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For the majority of my career, what weapons I owned or was issued were in my police car. My duty pistol was the only one that went in and out of the house. With no kids in the picture, I never purchased a gun safe, and this all served me well until my retirement. The police car was gone, and as my writing career expanded so did my weapons collection. Although the discussion as to the need for a safe arose often, I’d postponed getting one for quite some time. It was the experience of a friend of mine that spurred me to do what I should have done long ago.

Most people think of gun safes as just that, a place for your guns. The truth is that may be only part of the equation. In the case of my friend, she had a house fire that affected a good portion of her home. She was not a gun owner, but she had four kids, and all the family’s personal records were burned in the fire. Just hearing about the nightmare of replacing social security cards, passports, birth certificates and the like was enough. It is a real catch-22: You need your birth certificate to get your passport. She basically had to start from scratch. She also lost car titles, loan papers, her will and a bunch of other stuff that was difficult to replace. A good gun safe would have protected all of those items.

Got It, Use It
This and some concern about the weapons around my home prompted me to spend the money. We have a local outlet that has solid safes at good prices, so I ordered one and had it delivered. My gun collection was still small then, but everything that wasn’t being used went into the safe, along with my important papers, my last badge and some other indispensable items. This worked great for me, but over time some complacency had set in. By then I had secured an office for my writing pursuits, and firearms were being transported between office and home. I often headed to the range early, and the next day the gun would go home. Most of the time the gun would go in the safe if there was room (that is another story). Other times, because my neighborhood is pretty safe, the gun would stay in my locked garage, inside my vehicle. Then it finally happened: Someone broke into my garage and took about $5,000 worth of rifles out of the truck. Had I just used the safe that would have been avoided. Complacency will always get you, so make sure you actually use the safe!

Protection
Good guns safes are not cheap, but for those with extensive collections, safes really are a must. Properly installed, a gun safe will not only protect your weapons from theft but also damage. (And your weapons won’t get scratched or dropped by being moved around in a closet or the like.) A gun safe can be controlled for humidity, going a long way to keep your firearms in the best possible condition, and also hold collectables and important documents, which are particularly susceptible to fire and sometimes irreplaceable.

One of the top benefits of a gun safe is, in fact, protection from fire. As an officer, I’ve responded to a few house fires where guns were burned up, and the damage that can be done to them is amazing, something you don’t want to experience firsthand—especially with your vintage and collectable weapons. Maybe even more critical these days is protection from natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes, whose devastation can be tremendous—the gun safe may be the only thing left standing!

Choose Wisely
First, get a real safe. The metal container you get at the local department store does little more than prevent entry by someone who is untrained or unmotivated. It may keep the kids out, but that is about it. I’ve taken reports of real gun safes actually being stolen in tact, in their entirety, so the metal cabinet is about worthless—get a real gun safe.

Next, get the biggest safe you can afford. Believe me, you will fill it. As time goes on, you will find all kinds of things that need to be in it. True, the bigger the safe, the higher the cost. But you will never regret going as big as possible.

Also, ensure your safe is truly secure—not all safes are the same. The door pin should be at least an inch in diameter, and the bigger the better. If you truly are concerned about a motivated attempt, get the most secure safe you can afford. That includes the thickest metal used in construction and more pins. Higher protection safes will start at 10-gauge steel, with 12-gauge being the norm for the more affordable models. Just remember, all of these things add weight and cost. You are not going to take home the 1,000-pound safe in your SUV. Have it delivered, and when it arrives find a place where you can bolt it down to prevent it from being removed from the premises.

Safes are fire-rated mainly based on how long their contents will withstand heat. The minimum rating is generally 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. As a rule that means it will not exceed 275 degrees inside the safe, keeping most everything in tact. If you live a long ways from a fire department, get a higher fire-rating. Note that paper begins to char at 400 degrees, but CDs and media must remain below 125 degrees, so order accordingly. Also, safes protected against fire aren’t necessarily protected against smoke or water. For protection from all three, you need a door that seals in response to the heat of a fire—that will help keep smoke and some water out.

How about locks? Well, electronic and mechanical locks are equally safe. The electronic lock is very convenient, especially if you are often in and out of the safe. If not, the mechanical variety requires no batteries and will last a couple of generations. It is really about personal preference. And finally, decide how pretty your safe needs to be. Having chrome handles and premium paint can make these things really nice-looking. The problem is, such details add substantially to the cost. If you are going to lock your gun safe in a closet, garage or out of site, put your money to better use by getting a bigger, better safe.

Bottom Line
There are a ton of things to think about when getting a safe, so do your research. (For example, many insurance companies will lower your rates if you use a safe.) However, the decision to get one should be easy—given the realities of society and what Mother Nature can throw at us, we need all the protection we can get. Having a safe should not remove the need for common sense—as in actually using it, as in not parading your guns and valuables around the neighborhood. With a little bit of effort and common sense, you can protect your important items for years to come.

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