Many families just want to keep their guns away from the kids and smash-and-grab burglars. They assume anything is better than nothing and are looking for a cheap gun safe. In reality, gun safes are an expensive and sometimes unreliable way to accomplish that goal. When it comes down to it, cheap gun safes don’t provide much security for the money.
Some of the many gun safe alternatives covered here include:
- Buy a job site toolbox instead.
- Build a closet gun safe vault in a closet or pantry.
- Build a hidden gun safe and hide your guns in plain sight.
- Improve the security of your home and reduce your fire risk.
- For example, a single wire tie can keep burglars from using a coat hanger to break into your garage in 6 seconds.
- Many measures that help prevent burglars from targeting you don’t cost anything at all.
- Unconventional commercially-available gun safes including hidden, buried, and even motorcycle gun safes are covered in the Buyer’s Guide.
Some of the money-saving recommendations for improving the security of your gun safe include:
- The most important thing you can do is choose a good location and bolt it down.
- Buy a used true safe instead.
- Hide your gun safe in a hollowed out refrigerator or fake wall.
- Build a closet around it to protect the weaker sides.
- Buy a gun safe without fireproofing and install a sprinkler head over it or fireproof the gun safe yourself.
- Special order your gun safe to add steel only on sides you need it.
- Hide or lock up your tools so burglars can’t use your own tools against you (which they often do).
- You can even install pepper spray booby-traps to your gun safe!
This is the fourth article in the series What You Need to Know Before Buying a Gun Safe.
Determine Your Risk and Desired Protection
The first way to save money protecting your guns is not to waste money buying protection that you don’t want or need. So before you do anything else, size up the situation and evaluate what your threat level is. This article Assess Your Risk and Desired Protection will help you.
Once you’ve evaluated the threats of burglary, flood, and fire, and taken a look at insurance and other gun safe concerns you should have a better idea of how much protection additional you want and need. Maybe you don’t even need a gun safe, or can get away with a cheaper one!
Cover Your Assets
Document Your Valuables
Your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance is your first line of defense against theft and fire. But insurance and even police reports are useless if you can’t prove what you owned. Documenting your valuables will also give you an idea how much insurance coverage you need.
Catalog the make, model, specifications, and serial number of all of your guns and other big ticket valuables like lawnmowers, ATV’s, electronics, etc.. Take high resolution digital photographs of these valuables, including the serial numbers. If you have an expensive amount of ammunition, document that too. While you’re at it, it’s not a bad idea to scan or copy important documents like car titles, birth certificate, passports, driver’s licenses, etc., as long as you store them securely or encrypt the data.
Store multiple copies of this information, with at least one away from your house. You can put it in a safe deposit box, at a family member’s house, or other location as long as it will be safe if there is a burglary, flood, or fire in your primary residence.
Put another copy of the insurance information on a USB Drive and store it in your bug-out bag or other emergency evacuation location. Add a recurring notification to the online calendar of your email account to remind you every 6 to 12 months to update your list of valuables and take pictures of anything else you’ve bought in that time. Every year or so, burn another CD/DVD, update the flash drives, and replace the off-site copy with the updated version. Sometimes burned CDs are not readable or have other problems. For this reason you might want to keep the last couple of CDs so you don’t lose all the information if one is bad.
Another option is to keep it on your computer with an encrypted cloud backup service like Carbonite running. That way all of your files will be stored off site in case something happens to your residence.
Insure Your Guns
When I realized out my guns were under-insured, I called my insurance and added an Additional Firearms Coverage Rider to increase the limit, as well as the Replacement Cost Option; both cost me less than $80/year — much cheaper than a gun safe.
The cost to insure your collection will vary, and you may have to get separate coverage. It’s well worth it. An expensive gun safe may fail and get broken into, flooded, or burned up. Even if the worst happens, proper insurance will cover the both the contents and the safe. Get any guns, jewelry, or other specific items appraised as required by your insurance company.
If your collection is particularly valuable or hard to replace, your insurance company may require you store them in a true safe. Or, they might give a annual premium discount for a true safe, so it doesn’t hurt to ask before you buy one.
Get Your Deductions
Note that many of the home security improvements below may reduce your homeowner’s insurance rates and be tax deductible. Check with your homeowners insurance about discounts they offer. After implementing the improvements, make sure to contact your insurance company again to get your credit.
Activate No-Cost Gun Insurance
If you have an NRA membership, it comes with $2,500 of gun insurance that must be activated. Activate it here.
Layer Security FeaturesLayering security is critical because a security system with only one layer is useless. Picture a monitored alarm system on a house with no doors or windows. Or a stocked gun safe in a front lawn out by a busy street — how long would it last there?
There is no such thing as 100% security for your guns, except to not own them in the first place. A gun safe is only one layer of security, and it’s probably the most expensive part. Want to save money on a gun safe and get great protection? Improve the other layers of your security system first.
Here are some money-saving ways to protect your guns. If you’re concerned about protecting your guns, you should implement as many of these tips as possible. The cost of these “money-saving” tips ranges from free to hundreds of dollars or more. Remember gun safes are very expensive, so even a tip that costs a couple hundred dollars may save you from buying a safe which costs $1000 more. A hidden homemade vault which costs $2,000 to build is a bargain if it offers 10X the protection of a shiny $5,000 RSC gun safe.
Put Time On Your Side
No security device is 100% effective. Given the right skills, equipment, and enough time anything can be broken into. Once you’ve Covered Your Assets, the first layer is avoidance and prevention. If prevention fails, the key to security is putting time on your side. Make your home as time-consuming, annoying, and painful for the burglars as possible.
- Avoid Being Targeted– you can make your home very secure, but if someone wants to get in badly enough they will find a way. If you can avoid being targeted specifically, the risk of being hit by an experienced criminal is reduced.
- Deterrence – the next step is to deter thieves from targeting your home.
- Break In Time – most thieves don’t want to take more than 1 minute breaking into your house. This is part of the reason over a third of Forcible Entries are unsuccessful.
- Finding Your Valuables – most burglaries last between 8 and 12 minutes. If a thief thinks he has found all of your goodies within that time, he will probably leave. If he sees signs that there may be more to find (like a gun safe), or knows beforehand about particular items that he hasn’t found yet, he may stick around longer.
- Accessing Your Valuables– If your valuables are not locked, than this step is as simple as grabbing them. Once thieves start to attack your security container or safe, it needs to make breaking it open as difficult, time consuming, and attention-attracting as possible.
- Getting Away– Even after getting your valuables, the burglars still have to get away with them to safety without getting caught.
The key to security is time. Your goal is to force a thief to waste as much time as possible. From the moment a burglary starts, the longer it takes, the less willing they will be to continue. How much time will be varies considerably. It may be minutes if they know that you’re polishing your AR-10 in the next room, or days if they know you’re on vacation on another continent for the rest of the week. A number of gun safes have been attacked for hours while the owners were away on vacation.
1. Avoid Being Targeted
Un-list your Home Address and Phone Number
Your name is very public. Most people who you meet know it, especially if you’re in the construction trades or otherwise work for yourself under your name.
Your home address does not need to be public though, and un-listing your number and address in the phone book is one of the easiest steps to make your address a little harder to find.
Avoid Using Your Name
Don’t put your family name on your mailbox or home. Don’t use your full name in any directories or outgoing voice mail message. If you have to give your name, use your first initial and last name.
One of the easiest ways of gun thieves to track you down is to type your name in a search engine. Type your own name in Google and other search engines (for example, Leroy Gibbs) and see what comes up. Also try your name plus city (for example, Leroy Gibbs Stillwater PA), and your full name (for example, Leroy Jethrow Gibbs). Often, each way will bring up different results. You may be surprised what you find.
Scrub Personal Information Online
Say a thief is driving through your neighborhood and sees mail overflowing your mailbox. He walks by and reads a name off of your wife’s cooking magazine and pulls out his phone. Typing her name in Google brings up her Facebook profile. Her new profile picture with the family was just posted yesterday from your vacation in Mexico “first day in paradise!!! :-)” The next day he comes back with his friends and cleans you out. This is unfortunately more common than you may think.
Check your Security settings on social media and especially Facebook. You should disable indexing your profile by search engines. Otherwise, a search of your Facebook profile name in a search engine may lead someone to your profile. At a minimum set your profile so that only Friends can see your pictures, posts, and information. Check the online profiles of you and your kids to make sure they don’t list private information.
Facebook, Google+, and online forums profiles are some of the places where your information may be made public. Your address/city information is most applicable to protecting your house and your guns. Your birth date, phone number, and other information may be accidentally made public as well. Your full birthday with year is a key piece of data used by identity thieves. The true year of your birth or age should not be posted online.
It’s more secure to avoid using your surname in Facebook, especially together with your first name. For example if your name is Willie Jess Robertson, a Facebook name of “Willie Robertson” makes it very easy for someone to find your profile in a Facebook search, and any information you have made public there. If you instead use any Facebook name that doesn’t include Robertson like “Willie Jess“, “Willie Sr.“, “Redneckcoleptic“, etc. it will be harder for a stranger to find your info.
Hide your identity on gun forums and anywhere else where your presence or membership reveals you as a gun owner. These sites permit anonymity for a reason. Many of these forums link to photo sharing accounts like Photobucket. Make sure your account on that site is also anonymous, and make it private if the information could be used to identify you.
In your online profiles, you can also use misdirection to confuse thieves. If you must give a city, state, and/or other personal information, make it up. You can choose another town that has no connection to your name and use that, perhaps where your favorite coworker or army buddy was from. This will be easy to remember and confuse someone trying to find you.
Change Your Mailing Address
Your address is shared with a large number of groups and businesses. Some common examples are clubs, doctor’s offices, surveys, online petitions, kid’s sports teams, online shopping, magazine subscriptions, etc..
Post office (PO) boxes are relatively cheap and a great alternative to giving out your address. Now that more and more transactions are handled online, there’s little need to get your personal mail every day. The US Post Office offers a street addressing feature, so that your mail and packages can be sent to a real street address, not just “PO Box 1234”. Many private local shipping and printing companies offer this service as well, and cheaper.
If you want to save money you could even share a post office box with relatives or friends. For those of you who have their own businesses with physical locations, you can send your home mail there since you’re usually there when it comes anyway. Without spending anything you can use a relative’s address or post office box. If your mother comes over every week or two to look after your kids, you can send your mail there and have her bring it over. Of course using her address so that your house isn’t targeted means that her house may be targeted instead. But if she lives far enough away that a thief isn’t likely to go there, lives in a low crime area, or has a more secure home than yours this is a cheap option.
Another option is to use an online mail forwarding and scanning service. These services serve different customers from small businesses, to travelers and RVers, to people in apartments that can’t sign for packages. With the largest companies, you can pick an address in many states and have your mail sent there, where it will be forwarded to another address and/or scanned and e-mailed to you.
Earth Class Mail is the biggest with addresses in sixteen states, but has gotten very expensive. Traveling Mailbox is much cheaper with addresses in twelve states. There are a dozen or so other notable services which only have one state address. Many local shipping stores now offer mailbox and forwarding services, so Google one in a town convenient to you and ask them about it. An advantage of using shipping stores is that their addresses are usually commercial rather than residential. Commercial addresses are often charged cheaper rates for large packages or those requiring signatures.
A couple words of caution though. Some companies are better than others, another reason I prefer small neighborhood businesses where you know the owner. Check reviews and the Better Business Bureau, and then try them out for a little while before shifting all of your mail there. Also, for some purposes your “residence address” will specifically be requested. If you try a mailbox address you may hear
that address is showing up as a mail service, what’s your home address?
You can answer with a valid concern,
Actually it is, its a precaution I take after I had my identity stolen. (true story) Could I provide a separate mailing and residence address?
In most cases you will be able to provide separate addresses, even for utilities, although banks may require you to go into a branch to do so. Doctors offices seem willing to change your address to the moon as long as the bill gets paid whereever they send it. It does take a little work to get everything set up, so choose your company well.
The point is to have as few people as possible know your address where all your valuables are.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
Treat your gun safe like a confidential family secret. In some parts of the country everyone has a gun safe, but it’s good to tell as few people as possible that you have a gun safe anyway. If you do mention it to friends, remind them
I know it goes without saying, but please keep this between you and me. The fewer people that know about it, the less likely someone will break in to get it.
The less that other people know about your gun safe and other personal security measures, the less likely a burglar will be come prepared to deal with them. That means they will be stuck looking for tools in your house to do the job, which is something you can take care of ahead of time.
Don’t Discuss Your Collection
Don’t brag about your collection, or invite people you don’t know well in to show them off. Even friends and family members can mean well, but from time to time have a few too many to drink and start talking about everyone’s business but their own.
This also goes for announcing yourself as a gun owner. If it’s ever necessary to say so, you can say “I’m a gun owner” instead of “I own lots of guns.“
Many people on gun forums post pictures of their collection or their safe fully stocked up. Make sure if you’re going to do this that your personal information is concealed.
Unfortunately this also applies for any sort of affiliation that might reveal that you’re the owner of something worth stealing.
It’s a good idea to keep your political activism targeted towards your representatives, and refrain from putting NRA or other stickers on your vehicles.
For those in anti-gun states this has an additional benefit of not giving the police a probable cause to search your car or truck. If you live in a state like this, you’ll understand.
I would venture a guess that anyone who has an NRA sticker on their car has at least a handgun, a shotgun, and a rifle at home. That sticker on your window is visible to all manner of people all day while you’re at work, in a store, or parked at a friend’s house. The visibility is the reason why you put it on, and draws attention to gun rights. But it is also a liability if you’re worried about the security of your firearms. Anyone who sees it can follow you home and find out where you live.
Around election time, political yard signs go up everywhere. Putting a pro-gun sign in front of your home is a great statement, but also advertises your gun ownership to everyone who drives by.
Instead, put your signs up in a place that doesn’t reveal your location. I put my signs up in a nearby empty lot owned by an acquaintance that lives out of state. It’s on a busier street anyway.
Talk to Your Kids
The “loose lips” guideline goes for kids as well, who are still learning the difference between what’s private and personal. It’s a good idea to sit your kids down and talk about things we share about and things we don’t share about.
If a teacher is discussing guns in class and asks your kid to contribute to the discussion, he or she might say “I don’t think they’re bad. My daddy owns lots of guns.” That’s probably going to get the attention of the other kids, many of whom may go home and tell their parents that “Ms. Jones was talking about guns today and Billy Hayes said his dad has lots of guns.” Some number of kids in that class may turn out to be criminals in a few years, and their parents already may be.
The more inconspicuous your gun cases and range equipment are, and the fewer people that see them, the better. Keep your guns out of sight when you loading weapons into your vehicle.
Most gun owners like to take a large portion of their collection to the range. This is pretty obvious to anyone that sees you loading a bunch of gun cases and ammo boxes into your truck. A passerby may only see you load one case. However, people sitting on their porch or mowing their lawn will see you making many trips back and forth. You may only have a couple .22’s, a bolt-action rifle, and a few cheap shotguns in those cases. But as far as the observers know, you loaded up an arsenal in a half dozen rifle cases.
Put your gun or gun cases in cardboard boxes, guitar cases, golf bag, toolboxes, backpacks, or otherwise disguise them when you load your truck or car. You probably have these collecting dust in your attic anyway.
Blackhawk makes a series of diversion carry bags specifically designed for transporting firearms, both handguns and long guns. These bags are made to look like a workout bag, racquet bag, backpack, or slingpack. Constructed from ballistic nylon, they’re strong enough for firearm and accessory carry and have dedicated pockets for those purposes. But they look like regular sports bags.
Keep a Low Profile
I remember one pistol shooting event when one of the Range Safety Officers brought his suppressed Glock. I’ve forgotten hundreds of people have attended those events but I remember him because until then I had never heard a suppressed pistol shoot (it’s not that quiet). The same goes for the wheel-gun guy with the modified 9 mm rounds loaded so light the bullets barely came out of the barrel.
People are more likely to notice and talk about non-typical, unusual, or high-end guns and accessories.
I’m not saying to never take your XM500 or suppressed LRP-07 to the range. I’m saying when you do, the fewer people that see it the better. Members-only club events or times of the day when it’s not that crowded are better than busy times. That means fewer people that might be tipsy at the bar and say to a stranger “Those LaRue OBR’s sure run nice. Too bad I’m not rich like Jim.“
Be Aware of Who’s In Your House
The fewer people that come in your home, the better protected your guns will be. That’s less people to see a gun safe or other indications that you’re a gun owner, like your framed 1950’s Winchester posters.
If you have a plumber coming in to do some work, you might take those frames down and keep him out of rooms where he can see your gun safe. Instead of having a new mattress delivered, have them drop it off at the front door and bring them the old one. Install a new TV yourself instead of having some potential flunkie from a big box store drop it off.
Check the references of any house cleaners or other people you hire to come in your home, especially if they have a set of your keys.
Professional thieves may come to your door pretending to be window salesman or local contractors to case out your home. Don’t let anyone in before they slip their credentials under the door. If you don’t feel good about it for any reason, don’t let them in. I’ve found my gut instinct is almost never wrong. If anyone comes to your door because their car broke down, keep the door shut and offer to call for help yourself instead of giving them the phone.
Hire Safe Installation Professionals
Delivery of gun safes is another example of this suggestion. After delivering a gun safe, the delivery guys will know what’s inside your house, that you have a gun safe, where the gun safe is, and what brand and model it is. They may also have removed or replaced a damaged gun safe of the same brand, and know how to get into one.
Having a guy with a questionable past who just started working at a big box store last week install a gun safe isn’t the best idea. How do you know he doesn’t have some sort of criminal background? How do you know he won’t tell everybody at his dope spot or card game about the safe he brought into your house? This retired cop noticed jailhouse tats on the guys delivering his gun safe, and decided to open his own store and hire veterans.
Real safe dealers have experienced and reasonably paid delivery guys doing the job for a living. Most do very high end jobs too, so your little gun safe is relatively small potatoes. They also have better installation equipment and are less likely to damage your floors and your house installing it. They should use unmarked trucks that don’t advertise to all your neighbors that you just got a safe.
Install a Gun Safe Yourself
If the gun safe is under 500 lbs and you have some strong friends experienced at moving heavy things, install it yourself as inconspicuously as possible.
You and your hunting or shooting buddies can all take turns installing each other’s gun safes. That way no one outside your group of friends knows what you have and where it is.
Modular or take-down safes break down into parts that individually don’t weigh more than a couple hundred pounds. As far as your neighbors know, you just bought some Ikea furniture.
Cover Your Combination
When getting into your gun safe, make sure to block others from seeing your combination. You can cover the dial or keypad with your hand, or make a habit of blocking others from seeing it with your body.
Change Your Combination
If you have a lock with a user-changeable combination, make sure to change it from time to time. Also, change it preemptively if you catch one of your kids trying to watch you type it in.
Changing combinations is especially important on electronic locks, which can develop wear pattern on the keys you use that can reveal or narrow down your combination. To reduce the likelihood of creating a wear pattern, it’s better if your combination doesn’t repeat the same number twice. If your keypad starts to show wear, use all different numbers when you change your combination.
Make sure you don’t forget your new combination. This is one of the most common problems with electronic locks. People forget their combination right after changing it.
Take Advantage of Your Electronic Lock
Higher end electronic locks have a number of features which can be used to your advantage and convenience. Make sure to read the manual so you know all of the capabilities of your lock.
The most common is a wrong combination penalty lock out which will lock out the keypad for a certain number of minutes if a wrong combination is entered a certain number of times. You may be able to configure this option for fewer attempts, which makes it more secure. Or you could increase the number of attempts for home defense in situations when you fumble typing in the code under pressure.
Some electronic locks come with the ability to program multiple combinations. If this is the case, there is a huge range of uses for this feature. You can program a backup emergency combination to use if you forget your primary combination. You could also program different combinations for different people. That way if you want to deny a certain person access you can just erase their combination without having to give everyone a new combination.
On some locks you can program a separate “duress” combination which is connected to your monitored burglar alarm. If you someone forces you to open your gun safe, you can type in this code, setting off a silent alarm.
Re-lock your Mechanical Lock
Gun safes with electronic locks generally re-lock automatically when the door handle is locked. Gun safes with mechanical locks do not. If you don’t turn the dial, the door can be opened right back up (without putting in the combination again). Make a habit of turning your lock dial at least one spin after shutting the door.
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