Biometric Gun Safes

Biometric Gun Safe

Biometric Gun Safe

In general, I don’t recommend biometric gun safes for the following reasons:

Weak Gun Safes

To start, the biggest problem with biometric fingerprint locks is that they’re generally only found on cheap gun safes costing a couple hundred dollars.  The keypad alone for a proper commercial lock costs many times the more than most entire biometric handgun safes (more on this below).

Most small gun safes can be compromised by a variety of low-tech methods including paperclips, screwdrivers, or even just banging on them.  Adding an economy biometric lock to a weak gun safe doesn’t make it any more secure.  Many biometric gun safes also have flimsy key locks as “backups”.  The key locks can often be opened with a standard screwdriver or strip of metal.

Fundamental security issues on devices with cheap fingerprint readers aren’t just limited to gun safes.  This biometric fingerprint door lock was opened by just sticking a paperclip in the “backup” lock.

Also, biometric handgun safes are electronic and run on batteries. In addition to the other reliability issues of biometric locks we’ll get into below, battery-powered devices are fundamentally less dependable than all-mechanical devices.

It’s true that the majority of full-sized gun safes today are sold with battery-powered keypad combination locks. However, small handgun safes are primarily used for quick access to a self-defense weapon. For self-defense, reliability is more critical than for a full-sized gun safe just used to store a gun collection.

About Biometrics

Let’s talk about the technology of the locks themselves.  Biometric is a term for using a physical or behavioral characteristics to identify a person. Biometric security systems use fingerprints, eye retinal or iris structure, hand geometry, facial recognition, ear shape, and even the blood vessels under your skin to identify you. The biometric with the highest theoretical security is eye retinal structure, as seen in spy movies.

For gun safes, the biometric most often used is a fingerprint. The idea is that someone may be able to get a hold of your gun safe combination, but in theory they won’t be able to imitate your fingerprint.  Also, marketers say you’ll never forget your combination because it’s literally at the tip of your finger.

Sounds great, but in reality biometric gun safes have serious issues.


The Best Biometric Gun Safe will have Underwriters Laboratory 768 Rated Lock

UL 768 Listed La Gard Smartpoint Biometric Keypad

Biometrics in general are still evolving.  Standards are still being developed.  Performance testing and rating criteria like UL 768 don’t yet exist.

Commercial grade biometric keypads for UL-rated locks are indeed available from reputable companies like Sargent & Greenleaf and La Gard.  The fingerprint reader in these devices turns your fingerprint into a combination.  So, you can often replace your existing electronic keypad with a biometric version without changing the lock inside your gun safe.

However, unlike other types of safe locks, UL does not have a standard for the performance of biometric fingerprint sensors and electronics themselves. As such, UL doesn’t actually test how good the fingerprint reader is at telling “good” fingerprints from “bad” ones.  The FBI is working on standards for fingerprint biometric systems, but these are not as mature or widespread as the ratings for other UL listed locks.

Fundamental Limitations

Fingerprint readers are fundamentally limited by the biology that they attempt to verify.  Burns, cuts, and blisters to your fingers can change your fingerprint.  Imagine fighting off an intruder to rush upstairs to get your weapon.  But then you’re locked out of your biometric gun safe because your fingers are cut up.  Or, being locked out because a potholder slipped yesterday taking something out of the oven.

Many people who work with their hands regularly have cuts or abrasion on their fingers that can cause their fingerprint to change.  Workers and musicians also often have ridges, calluses, and parts of the fingerprints that are worn off.  These can all cause issues with a biometric fingerprint scanner, especially a low quality one.

This is why many units recommend enrolling multiple fingers in the lock.  But this raises the question — is trying multiple fingers to open a biometric lock really faster than a keypad or mechanical pushbutton combination?


The Best Biometric Gun Safe will have UL 768 Rated Lock

UL 768 Listed Sargent & Greenleaf Biometric Keypad

The prices are coming down, but good Biometrics are still expensive. Why?

The answer to that question can be broken up into two parts: the cost of the fingerprint reading sensor itself, and the cost of reliable electronics to run the sensor. Let’s take a look at this in detail.

Fingerprint biometric systems are based on two types of technology:  imaging or capacitive sensors. Imaging systems actually have a specialized “camera” which takes a “picture” of your fingerprint.  Capacitive systems use a specialized touch-type electronic sensor to detect the ridges in your finger.

You can think of the difference in quality between the grades of fingerprint biometric sensors in terms of digital cameras. Digital cameras have specifications for resolution (expressed in Megapixels) and sensitivity (seen as “snow” or “static” in low light). Fingerprint biometric sensors have similar specifications.

There are a few basic price levels of biometric security locks:

  1. Military quality biometric systems – Prices are dropping, but these still cost $5,000 or more just for the sensor and electronics (not including the lock).  These are the actual types of devices depicted on spy movies.  Generally, military systems do not bother with fingerprint biometrics, but instead use more reliable eye biometrics. The devices that do use fingerprints employ imaging type technology with other sensors to verify that an actual live finger is present.  High security military systems can require both numeric combinations AND biometrics to identify someone.  Biometrics are often really just another security layer on top of a combination, not as the primary method of identification.
  2. Commercial quality biometric systems – like those from La Gard, S&G, and Kaba Mas are available.  These systems offer reasonable security and accuracy for a gun safe.  Unfortunately they also cost between $750 and $1000 for just the keypad! The keypad houses the fingerprint reading sensor and electronics, but the lock and deadbolt itself is sold separately.  La Gard’s system uses imaging technology.  S&G uses a capacitive sensor. The cost is why you don’t see more biometric keypads on full-sized gun safes, even though most already have La Gard and S&G locks. This begs another question: if biometric locks are so good, why aren’t they standard equipment on top-of-the-line gun safes?  Why are they instead found on small, cheap pistol boxes?
  3. Economy quality biometrics – like those found on most $100 biometric gun safes.  These systems use cheap capacitive sensors, of lower quality than the other grades. The electronics are also lacking in reliability terms. Economy biometric security devices don’t really compete with each another — they compete with old-fashioned locks. That makes the consumer biometrics segment very price competitive.  In other words, the lower the price, the more types of locks biometrics will get installed on. The electronics are generally bare bones as each manufacturer tries to maximize market share, even at the expense of quality.  To be fair, due to integration of biometric fingerprint sensors on smartphones, the quality of these economy sensors is improving.  But notice the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and other newer smartphones include a biometric iris scanner instead of fingerprint sensor.

So why are quality biometric sensors more expensive? Let’s look at the price levels again using the digital camera analogy. Comparing an economy biometric sensor to a commercial/military one is like comparing the camera on a flip-phone with a professional photographer’s Digital SLR. True, both are digital cameras, but you wouldn’t take professional wedding pictures with a flip-phone. And unlike this camera metaphor, there is a big difference in reliability in the rest of the electronics.

Reliability of Gun Safe Lock Electronics

A reader commented below that military electronics (like those mentioned above) are overpriced. It is true that there is waste in military programs. Adherence to the litany of FAR, ITAR, and other regulations adds administrative and managerial overhead to DOD projects beyond commercial ones. However once military electronics reach TRL9 (Technology Readiness Level 9) and have been successfully fielded, military electronics are almost bulletproof.

It is very difficult and expensive to design and manufacture military electronics, which must conform to specifications like MIL-STD-810. During selection of electronic parts, MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure) requirements must be met through design analysis, which limits parts selection. Usually the more reliable parts are more expensive and harder to find, so you have to buy more to cover parts shortages. Eutectic (Lead) Solder, now banned in consumer electronics by RoHS, may be required in some military/aerospace applications to prevent “tin whiskering” and other long term reliability issues. This further limits part selection, or may require additional expense like “re-balling” BGA (Ball Grid Array) parts.

A range of temperature specifications such as Storage Temperature, Operation Temperature, and often Temperature Slew will be required for military electronics. Low military temperature ranges are usually -55 or -40 °C, with high temperatures commonly 125 °C. These all need to get validated through “Qual Testing” (Qualification Testing) of actual prototypes. For thermal slew testing, the device is generally put into an environmental chamber and set to one temperature extreme. Then the chamber rapidly heats or cools the device at a specified rate of degrees per second. The rates are fast enough that liquid nitrogen assistance may be needed to achieve rated slew in the cold direction.

Next will be Mechanical Shock requirements or “Shock & Vibe”. Vibration specifications can include Random, Transportation, Sine, Mixed-Mode, Gunfire, Transient, etc. Acceleration requirements can include Drop, Axial, Longitudinal, Setback, Angular, etc.. Sometimes your prototypes come back from Shock & Vibe testing rattling, because parts were completely shaken off the circuit boards. Some programs require simultaneous Temperature and Shock & Vibe testing in a special environmental chamber with a shake table in it.

Environmental tests usually include Humidity (condensing and non-condensing) and sometimes Splash, Water Spray, Immersion, Salt Fog, Altitude, Sand and Dust, Explosive Atmosphere, Solvent, Detergent, and others. Since many military systems are in use and/or stored for many years, Anti-Fungal Specifications may force more expensive circuit board materials and/or Conformal Coatings.  These construction materials ensure PCBs don’t grow fungus and short out over time. Some programs require Nuclear / EMP Survivability and Radiation Hardness. ESD (ElectroStatic Discharge) Testing is often required to verify that static electricity from your finger won’t fry it. ElectroMagnetic Interference (EMI) / Compatibility may also be required to make sure it doesn’t interfere with other electronics and/or vice versa (like vacuum cleaners used to ruin TV reception). Then there are super-specialized application requirements, and Usability.

Accelerated Life Testing is then usually required, designed to simulate years of abuse in a short time before field testing. When you finally do testing with field users, all kinds of things you didn’t anticipate pop up–it gets hooked up wrong and shorts out, mounts fail, parts break off, sand gets in it, it won’t work with gloves, etc.. The problems need to be addressed and then back to more testing. Over time the reliability of the design evolves and is proven.  This process is similar to the maturation of favorite firearms designs like the M1911, AR15, and Remington 700.

Once the design is Qualified, the integrity of each unit manufactured must be verified by Acceptance Testing. Many military electronics require that every unit shipped must be tested to all the critical specifications, with fully traceable test results supplied with each unit. This means every unit that leaves the factory has a certain number of “Burn-In” hours and extensive, expensive testing.  This is not to mention the routine calibration and documentation of the test equipment itself.

By comparison, even robust commercial electronics are fragile (I’ll consider the iPhone mentioned by a reader as a commercial example). Operating Temperature ranges for economy electronics are usually 0 to 85 °C or lower. That may seem like plenty, but in the real world of winter, snow, summer sun on dashboards, heating and cooling vents, home radiators, being stuck in confined areas/bags, and hot batteries, it’s easy to hit temperature extremes. BTW, when talking electronics temperature, the temperature that matters is the Junction Temperature of the silicon integrated circuit deep inside the case. The circuits inside the case may be 10 or 20°C (18 to 36 °F)  hotter than the outside.

Increasing the temperature rating buys you lifetime; in the same environment, 125 °C rated parts last longer than 85 °C ones. Just like a 2000 m rangefinder ranges more reliably at 800 m than a 1000 m one. That’s why quality commercial electronics like the iPhone will be tested to a wider, Industrial Temperature range.

You can take a military PVS-14 night vision goggle off your helmet and beat someone with it on the battlefield and it will still work.  You can’t say the same for an iPhone. Many commercial electronics are Drop Tested from 1 or 2 meters on concrete.  However, with the exception of Transportation Shock, they receive less Shock & Vibe Testing. Many people I know are walking around with shattered screens on their phones. A little water splash will send you back to the Apple Store. Economy electronics receive little if any Shock & Vibe testing, except unfortunately by the user in real life.

Commercial electronics are fully ESD and EMI tested, but economy electronics skimp here. Commercial electronics do receive extensive user testing. Economy electronics aren’t user tested much, which is why you sometime think “who designed this piece of junk?” after using it for the first time. After Qualification Testing, there is much less Acceptance Testing performed on commercial electronics, i.e. testing of the actual unit you buy. It’s too expensive to Burn-In every iPhone for hours or put it in a below-freezing environmental chamber to make sure it still works. Instead, expensive Automated Test Equipment (ATE) and dedicated teams of Quality Assurance (QA) Engineers can compensate with clever testing. This clever testing is only possible where high manufacturing volumes and/or profits can pay for it. Commercial electronics are tested to be fully functional and always work out of the box. Economy electronics may get to you with obvious manufacturing issues, because they weren’t checked at the factory.

Well, if a product is unreliable, wouldn’t there be so many returns they would have to stop selling them?

Generally the more something costs, the fewer are sold, and the more likely it will be returned if it breaks. Because of this, higher-quality but lower-volume electronics companies get more “feedback” through returns when their products break. They are also more motivated to fix the problems to maintain profitability and customer trust. Commercial safe lock companies are a great example of this.  They sell many locks to fewer customers and have to worry about their brand’s reputation over decades.

By contrast, manufacturers of cheap electronics sell only one unit each to many different customers.  They don’t risk as much if their product fails. Many people consider cheap consumer electronics below a certain price to be “disposable”.

After all, is it worth the time of finding your original receipt, UPC, the box it came in, standing in a return line or paying for shipping just to get another piece of junk like the one you just had to cut open? Can you even find that little folded warranty flyer to figure out if it’s still under warranty? Cheap product manufacturers know that most online buyers fill out their product review within the first month. If it breaks in the second month (which has happened to me), will the users go back and update the online review they wrote?

Solid, reliable designs stay around a long time. Cheap product designers come out with new ones every year or two; they can change the outside, slap a new name on it, and not worry about product failures haunting them.

Even so, the disctinction between economy and commercial electronics is blurring, in the wrong direction.  I’ve noticed “durable” commercial electronics seem to be dropping in quality.  A German study found the same thing, including a 85% increase from 2004 and 2013 in large household appliances that needed to be replaced within the first 5 years.

In summary, there are major differences between military, commercial, and economy electronics which account for the cost difference. The testing an iPhone receives is far far superior to low cost economy handgun safe electronics, so the two aren’t really comparable. It just costs too much to do all that design and testing work to sell a few hundred handgun safes, when the new handgun safe electronic lock fad will come out in a couple years and make this year’s design obsolete. Even with the superior reliability, most people only keep their iPhones a couple years anyway. Biometric gun safe shoppers may not have the same assumption. I have my great-grandfather’s old hardware store 22 LR rifle, but none of his “electronics”. “You get what you pay for” does carry some meaning with electronic locks.

Analog Technology

Mechanical dial combination locks have been the standard for over a hundred years, but are inherently analog devices.  Each number has a tolerance of up to ±1.5 numbers on UL 768 Group 2 locks, so that a combination number 20 can actually be entered as any number between 18.5 and 21.5.  This reduces the true number of possible combinations, and the security.

Electronic keypad locks are completely digital and don’t have this limitation.  A “2” has no tolerance on it, either you press the button or you don’t.  If you press a slightly different combination the lock will not open.

Biometrics are effectively taking a step back to the analog world.  The biometric fingerprint reader analyzes the line pattern on your fingerprint and compares it to the ones you programmed earlier.  These lines don’t represent a discrete series of numbers like an electronic keypad.  There is a tolerance on each piece of information that a biometric gun safe uses to identify your fingerprint.

In the analog world of fingerprint identification, the tolerances are adjusted to compromise between security and accessibility.

False Negatives

False negatives cause the lock not to open when an authorized person tries to use it.

In addition to cuts, burns, and abrasions, all sorts of things can obscure your fingerprint.  Moisture, dirt, oils, blood, lotions, sunscreen, stains, ink, glues, and all kinds of other materials can cause problems.

If that’s not bad enough, biometric locks (especially cheap ones) can be susceptible to the angle of your fingerprint and which part of your finger you use.  If your finger is at an angle or rolled slightly you may get locked out.

If the identification tolerance is too tight, it can lead to false negatives.  In a false negative the correct person is locked out.  This is a problem most people notice, so manufacturers try to avoid it.  False negatives could be deadly in a self-defense situation.

False Positives

To prevent customers from getting frustrated with being locked out of their new biometric gun safe and writing bad online reviews, manufacturers prefer to make the tolerances as loose as possible.

If the tolerance is too loose, false positives result, where prohibited people get access.  This is very dangerous.  But, the owner isn’t as likely to notice this as quickly as he or she is to notice getting locked out.

Looser tolerances also make “spoofing” or tricking all types of biometrics easier.  For example, most facial recognition locks on computers and smartphones can be tricked with a photo of the person.

MythBusters was able to trick a commercial biometric fingerprint lock a number of ways.  First they used complicated methods like a ballistics gelatin fingerprint imprint and then a latex fingerprint imprint.  Finally they tricked the lock with just a simple photocopy of a fingerprint!  The lower quality a fingerprint sensor is, the easier it is to spoof.

Problems with Biometric Fingerprint Gun Safes

The economy biometric fingerprint locks found on quick access gun safes have a lot of issues.  Those with tighter identification tolerances are sensitive to the angle of your finger, and cuts or dirt on it.  These products recommend in their user manuals to take imprints of multiple fingers at lots of different angles in case it doesn’t work when you need it.

Once you get your biometric lock all programmed and working fine, the issue remains that you don’t have any idea how secure it is.  Many people write gun safe reviews bragging that their new biometric gun safe always lets them in.  But who does it keep out?

With a mechanical dial lock, you have an idea how many true combinations it has and how long it takes to enter each one.  For a dial combination lock, it takes about 20 seconds to enter each combination and there are often 200,000 effective combinations. This means it will take 555 hours or 23 straight days of entering combinations to have a 50% chance of opening it.  Those locks also don’t give any feedback if the combination was entered wrong by turning the knob the wrong direction or the wrong number of turns, adding to your security.

With an electronic combination lock, you have a wrong code delay penalty.  It may only take 2 seconds to enter each code, but after entering the wrong one 5 times you may be locked out for 10 minutes.  That means each code effectively takes 2 minutes to enter with probably 1,000,000 possible combinations. A 50% chance of opening the lock then requires over 16,900 hours or 706 straight days.

But your biometric lock may open in 5 minutes using the fingerprint that you left on the glass of the fingerprint reader.  The security of a handgun safe is especially important if you have clever children who might enjoy the challenge of seeing if they can pick daddy’s safe open with some information they saw in a YouTube video.  (I would have loved this challenge as a kid, even if there was nothing interesting inside.)

One father wrote a biometric gun safe review on Amazon for his Barska model. His son was able to open it in 10 minutes using a trick he learned on MythBusters.  Wiping off his fingerprint off after using the lock make his kid’s trick less effective, but he understandably returned the fingerprint gun safe the same day he received it.

Are Biometric Fingerprint Really More Convenient?

With all of these issues, what potential benefit do biometric fingerprint locks offer?  Not much in my opinion, although some readers have expressed their opinions below.

Opening a digital keypad combination lock takes 2 seconds.  Biometric locks take 1 to 2 seconds.  Is pushing buttons on a keypad that much more inconvenient?

Sure electronic keypads can wear out in daily use. But you should wipe your fresh fingerprint off of a biometric fingerprint reader anyway to eliminate the possibility that your kid can use it to open the safe.

How Important is it Really?

A reader commented below questioning if an average homeowner really needs the same security as military applications. In other words, are consumer grade biometrics good enough for most homeowners? Actually the point of this article is that the average homeowner doesn’t need any biometrics at all.  But setting that aside for a moment, let’s look at this another way…

Securing firearms is a literally matter of life and death. If someone gets your gun that shouldn’t, especially a young child, it could result in a tragedy. If you can’t get your gun in a self-defense situation, which is probably why you bought a quick-access handgun safe in the first place, just as much is at stake. Either way, lives are on the line.

For self-defense, few gun owners think military-grade is excessive. In fact, the most popular home defense weapons all have a military and law enforcement history. Revolvers date back to the 1800′s and were used by militaries for centuries. The slide-action “pump” shotgun started life as the M1893, invented by John Browning. Browning also designed the M1911 pistol for the US military over a century ago. Striker-fired pistols date back to the Ortgies at the end of The Great War. The AR platform of course started life as a military-pattern rifle which is still in use by many armed forces.

Most common home-defense weapons date back to battlefields around the time of World War I, albeit with some material and manufacturing upgrades. None of these guns rely on batteries to fire.  Biometric fingerprint locks do not share the same proven pedigree, and rely on batteries to open.  If biometric handgun safes were a weapon, they would be the Remington EtronX.  That wasn’t exactly a smashing success with gun owners.

Those employing guns for self-defense are understandably attentive to preventing jams, double-feeds, stovepipes, failures to feed, etc.. A system is no better than the weakest link, and the probabilities of failure compound.

If someone keeps a reliable military-grade gun, in an unreliable consumer-quality handgun safe, then they just defeated the proven military-grade reliability of their weapon.

Best Biometric Gun Safe

I recommend gun safes without biometrics.

The maturity of the technology isn’t where it needs to be yet. Economy biometric locks are not secure or reliable, and the reliable ones are expensive.

The payback in terms of convenience is low. Getting in a biometric lock takes about as long as competing types which are more reliable and more secure.

Fundamentally they are battery-powered electronic gadgets. The latest electronics rarely make it more than a few years before winding up in the trash. On the other hand you will probably pass the gun inside on to your child. This is a mismatch in reliability and longevity that should think about before trusting your gun to a biometric handgun safe.

Fort Knox Original Pistol Box FTK-PB

A robust old fashioned pistol box is a better choice for most people than a biometric gun safe.

So if biometrics aren’t a good choice, what is? For most people who don’t have money to burn, a creative solution or sturdy, reliable pistol box makes the best handgun safe.  My recommendations for small gun safes can be found here.

If you have your heart set on a biometric fingerprint lock, expect to spend much more than most biometric handgun safes due to the cost of a good biometric lock. The best biometric gun safe will have a biometric keypad from a reputable commercial lock manufacturer:  La Gard, Sargent & Greenleaf, and Kaba Mas.

Wardog Under Bed Gun Safe, Biometric Gun Safe

Wardog Under Bed Gun Safe, has optional S&G Biometric Keypad Upgrade

The Wardog Premium model gun safes offer an upgrade to a biometric S&G UL 768 Group 1  electronic keypad.  It’s maybe the only small gun safe offering a commercial grade fingerprint lock.

The best biometric gun safe would really be to upgrade the electronic keypad on a Sturdy Cube or jewelry safe. This option, for those who don’t mind the cost, gives you the speed and convenience of an electronic keypad and a fingerprint biometric. And now you have a reliable commercial lock and much more secure safe.

What do you think?  Leave a comment below, your thoughts are welcome.

More recommendations:  Best Small Gun Safe and Best Gun Safe.


  1. Smells a bit biosed or advertisy. Ever tried a modern mid-priced Barska unit?

    • The article is definitely biased, as it’s a review/recommendation. However, I’m surprised you found the article “advertisy”. My point (“Generally biometric gun safes are a waste of money.”) is meant to discourage readers from buying, while advertisements attempt to do the opposite.

      If you have any suggestions how I can improve the article for you, please let me know.

  2. Lindsey Wilson says

    Jaime, first of all thank you for the excellent resource you’ve built. Obviously a tremendous amount of research goes into your posts and you’re a great advocate for gun safety.

    And to be sure, the “consumer grade” biometric safes don’t have the same level of security as the military applications, but that’s not the intent. They’re supposed to be a deterrent for kids and intruders in the house, and to that end, they serve their purpose.

    Naturally, anyone who is REALLY determined to break into the safe will be able to do so — in fact there’s a whole slew of YouTube videos showing the vulnerabilities in just about every safe.

    When the need arises for quick access to my pistol, possibly in the middle of the night, it’s going to be a high-stress situation. I don’t want to be fumbling with keys or struggling to remember my passcode. The fingerprint scan removes your nerves, memory, and dexterity from the equation. When the adrenalin is pumping that’s when you’re most prone to mistakes, which in this case could be deadly.

    That’s my two cents. Keep up the great work.


    • Hi Lindsey,
      Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate your argument that homeowners don’t really need military-grade biometric security. I agree with you for entry points like doors, and for safes used to secure other valuables like jewelry. If a homeowner has a problem with a consumer-grade biometric lock in one of these applications, it is only an inconvenience. However, for securing a firearm I respectfully disagree.

      Securing firearms is a literally matter of life and death. Home defense gun safes have dual, competing requirements for access. On the one hand they need to reliably prevent access to young children and visitors in your home. On the other hand a quick-access gun safe must reliably open when you or your family are in “immediate danger of death or grievously bodily harm.” That’s the common self-defense standard in the US, and by definition it means lives are on the line if it doesn’t work.

      With respect to preventing access to children, the majority of consumer-grade biometric handgun safes just don’t past muster. Also a reader Carl made a great point in a comment on another post. Namely, that kids are intrinsically faster at learning new technologies than adults. So, using the latest technology to secure your firearms is always going to put children at an advantage in defeating it. A boring-looking but sturdy steel box with a reliable mechanical lock is less interesting to a child to play with after school than a fancy electronic beeping biometric device with blinking lights.

      With respect to reliably giving access in a self defense situation, I insist on military-grade everything. I’m not the only one, gun owners overwhelmingly vote with their wallets for military-grade self-protection. The most popular home-defense weapons are revolvers (invented in the 1500’s and used by militaries for centuries), slide-action “pump” shotguns (invented by John Browning for the military as the M1893), M1911-pattern pistols (again invented by Browning for the military over 100 years ago), striker-fired pistols (dating back to the 1919 Ortgies), and military-pattern rifles like the AR. All of those weapons have a military and law enforcement pedigree. No latest and greatest trendy Bluetooth gadgets here. They’re just tried and true designs that work, most dating back to WWI except for material and manufacturing updates.

      People who use a firearm for self-defense are understandably very sensitive to failures (jams, stovepipe, failure to feed). When I experience a failure rate of even 1 in 200 rounds, I do some gunsmithing or trying different magazines to make it more reliable. A system is no better than the weakest link, and the probabilities of failure compound. If you keep a reliable military-grade gun, in an unreliable consumer-quality gun safe, then you just defeated your military-grade. That is unless you leave a crowbar next to the biometric gun safe to pry it open in an emergency. Then you just need a sign, “in-case of emergency, pry open biometric handgun safe”.

      Thanks again for your comment Lindsey, and for helping to clarify this point. I’ve updated the article above to reflect our discussion.
      Best, Jaime

      • Great article! Military grade doesn’t mean that the product is better, it just means that the product was bought at the lowest bid… I think that Barska Biometric side opening safe with 4.5 stars and 740 + reviews is a pretty solid safe that doesn’t really break that bank. Bottom line I think that everyone with a gun in their home, that has children, should teach their children that guns are dangerous so that it’s not this forbidden fruit that they’ll want to touch and show their friends. I agree with Lindsay though. The last thing I want to do in the middle of the night after hearing my door kicked in by criminals that could potentially hurt my family is fumble around for a key pad and remember numbers. Adrenaline is a funny little chemical that can make us do some pretty funny things especially if suddenly being woken up is thrown into the equation. I have yet to purchase a safe and am doing extensive reviews before I make my purchase. I just wanted to put in my two cents about military grade and the review I read on Barska Biometric Safes.

        Thank you for your post, Sir!

      • Jaime, thanks for basically cutting and pasting your article in your reply to Lindsey.

  3. On any major retailer, many reviews of biometric safes, specifically Barkas, are concerned with completely or frequently non-functional fingerprint reads. The author is right, no biometric safe within any civilian’s price range is really reliable. Hopefully sometime soon!

  4. I came across this site and blog when researching biometric gun safes. Found it very informative. Came to the conclusion that a bio safe is not the way to go for me. Batteries die too fast and I have no way to plug it in because of where it would go. I need to keep it up high due to my kids. I think I would like to look at those Fort Knox safes but not sure how I feel about not having a backup key. Does anyone have a suggestion for a small safe big enough for 2 handguns that doesn’t need batteries that has a backup key? Preferably I side opening door because it will be up on a shelf in my closet.

  5. Hi
    What is your opinion on using biometric safes to keep medications away from young children and teenagers?

    • Hi Janelle,
      Very interesting question. There are a couple things I would think about in that application.

      The first is how much of a matter of life-and-death it is. Keeping opiates away from a suicidal teenager with a drug problem is different then keeping blood pressure medication away from toddlers. The closer the situation is to the life-and-death danger of a gun, the more I would treat it as such.

      Another thing to think about is how mischievous and/or clever your children are. Most quick-access electronic gun safes are vulnerable to tampering if a child has the inclination, patience, time alone, and/or looks it up on YouTube. See some of the videos at Best Small Gun Safe for examples.

      Finally, value for the dollar is a consideration. Many biometric handgun safes are nearly as expensive as better options, but not nearly as well built. I still have lock boxes, tool boxes, luggage, and other containers from decades ago, as these items last a long time. Because of this, I usually try to buy the most durable option that fits my situation. In 10 years, you may not need to keep medications away from your children anymore; what will happen to the safe? It’s safe (no pun intended) to say that a biometric handgun safe probably won’t last 10 years, or will be so obsolete then compared to newer iris scan models that you’ll throw it out with your other outdated electronic gadgets. One of the Simplex handgun safes on the Best Small Gun Safe page (link above) should last 10 years, and then could be used for a handgun or other valuables. Of course a lot can happen in 5 to 10 years, so having a biometric safe break or throwing it out in a few years may not bother you.

      Those are some of my thoughts. Thanks for reading!
      Best, Jaime

  6. After reading the article, it seems to me that biometric safes can either be good or bad. Like the cheap ones you described earlier, those ones can be broken into with a paperclip. What good is it to spend hundreds of dollars on a safe and then have it be broken into by some kid with a paperclip? I’ve been looking at getting a safe for some firearms that I have. I really don’t like leaving them around the home. I have enough money to buy a biometric safe but would that be my best option? I’m not going to buy some cheap off-brand safe either.

  7. Great info and food for thought. I echo Chad’s post from Nov 2014. Regardless if you are trying to sell something or not there were a ton of good points and I like to think I as most gun owners are independent thinking and can weigh out the pros and cons. At the very least it gives me questions to ask others and get other opinions on issues that the manufacturers don’t say. This really has me less biased on biometrics but I am still researching because like you say “life is on the line.” Thanks.

  8. Zach Snyder says

    Love the article! Thank you! I am really only want a safe to keep my kids out of. I have been looking at gunvault and a newer brand the gunbox. Probably will avoid the biometric but the gunbox offers an rf scanner option. Have you reviewed that by chance?

  9. LPadmin says

    You need to research modern biometrics better. They’ve come a long way. Consider the fingerprint technology provided with the new iPhones. Apple Computers considers it secure enough to allow their passport technology and apple pay system to store passwords, credit card information, and other important personal data. And most people would consider identity theft on the same level with gun security. Thanks for the review, though. It’s always nice to see people take the time to share their research, ideas, thoughts and opinions about important topics like gun security.

    • Thanks for the comment! You are absolutely correct, fingerprint sensors and other biometrics are improving very quickly. Mainstream high volume applications like iPhones will accelerate the cost and quality of these sensors that much faster. These improvements to the sensor technology and performance will help reduce false positives and false negatives. I will have to edit this post again soon to keep up with the performance of the senors.

      There is another aspect though, which I’ve been meaning to mention since Chad’s post in Nov 2014. He mentions that military electronics are overpriced. There is a benefit for this expense. I just added a section on the reliability difference between economy, commercial, and military electronics.

  10. While I agree with some of the points you raise, it is time to update this article. I assume that the first comments were made shortly after it was published. Why not include a date each post was written? For you to summarily state that any consumer safe with a biometric lock is inadequate is just lazy. As others mentioned, computers, phones and safes all use similar technology for their scanners. Just because a manufacturer hasn’t run a gauntlet of government mandated tests doesn’t mean their product should be dismissed. Would you trust your cell phone in an emergency? Is it mil spec?

    I recently purchased a GunVault Minivault (four button combination main lock) and promptly returned it after finding a video of someone picking the cylindrical backup lock using a Bic pen tube.

    After a decent amount of research and hands-on comparison, I chose a Liberty HDX-250. I believe these were new as of Jan. 2015. It has a fingerprint reader and a cylindrical backup lock. It comes with a power supply and a battery backup. I am still skeptical of the quality of the cylinder lock but the way my unit is mounted provides very limited access to that lock. This is for bed side storage of a daily carry pistol and a more convenient option than using the full size safe (also in our house). I feel that it provides a decent amount of security and is reliable enough. There are pry test videos showing it holding up better or equal to some full size safes. Is it the ultimate solution? No. However, for $240 it is hard to beat.

    While it is possible to have your finger misread, this is quickly corrected with another swipe or using another finger. Not much different than finding and fumbling with a key.

    I don’t believe their are any audible beeps on this model if your kid is drawn toward blinky lights & sounds.

    BTW, the first captcha answer provided was wrong. Pretty sure I know what 6 + nine is.

    • Hi Mark, appreciate the feedback. This is definitely the most controversial article on the site. I last updated the article a couple months ago, as this technology moves quickly. I’ll think about putting a date on the articles. I recently had a problem with the Captcha too, it may have been a bad update.

      Speaking of bad updates and cell phones, I just replaced mine after only a year because it stopped communicating after an update. I wasted a good part of the day with no working phone, trying to download the old firmware back on it with no WiFi or data. Then I just bought a new one, and went to work freshening up the 70’s Kitchen Aid stand mixer my girlfriend’s mother handed down to us. I’m a bit of a dinosaur, but I appreciate proven, stable technology, built for the long term. I’m sure my children won’t be freshening up my cell phone in 40 years. Having spent many years designing, building, blowing up, and debugging electronics, I’m admittedly reticent to trust systems that I feel haven’t been vetted. I’ll keep my eye on the maturity of this technology.

      The purpose of my articles are to give people some food for thought before they shell out their hard-earned cash. Hopefully my words prevent people from repeating the type of experience you had with your GunVault Minivault. Different people have different preferences. I’m sure many people read this article and buy a biometric handgun safe. No one solution is the best for everyone. I support freedom! Glad you’re happy with your purchase. Let us know how it holds up!
      Cheers, Jaime

  11. Jaime,

    I appreciate the article and your efforts in creating it since it contains many valid points that should be addressed. Are you aware of any sites actively doing reliability tests on these biometric locks? Sites specifically looking for false positives/false denials, etc.?


    • That is a fantastic question. Dave at Handgun Safe Research has been hacking into different models of handgun safes. Most of them he gets into with a paperclip, so he hasn’t bothered looked at the biometric locks. I couldn’t think of anyone who would, or find anyone who is, testing biometric handgun safe locks objectively.

      I thought about it some more and realized that if anyone is working on defeating fingerprint locks, it would be the iPhone. Sure enough, search for “fingerprint hack” on YouTube and you’ll find a bunch. Most are doing it with Elmer’s glue, either on a printer copy or direct mold. People are also using all kinds of body parts to unlock the iPhone, including nipples and pet paws. In many of cases, they are actually enrolling the body part as if it was a fingerprint. In other cases they just mashing skin against it until it unlocks.

  12. conor fruell says

    I love my titan gun vault, it feels solid and secure, opens first time everytime, and I know the kids are safe – and I would definately recommend it to my friends and family.

  13. Stephanie says

    Hello, Researching safes is new to me and a bit over whelming, and I have young children. I’ve read your article BUT I can’t help but ask your feeling on two models. The MV500 and MVB500. I’d really appreciate your opinion on these. Thanks.

  14. P.R. McAdams says

    Sorry Jaime, but your statement about revolvers being invented in the 1500s is SO ridiculous and unfactual that it blows your credibility as an authority on the subject matter completely to smithereens.

    If the revolver was invented in the 1500s, why did we not use them in the Revolutionary War?

    Samuel Colt introduced the patent for the revolving gun in 1835. Educate yourself.

    By the way, I own a $250 Barska rifle safe for over two years and it has never let me down. The original battery still shows 71% charge on a voltmeter. I plan to purchase a Barska biometric safe in a few days. I have no doubt it will perform as well as the rifle safe has. And as far as sticking a paperclip into the lock mechanism opening it, that is a myth as well. I am an engineer so I think if there was a way I could bypass the system with a paper clip I would have discovered it before I laid down the cash.

    It’s clear to me that you are obviously a paid blogger for Fort Knox Safe Co., otherwise you would have selected a different photo of a push button safe for this post, one free of a manufacturers brand displayed on the photo.

    Deception is a value appreciated by the Clinton campaign. Might I suggest you contact the Clinton’s for a job posting pure shite on the Internet for them.

    If you were an honorable writer you’d redact this entire blog from the Internet and stick to storytelling.

    EPIC FAIL, sir.

    P.R. MacAdams

    • Hi P. R.,
      Thanks for reading, and for your feedback. You are indeed correct that the revolver was not developed until well after the 1500s. I try to keep the information on this site as accurate as possible, so I have fixed the typo. Since you’re also an engineer, I’m glad you didn’t find any issues with all of my other statements and points.

      It’s certainly no myth that many electronic handgun safes can be picked with ordinary household objects. YouTube has many such videos, some of which I included on this site.

      I thought it’s worth addressing your suspicion that I’m a paid blogger for Fort Knox. If you’re interested, I describe on the front page “What’s in this for me?” I would expect that “a paid blogger for Fort Knox Safe Co.” would recommend their expensive full-size gun safes. However, Fort Knox’s pistol boxes are their only product I recommend. It seems you disagree with my reasons for avoiding inexpensive electronics in handgun safes, but my criteria for recommending those models are clear and not brand driven. Likewise, I do not recommend Fort Knox’s full-size gun safes for clearly defined objective reasons like steel thickness and fireproofing for the money. Finally, a paid gun safe advertiser would try to convince you that you really need a gun safe. There are many such gun safe websites out there. I have entire articles dedicated to cheap gun safe alternatives which, if followed, actually reduce gun safe sales.

      I’m curious why a wrong date in my article has raised such vitriol. Ironically your message accuses me of political smearing, while at the same time using a favorite modern political smear tactic — attacking the writer and not the message. I could likewise accuse you of being a Barska employee, or a writer for a “competing” website. However, there’s enough of that on the internet so I’ll take you at your word.

      I’m glad you are happy with your Barska. Not one product is right for everyone and consumer choice is critical to a free society. For me, the point of reading reviews is to hear different perspectives and experiences so that we can consider them before we buy a product.

      Thanks again for your contribution to the discussion,

  15. I have owned two barska biometric gunsafes, one for about 5 years and one for about 4 years. I consider them to be one of the best gun accessories I ever purchased when our children were born. Their are tricks to making them very reliable such as scanning each finger you want to use several times at slightly different angles so that if you don’t get a clean press it should still open for you. Do this for everyone that registers a fingerprint. I did this and have a failure to read my finger print maybe once in every 40 or 50 tries. If that happens I just try again and it works. Even the times this happens which is rare it takes less time to open the safe than if I have to use a key or keypad. Other wise it is easily 5 or 6 times faster than any other lock mechanism I know of.

    The time it takes to get the key or punch in the combination is much longer even under normal circumstances, under stress and at night it would make the difference in getting into the safe or not. using a key pad in the dark trying to wake up is flat out impossible for me. I have been locked out of my big safe for up to 10 minutes because I entered the wrong combination in the dark more than once. I won’t even try it without full light anymore. Using the biometric safe is no harder in the dark than in full light. Maybe your better at it than I am but I would bet that I am representative of a large percentage of people.

    I hear you on being able to hack a barska biometric or any cheap biometric safe. I have several different manufactures safes with keys, keypads etc… I can hack any of them. The ones with keys are the easiest and quickest. The biometric safe has no negative compared to the others in this regard. It’s just the way it is. I can’t afford to pay more for my locks than any two or three guns I own and even then some of them are easy to hack.

    My specific experience with two barska’s is that they do exactly what they are designed to do. Give you quick access to your gun while keeping those out who don’t have my finger print. My children love hitting the button and putting their fingers on the scanner. They see me do it and copy me. In years of trying they have been unable to get into it. yet it works for me reliably. When they are old enough to hack it they will probably already have been shooting with me and being trained with guns for several years. We already train them about guns and that they are serious and dangerous to touch, that they should get one of us if they see one not locked up. This is what keeps kids safe past a certain age. Locks certainly won’t.

    Battery life. I hear complaints of the batteries will die. I have changed batteries once in 5 years on our barska safes. Just because I was becoming uncomfortable in how old the batteries were. I have never had an issue. This is for a safe that is used daily by two people.

    The earlier model barska beeps when you access it. I am not a fan of this and keep saying I’m going to cut the speaker out or put a switch on the speaker wire. Haven’t gotten to it yet. The second barska from a year later has the feature where you can turn the sound off. I like it a lot more. You only hear a quiet whine as it actuates.

    You really came down hard on these safes and I really thought a counter point of someone with real world long term use with them was needed. Most people are not going to or can not spend a 1000 dollars for a small pistol safe. Most of us are going to buy these commercial level products. I can say that I recommend barska biometric safes out of my own experience to friends with small children as reliable and fast access safes for a loaded pistol.

    These are a consumer product and quality control can vary. If you get a lemon then send it back and try again. Both of mine have worked with out fault for years.

    My lock/keypad Gun Vault pistol safe simply sits empty. I lost the key after I set the combination the first time then forgot the combination. after a year or so I contacted gunvault but they were unable to help me due to security concerns, unless I could find more information on my purchase such as a recite etc.. about a year later I decided to try and get into it again so I could reset the combination. 10 minutes reading online and 30 seconds practical application and I was inside it. I was not impressed that it was that easy to hack it. I reset the combination again and within a month had forgotten what I set it to. I don’t use it as much as my large safe or the biometric ones. Honestly it has been a waste of money that I purchased it. I’m not worried about getting in it though. A bic pen and 30 seconds of time and I will be in it again.

    I don’t have safes to deter thieves, the well equipped thief will just take the whole safe and crack it later. Very easy to do. I have safes to keep an honest man honest and to keep very young children away from stuff such as guns and medicines that could harm them. Once they are old enough to hack the safes it is only the training you have given them up to that point that will keep them out. Spend more time with your children to keep them safe rather than more money on safes that probably aren’t that much harder to break into.

    • Hi Scott,
      Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed comment. You seem well aware of the tradeoffs, from your experience with the limitations of this type of product. I’m glad you’ve found a model which continues to meet your needs.

      Thanks again for your contribution to the discussion.

  16. Jonathan says

    What about the GunBox?

  17. I found your article to be excellent. Especially the dated comment additions. I recently made a purchase of a biometric hand gun safe. My selection was came down to the third option for opening the safe, the key. My choice was the “Viking Security Safe VS-35BLX Biometric Safe Fingerprint Safe”. This safe had a four sided backup key that stirred the imagination. I have no information to suggest it was better, but it sure looked like it would harder to pick. Would you consider updating your article in that direction? By the way, regarding my safe, I had no problem programming three of my fingers (I’m 70 years old), slight difficulty on three of my 68 year old wife’s fingers and no problems on my son’s fingers. It appears to be meeting my expectations. Thanks again for the article.

  18. Wow. Lots of opinions with no empirical evidence. No real technical knowledge. Just the same thing stated over and over. Straw man arguments and complete blanket dismissals of valid issues. You are being completely intellectually dishonest.

    The reason biometrics aren’t on high end safes is purely economic. Large expensive safes don’t need them. There are more secure locks that are more reliable. They aren’t designed for quick access (which is the seeking point of biometric).

    For small safes, there is no reason to buy one that costs more than the gun it holds. They need to be cheap because they’re as easy to steal as a lunchbox. Why would I buy a $1000 safe to protect a single gun I can just replace for $500? They are to prevent kids and whatnot from having access while giving you quick access.

    Finger print detection is not in its infancy. It’s not even high tech. It uses simple, standard algorithms and inexpensive sensors. Like any product, the cheapest stuff may not be reliable. That’s a function of the manufacturer, not the technology. There are thousands of reviews for dozens of products, you know, data, with appropriate sample size, that easily reveal the pros and cons of different units. It’s pretty easy to weed out the garbage.

    What happens if you cut or burn your finger? Oh, maybe use one of the 9 other fingers you have that you programmed into the safe. If you somehow manage to disfigure 10 fingers the same day as your home invasion, well, you’re having a pretty shitty day.

    Battery life is the weakest link in these types of safes and requires a PM plan for the user, which is inconvenient.

    I think a simple solution would be adding a chirp low battery warning just like your smoke detectors.

    You have no understanding of the fundamental function of this type of product. You completely ignore the intended function, security requirements, price requirements etc in favor of propping up straw man arguments.

    I can respect a well thought out opinion, but this is garbage. Try again

    • Hi Dirt,
      Thanks for reading. I would like to address your critique. You didn’t give me many specific “valid issues” I’ve dismissed, so I’ll step through quotes from your comment. You actually seem to agree with me on my major points.

      You said large expensive safes have “more secure locks that are more reliable.” I totally agree, and point that out above.

      “For small safes, there is no reason to buy one that cost [sic] more than the gun it holds. They need to be cheap because they’re as easy to steal as a lunchbox.” Again, totally agree, which is why “I recommend gun safes without biometrics” and stress the importance of bolting down all gun safes. At the price point of typical biometric handgun safes, I recommend mechanical Simplex locks or gun safe alternatives. These are detailed in my linked recommendations.

      “Why would I buy a $1000 safe to protect a single gun I can just replace for $500?” Exactly why I said “Economy biometric locks are not secure or reliable, and the reliable ones are expensive.” For full-size gun safes, I say “Expect a gun safe’s or (true safe’s) original retail price to be around 10% to 30% of the replacement value of the contents.” Since handgun safes don’t store as many guns, the ratio will be on the higher side. Even so, a pistols or two, holster(s), extra magazines, ammo, and a defensive flashlight will easily put the handgun safes I recommend into that range. This site does attract some of the high security crowd, so I have a couple paragraphs for “If you have your heart set on a biometric fingerprint lock”. But I don’t recommend a $1000 handgun safe.

      “The reason biometrics aren’t on high end safes is purely economic.” That’s a contradiction. On high end safes, by definition, money is no object. My point is that where money is no object, “why aren’t they standard equipment on top gun safes instead of small, cheap pistol boxes?” We do agree that few high end safes have biometric locks.

      “Finger print detection is not in its infancy.” Some years have elapsed since I first wrote “infancy”. It’s now arguably outdated, so I’ve just updated it. However, you didn’t argue with the context of that statement. Namely that ratings, standards, and independent testing protocols don’t yet exist for the accuracy of fingerprint locks. I’ll assume you agree with that.

      “It’s not even high tech.” We’re in agreement again. I point out that fingerprint locks are a step back into analog technology, by comparing them to mechanical dial locks.

      “It uses simple, standard algorithms and inexpensive sensors.” This isn’t helping an argument for cheap biometrics. If all products use the same algorithm, than the quality of the sensors is very important, and this would be a terrible area to cut costs. “Garbage in, garbage out” as programmers say. Which algorithm does your company use?

      “Like any product, the cheapest stuff may not be reliable.” Again, totally agree. “Cheapest stuff” describes the majority of biometric gun safe locks, as mentioned in the article and in your comments.

      “What happens if you cut or burn your finger? Oh, maybe use one of the 9 other fingers you have that you programmed into the safe.” I point this out in the article. Many people who read this are researching fingerprint gun safes for the first time. They may not know that many manufactures recommend that you enroll more than one finger in case one doesn’t work. Consumers are reading reviews to learn things like this before they buy one and find out in the instruction manual. You’re reinforcing my point.

      “Battery life is the weakest link in these types of safes and requires a PM plan for the user, which is inconvenient. I think a simple solution would be adding a chirp low battery warning just like your smoke detectors.” Again we agree. At the beginning I say “battery-powered devices are fundamentally less dependable than all-mechanical devices.” You confirm that, and in addition add that they’re less convenient. I’ll bet not many customers expect their new handgun safe to require a Preventative Maintenance Plan. By the way, your comments about “standard algorithms”, programming “9 other fingers”, and “PM plan” demonstrate industry experience. Do you happen to work for a gun safe manufacturer? If so, a battery chirp indicator would indeed be a benefit. Why aren’t they included on these units?

      “Lots of opinions with no empirical evidence. No real technical knowledge…” Firstly, “opinions” are why I read reviews — to learn other’s opinions about products. I naturally don’t agree with them all, but I consider them and decide what works for me. As far as empirical evidence, there are very specific technical details in the article which you have confirmed or not disputed. So, not sure what to do with that one.

      “intellectually dishonest.” Dishonesty and disagreement are different things. Readers will decide for themselves.

      “You have no understanding of the fundamental function of this type of product. You completely ignore the intended function, security requirements, price requirements etc in favor of propping up straw man arguments. I can respect a well thought out opinion, but this is garbage. Try again” We seem to agree on the fundamental function, which demonstrates my (or your) level of understanding. We also agree on the intended functionality. By mentioning “security requirements” and “price requirements” in your defense of fingerprint safes, we’re also on the same page. Since no consumer will turn down free security, you mean that these units compromise security to meet lower price requirements. Again, I totally agree.

      To me, the best way to meet a lower price point is to avoid bells and whistles, while focusing on the most important requirements. For handgun safes, that means I recommend focusing on security and reliability instead of electronics. That is the trade-off made by the units I recommend instead of a biometric handgun safe.

      Whatever our agreements or disagreements, your comment has helped me to improve this article. And, our discussion has probably helped some readers appreciate the tradeoffs of these products. I hope readers are happy whichever way they go.

      Thanks again for your comment,

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