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5. Accessing Your Valuables
Once a burglar has figured out where your valuables are, you want to make it very time consuming to access them. If your guns are in the back of your closet, accessing your valuables only takes as long as picking them up and figuring out a way to carry them out.
This stage is what gun safe companies are trying to sell you a solution for. As you can see, this is already pretty late in the burglary process.
Bolt Down your Gun Safe
For the reasons covered in the previous article, it is extremely important that you bolt down your gun safe.
Anchoring down your gun safe makes attacking it much more time consuming. Stealing the gun safe is made much harder by adding step of ripping out the bolts. Leverage to pry open the door and force swinging an ax is reduced by forcing the thieves to attack the safe standing up. Access to the thinner metal on the top, sides, and edges of the gun safe is also made more difficult.
The holes used to bolt down the gun safe must be as close to the corners as possible to make getting a prying tool under the gun safe as difficult as possible.
Bolting down your gun safe is one of the most important and cheapest things you can do to keep your guns secure. For suggestions about what types of bolts to use and other factors, see Where to Put a Gun Safe.
Build a Gun Safe Anchor
If you can’t bolt down your gun safe, you still have options. You can construct an anchor for the gun safe that won’t fit through the door unless it’s unbolted from the gun safe. The most important thing is that the anchor can be securely bolted to the gun safe.
Concrete is cheap and weighs about 144 lbs per cubic foot. You can pour a concrete anchor in a large pan or plastic storage container that will give the concrete a presentable shape. Then you can painted or carpet it. Add some rebar, high strength mesh/screens, and/or other steel reinforcement to the concrete while you’re at it. Steel can be welded into all kinds of shapes and then filled with concrete.
One guy on a forum made a steel box 1′ tall and 4′ long by 4′ wide and filled it with concrete, which made it weigh over 2300 lbs. That is heavier than most people will probably need, but will make it very difficult to tip the gun safe over.
Improvise a Gun Safe Anchor
If you can’t make a gun safe anchor, improvise one.
If the gun safe is near a support beam or pole, weld the gun safe to it.
You might be able to bolt the gun safe to your walls, although drilling holes through the fireproofing will change the fire rating.
If you can’t bolt it to the structure, bolt it to a big piece of furniture like a locked filing cabinet, a big desk, or your bed frame.
Build a Modular Gun Safe Behind a Small Doorway
If you’re looking at modular or take-down gun safes, you probably move a lot. That means you’re probably renting as well and don’t have as much freedom to modify your house or apartment, although most carpet can hide bolt holes pretty easily.
If you buy a big enough modular gun safe, it may not fit through a doorway once it’s assembled. Use this to your advantage and build it in a room that it can’t be removed from without tearing out the wall (not to say that a burglary won’t try). Of course, there’s nothing to stop the burglars from tipping it over and attacking the sides, but at least they can’t take it with them.
Good modular gun safes can be assembled in tight spaces with walls on all sides. Building it in a confined area will prevent the gun safe from being tipped over, and limit ax swings.
Lock Up or Hide Your Tools
Most burglars do not bring their own tools. The ones that do often won’t always have the right tool for a specific situation. Most burglars use what they find outside and inside a house to commit their crime. This means locking up your tools is as important as locking up your valuables. Lock up and/or hide your tools, especially:
- Prying and Leverage Tools – pry bars, crowbars, big screwdrivers, curb pins, tanker bars, spud bars, metal pipes, hydraulic wedges and spreaders, etc.
- Moving and Rolling Tools – hand trucks, utility dolly’s, plastic pipes, wooden dowels, strong blankets, etc.
- Brute Force Splitting and Cutting Tools – axes, pickaxes, hatchets, mauls, matlocks, chisels, etc.
- Hammering Tools – hammers, sledge hammers, punches, etc.
- Power Tools – angle grinders, reciprocating saws (Sawzalls), circular saws, abrasive and diamond blades, power chisels, electric shears, etc.
- Torches and Welding Tools – plasma cutters, cutting torches, welding torches, plumbing torches, etc.
- Boring Tools – drills, drill bits, hole saws, etc.
- Other Equipment – extension cords, compressors, air hoses, ladders, step ladders, stools, etc.
Think like a thief! Just because your circular saw has a crosscut blade on it doesn’t mean some idiot burglar won’t try to use it to cut through the steel wall of your gun safe.
Divide the Stash
Centralizing your valuable firearms generally isn’t the best idea, for the same reason that the president and vice president usually don’t travel together in the same vehicle. Dividing your collection into multiple gun safes multiplies the amount of time it will take to access your whole collection.
Even after breaking into the first gun safe, thieves will have to start from scratch breaking into the second. For very valuable collections, insurance companies can require multiple safes for this reason. Instead of getting one really big gun safe and putting all your guns in it, plan to buy a smaller safe now and then get a second one later, or get multiple gun safes at once. You can often get a discount on the sale price and shipping if you buy more than one at once from the same manufacturer.
If you hide your gun safes, burglars may not even find the second gun safe. The weaker gun safe should be put in the easier to find location and should have your least valuable guns.
Get the Proper Safe for the Job
You wouldn’t bring a .30-’06 to a trap shoot. Well, maybe you would if you’re Herb Parsons but you get the idea. Get the right tools for the job.
Centralizing your guns is bad enough, but centralizing all of your portable wealth is an even worse idea.
Instead of sizing your gun safe for guns and other valuables, buy a smaller gun safe and other security containers for the rest. This approach will usually be cheaper than bigger gun safes, which have larger mark-ups.
If you want to secure jewelry, cash, gold/silver, and other very portable valuables, get a true safe designed for that purpose. It will be easier to hide and more secure than a large gun safe.
If you want protection from fire for documents and media, get a UL 72 Class 150 or 125 Fire Endurance tested fire safe.
Customize Your Gun Safe or True Safe
Most manufactures of true safes and some gun safe manufactures like Sturdy, Fort Knox, and others, will custom build a gun safe to your specifications. You can use this to your advantage to save money and reduce the weight of your gun safe.
If your gun safe location will leave one wall exposed, you can have an extra steel sheet welded in on only that side.
Or to save money and weight, you can buy a gun safe with a basic thickness body shell, but have extra steel welded into the upper half of the walls. This will add protection to areas most often attacked with axes, without adding weight or the cost of extra steel in the entire shell.
Buy a Used Commercial SafeFor all the reasons covered in the previous article, a gun safe just isn’t going to protect you from burglar attacks as well as a true safe, especially from power tool attacks.
Used commercial safes can often be found for less than a new gun safe. If you want a cheap gun safe with real protection, this is the way to go. Commercial safes usually run smaller than gun safes, but some types of businesses like jewelers generally have safes plenty large enough to store long guns.
Start looking for a used commercial safe by contacting a safe technician or safe dealer. They should be members of Safe & Vault Technicians Association (SAVTA) and/or National Safeman’s Organization (NSO). You can find these businesses in this online directory, or by looking up “safes” in the yellow pages.
A safe dealer will probably have some used models in inventory. If not, he/she can contact you when some come in. The used models the safe dealer has will be a little more expensive than those in the classifieds, but will have already been checked out and serviced, and you won’t have to deal with the sellers.
Another source for used gun safes is the classifieds. The first time I did a Craigslist search for gun safes I found a local used commercial safe advertised by a safe technician. It was only $1000 and large enough for long guns. I didn’t save that listing so I had to go back and find another example.
The second search turned up this nearby UL 687 TL-30 rated monster advertised for only $350! That’s right, a true safe that new would cost five figures, has a serious burglary rating, 1.5″ plate steel in the walls lined with high strength concrete, and is probably pushing two tons. But, it costs less used than most RSCs at big box stores! It’s basically free to the first person who comes and gets it out of there.
If you find a used safe in the classifieds, you’ll probably still need the safe technician to check it out, move it, install it, and/or service it. If it doesn’t have the type of lock you want, they can also put another lock on a used safe. That’s another benefit of talking to a safe technician first and building a relationship with him/her.
If your home or desired location can’t handle the weight of a full size commercial safe, get a smaller true safes for your handguns. Handguns are the most frequently stolen firearms.
Have a safesmith put an electronic keypad lock on a smaller used safe and use it for quick access to your home defense pistol, as well as your wife’s jewelry and other portable valuables besides guns.
Buy a Used Gun Safe
If you don’t want to spring for a used commercial gun safe, consider buying a used gun safe. They can often be picked up for a fraction of the original cost, although you may not have as many options or have to wait to get one you want.
Check your gun or hunting club classifieds board. Online classifieds like Craigslist are also great for this.
Build a Closet Around Your Gun Safe
Construction materials aren’t cheap these days but they’re much cheaper than a gun safe.
In addition to helping you hide a gun safe, building walls around the gun safe has a number of benefits. If the gun safe is bolted down, walls built around the sides of the safe help protect the weakest part of the safe — the walls and edges. They also make it harder to get access to pry the safe bolts out of the floor and remove or attack the top of the safe. If the gun safe is bolted down and the walls extend past the front face, it makes it much harder to get leverage on the door with a prying tool.
When you’re building the walls around the safe you can also put some extra layers of fire rated drywall (Sheetrock) or cement backer board on the inside and outside to make a legitimate building code approved fire rated assembly. This type of assembly is usually required in some areas of new homes, like the walls between an attached garage and a house. You could even put some insulation in the wall before you put up the Sheetrock.
Build a Closet Gun Safe
Most gun owners just want to keep their kids out of their guns, and some protection from novice burglars. If that’s all you want, save yourself a ton of money by reinforcing a closet or pantry to make a Closet Gun Safe.
A great thing about a closet gun safe is that you have a lot more room to work with. You can put your gunsmithing bench in there and gun cleaning supplies. Your handloading equipment can be left out in the open in a closet gun vault. Mount your guns on the wall where you can enjoy looking at them and tell instantly if they’re missing. Household chemicals, tools, or other things that pose a danger to your kids can also be locked up inside. You can enjoy the room to work in limitless other ways.
First remove the drywall inside. Then line the closet by “screwing and gluing” up a couple layers of plywood. “Gluing” refers to construction adhesive, which should be used between the studs and the plywood, and between the plywood sheets. Use screws that penetrate at least 2″ into the studs. For strength, lay out the plywood so that the seams don’t overlap. You could even put some wire mesh between the plywood sheets if you wanted, but this may hurt cell phone reception in the room.
The hardening of the wall construction can be taken even further if both sides of the wall are sheathed in plywood. According to this book on home security construction, plywood-sheathed walls can be filled up with rough gravel to make them bulletproof against pistol and most rifle rounds. The gravel must be 3/4″ or 1/2″ rough, not smooth, and the floor must be able to handle the weight. Additional construction specifications like steel studs and jambs can be found in that book starting on page 275. In addition to being much cheaper than other bulletproofing, this type is regenerating. As pieces of gravel are blown apart, more gravel falls down to take their place. This would convert your closet gun safe walls, or other strategic walls in your house, from “concealment” into “cover”. Your closet gun safe would then be a cheap panic room.The door will probably swing out, so reinforce the door and/or hinges (as discussed above) and add a deadbolt. For safety, you can choose a door knob that locks automatically and an automatic door closer. Make sure you carry your keys on you so you don’t lock them inside. A diversionary sign like “Danger Electrical Hazard, Please Keep Locked” or “Cleaning Products and Chemicals, Dangerous to Children, Please Keep This Door Locked” will act as a deterrent to anyone that might wonder “Why does this door have a deadbolt?”
The plywood walls of course could be breached with a power saw or an ax. But these same tools would get into most RSC gun safes just as easily. And a gun safe is much more conspicuous and more likely to attract attention than a closet.
Build Your Own Gun Safe
It’s not as crazy as it may sound. Most of the cost in a gun safe is steel. To make a cheap gun safe, the materials will cost more than you could buy one for. However in the gun safe industry, higher end models with more steel have massive markups. So you stand to save a lot of money if you make your own gun safe out of beefy steel sheet.
If you’re handy with a welder and have access to steel stock and/or scrap, you could build a gun safe so secret that no one else will know about it. If you come across scrap now and then you could build it One Piece At A Time like Johnny Cash.
The body of a homemade gun safe will be straightforward. The door is a little trickier, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Look at the bolt work on this 100 year old Yale Vault. The door is 1/4″ plate steel. The locking bolt carriage frame is welded to the door. The locking bolts are four horizontal 3/4″ diameter round bars that extend as wide as the front of the door. When the locking bolts are retracted, they slide deep enough into the hinge side of the door frame to open the door. To lock the door, the bolt handle just has to slide the locking bolts out of the hinge side behind the other door jamb.
Buy a proper safe UL Group I or II mechanical dial or electronic keypad lock for under $100. Fabricate a mount for the lock so that the lock deadbolt blocks the bolt work. If you want, you could drop a hardened anti-drill hard plate or some ball bearings in front of the lock for good measure. Sit back, enjoy a whiskey and cigar, and admire your handy work.
Build Your Own Gun Vault
Formal gun vaults have pluses and minuses. On the plus side, they are part of the house and impossible to steal. They can also be made very large and secure enough to keep most thieves busy attacking for hours. If you have the money and don’t plan on moving, they’re a great way to go.
On the other hand, vault doors generally cost as much as an entire safe, and then you’ll still need to pay for the actual vault. Also, people who have had vaults built in new construction report that the subcontractors talk too much. Every contractor that walks in the basement will ask “What’s the funny room?” To which the others replied, “It’s gonna be a gun safe.” Since vaults are unusual in most construction, expect people to talk about it. Contractors are a small circle too that know each other and share stories. To top it off thieves can be hired as day laborers.
Instead of trying to keep a secret with the dozens of tradesman who come in and out of a new home construction site, you can use another tactic. Once your home is finished, or on your existing home, you can excavate an attached or unattached vault. This will be easier to keep quiet because you only have to worry about the excavators and concrete guys talking.
Masonry block walls can be broken quickly with a sledge hammer unless you pour concrete down the holes after the wall is built. People who know anything about concrete will be able to get through it straightforwardly. For security you’ll probably want reinforced concrete at a minimum, possibly with some extraordinary steps like mixing bits of abrasives and metal chips in the concrete to eat up cutting tools.
Your gun vault doesn’t need to be so extravagant though. You can improvise a vault in your basement by making a small closet, line it with rebar, high strength mesh/screens, and/or other steel reinforcement. Then use the closet as the outer form to pour the concrete walls.
One forum poster wrote about his father’s homemade vault, which was put in after the home was built. He lived out in the woods with a 30 minute police response time and needed a place to store his guns. So, he took an extra coat closet and moved one of the walls, then lined the closet with two layers of cinder blocks. He went to the scrap yard and got some 2″ thick steel plates and cut them to go floor to ceiling inside the blocks. He had his friend over who welded all the plates together and then welded a safe door on the inside. When it was done the closet had a normal door on the outside that opened to an improvised vault door. Interestingly he said that someone did break in years later and pounded on the vault door. Then they broke through the wall and concrete block, but stopped when they hit the steel.
Getting caught is a pretty good incentive for a burglar to want to get out of your house. But if they know you’re on vacation, your neighbors won’t be home until at least 4 PM, you have no alarm system, and they just found a big gun safe, they’re going to be inclined to spend some time trying to open it.
Given enough time, any gun safe or safe can be broken into. If you have a gun safe, it’s important to give thieves an incentive to hurry up and leave.
Get a Monitored Alarm System
Alarm systems don’t function as well as deterrents these days. Have you ever heard a car alarm and actually thought, “Someone’s stealing that car!”?
In many cases thieves have attacked gun safes for an hour or more. The best use for a monitored home burglar alarm system, especially for gun safe owners, to give the thieves a time constraint once they’re in your house.
Many thieves know that most monitored alarm systems traditionally use phone lines to call the central station. So they cut the phone lines, set off the alarm, and listen to the police scanner. You can get around this with a monitored alarm system with cellular backup. Many alarm systems can also contact your cell phone when the alarm goes off.
Don’t Cry Wolf
In many jurisdictions, up to 99% of the residential burglar alarm calls are false alarms.
These false alarms fallow the Pareto Principal or “80/20 Rule” in that at least 80% of the false alarms come from 20% of the houses. If the police are called for false alarms they will begin to remember your address as the house with all the false alarms. In some cities they will even start charging you. If a burglar alarm goes off on a house that’s never had a false alarm, it’s more likely to get fast attention.
Learn how your alarm system works. My mother’s burglar alarm system has a key fob, but pressing that button while the alarm is already going off puts the system in duress mode. The same happens if the code is punched in on the keypad but you don’t hit the “Cancel” button. In duress mode the alarm inside the house is shut off but the police are still called, a safety feature for home invasions. It took three false alarm responses by the police before this got all sorted out. When most burglar alarms are triggered, the monitoring system will call a phone number to confirm that this is a real burglary. My mother used the house phone number for this before, but the ringer was off. So, she switched it to her cell phone. The next time the alarm went off, her cell phone was dead so she couldn’t cancel the police call.
Make sure the emergency phone numbers for your alarm system are up to date and you and your emergency contact actually can answer them. If there’s a fault in your alarm system which triggers false alarms, fix it immediately.
Once you’ve fixed any problems and figured out your alarm system, try regaining some credibility by apologizing to the neighbors, the police dispatcher, and the officers that come to your house. You can say that you appreciate their responsiveness to the alarm, and regret if the false alarms have eroded some of their trust. Then explain the steps you’ve taken to correct the issue. The next time the alarm goes off hopefully their first reaction won’t be annoyance at another false alarm.
Alarm Your Gun Safe
You can also put an alarm sensor on your gun safe linked to the home alarm, or a separate alarm.
Make Burglars Uncomfortable in Your Home
There are lots of ways to make a thief uncomfortable in your home, and especially around your gun safe.
Obnoxiously loud alarm sirens are one, especially if they’re installed so that they’re hard to disable. The thieves may attack the safe until the alarm gets so annoying that they go waste time trying to destroy the alarm.
Multiple sirens are even better.
Booby-Trap Your Gun Safe
A couple companies make pepper spray dispensers that you can mount near your gun safe in the ceiling or wall. The Burglar Blaster mounts to a wall or other vertical surface. It’s battery powered and will run up to 4 years on the “C” size batteries. The integrated motion detector will trigger the pepper spray after an adjustable delay of 0 to 40 seconds. A high pitched non-directional whine is let out during the delay period. This allows a forgetful owner to shut it off before getting blasted, but a burglar can’t trace the sound back to the source.
That same company also sells in-ceiling, outdoor, and even tripwire dispensers.
The Burglar Bomb is another dispenser that mounts in the ceiling above your gun safe. You can wire it to a gun safe alarm to distract any would-be burglars while they’re attacking your gun safe. If they don’t just leave, they’ll probably waste time going to wash the pepper spray off.
You may have other ideas for booby-traps, but keep in mind that they might accidentally go off on you some day.
Make Burglars Nervous
One forum poster put flashing red and blue lights outside that could be seen from the gun safe. In addition to attracting neighbors’ attention, it was intended to make burglars think the police had arrived.
Even if burglars didn’t take off when they saw the lights, they’d lose the ability to tell when the real red and blue lights arrive. This is bound to make them nervous if they continue to attack the gun safe. If they go outside to disable the lights, they waste time.
Yell “Fire!” Instead of “Help!”
This is advice given to women in self-defense classes, because fires are often responded to more reliably than crimes.
Put a smoke detector above your gun safe, preferably linked into the other smoke detectors in the house. Many attacks on a safe, especially with power tools, will put off dust, sparks, and/or smoke which can set off the smoke alarm.
Having all of your smoke alarms going off is annoying, may attract the attention of the neighbors, and can make the thieves nervous if they think you have a monitored fire alarm system.
Make Thieves Think Twice
You can also make thieves nervous by putting a “Danger Explosives Beware of Impact” or similar sign on your gun safe.
Thieves might think twice before attacking such a safe with a sledgehammer, Sawzall, or a torch if they think it might blow up.
Hide Your Handgun Safe
Small inexpensive handgun safes offer virtually no theft protection by themselves. Most with electronic locks can be opened with a paperclip, a medium sized screwdriver, or smashed open with a single kick from a sneaker. The videos in small gun safes show toddlers as young as 3 opening these products, often with no permanent damage.
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