combination to get the key.
The second major detail is to secure the safe to something. This sounds crazy when talking about a large heavy fire safe, but if you were able to get it there, someone else will be able to get it out. A quality safe will have this option covered, with holes in the bottom. Make sure the safe is secured to something solid (not just a plywood sub floor), and if you do not know how to do this, hire a professional.
It also could cause a problem because if an intruder got into your bedroom without waking you, you could have a physical fight over a loaded firearm or, even worse, he could take it before you woke up.
A ready-access safe must be intuitive to open and able to be opened quickly and efficiently, even in the dark. This type of safe can usually hold one to two defensive pistols, but some manufacturers now make models that will hold a rifle or shotgun.
This is the only type of safe that I personally recommend a specific make and model (for defensive handguns): the GunVault GVB 1000, in their “mini vault” line of safes. It has a pad made to place your hand on and only 4 buttons. Simply press those buttons in the order/combination that you set and a spring-loaded door drops, giving you access. This specific model includes an A/C charging pack and battery backup. Many people who got the model that only uses batteries have told me the batteries did not last long and were hard to change. This safe also has a keyed backup in case the electronics fail. As with larger safes, I do not recommend a key as the primary method of entry, but it’s good as a backup. Store the keys in your larger safe or give the key to a trusted family member or friend. Don’t put it in a drawer where it can easily be found and defeat the purpose of the safe.
A ready-access safe also needs to be secured in some way, so an intruder is not given a convenient box to carry your firearm away. One of my family members moved and had not yet secured her safe. Within 72 hours, her safe was gone, along with her defensive firearm. It’s easy to secure these safes with a few bolts or by purchasing a security cable. Wrap the cable around something that can’t easily be removed, such as a bedframe, which would have to be taken apart in order to remove the cable. Although these cables are not foolproof, they do discourage someone from just walking off with your safe and gun.
Vehicle lock boxes are available from several manufacturers and are simple metal lock boxes that can hold your defensive pistol and usually a few small accessories. I have used mine when going to martial arts classes and placed my handgun, a spare mag, and my knife in it. The box itself is not easily pried open, but again it is important to secure it to something. This is the only safe that I recommend a key lock for. You will not be storing the firearm in it for long periods of time and, when you do, you will take the keys with you.
Most of these come prepackaged with a security cable that you can attach to your seat frame. Although this is not foolproof and someone could cut through the cable, a law enforcement friend told me that in his over 15 years’ experience, he has never taken a report of this happening and does not know of one. But he has taken multiple reports of people having their safe stolen when they did not have it secured. Secure it to a solid piece that the cable cannot slip off of.
Any safe can be defeated with enough time. Less expensive security cabinets, ready-access safes, and vehicle lock boxes can be very tempting if they are not secured properly. If it is easy to remove, a thief can take it somewhere else and have all the time they want to open it.
Securing your firearm so it is not accessible to unauthorized access is one of the key responsibilities of owning a firearm. The majority of the time, criminals get their firearms from law-abiding gun owners who did not take the proper steps to secure it. Children, persons with substance abuse or mental health issues, and anyone who is ignorant of the rules of safe gun handling can all be dangerous to themselves and others if they come across a firearm. Securing firearms properly makes us all safer.