A gun safe is a secure and protective storage container for one or more firearms, and, or ammunition for those guns. Gun safes are primarily used to prevent access to unauthorized or unqualified persons, for burglary protection, and, in more capable safes, to protect the contents from damage during a flood, fire, or natural disaster. Access prevention is required by law in many places, necessitating a gun lock, metal gun cabinet, or gun safe. Gun safes have largely replaced the gun cabinets made of fine stained wood with etched glass fronts used for display that were commonly used decades ago, although some gun safes are made to resemble such gun cabinets.
Gun safes may include additional security features such as fire or water protection, combination lock, digital lock, and fingerprint identification.
Electronic locks as well as mechanical locks are available on many models of safes. The highest reliability exists for mechanical locks, although they are often more time consuming to open than electronic locks. Some mechanical combination locks have key locks, too, that lock the combination lock dial from turning, thereby precluding casual attempts by anyone with physical access to the safe from trying multiple combinations in the hopes of unlocking the safe.
Some safes use live locking bolt technology and pry resistant metal to ensure the secure protection of its contents. Some safes provide only protection against burglary and unwanted access from young family members, while other safes provide additional protection against fire and flood and other natural disasters.
Vault doors are available for creating walk-in gun safes or vaults in a dedicated room or gun armory in one's home. Such rooms are also sometimes used as a dual-use gun safe or panic room, or even as a dedicated shelter for use in the case of a tornado or hurricane.
Gun safes with a carved wood exterior (furniture safes) serve a primarily decorative purpose and resemble old gun cabinets used for displaying weapons in the past. Design characteristics may include wood veneer and very thick tempered glass.
Some gun safes are designed to be hidden from obvious view. False walls with hinges located at one end of closets are also sometimes used to hide gun safes, although simply installing a gun safe in an existing closet with a door that closes can achieve much of the same advantages to prevent intruders from becoming aware of the existence of a gun safe.
Gun safes in different countries
All Australian states require that firearms must be locked in steel cabinets or safes, with the ammunition (and bolt if readily removed) stored either in a separate safe or in a separate locked section of the safe. It is a legal requirement that the safe is bolted to the wall or floor (with exceptions for some very heavy safes that are not easily moved). In addition, shooters in Western Australia must have double locks on their safes. Police may inspect the storage facility before issuing a licence, and will make random checks to ensure that legislation is being complied with. The Sporting Shooters Association of Australia endorses this policy with its "Secure your gun, Secure your sport" campaign to increase firearm safety and prevent theft.
Requirements vary when transporting firearms in vehicles in different states. Most require that the gun is hidden from view, and locked so that it is not easily reached by an unauthorised person. Firearms must be unloaded and the ammunition transported in another section of the car.
Some gun safes in the United States are tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), with those safes achieving UL certification being given Residential Security Container (RSC) certifications by UL. Various grades of RSC certification exist, measured in the time that the safe provides protection against forced entry. The primary advantage of buying a safe having UL certification, to a gun safe buyer, is to make certain that minimum security capabilities exist for the safe (for example, at least a 12 gauge body), as well as to guarantee 10,000 openings/closings of the safe lock are expected under normal use. The use of enough strong, supported deadbolts to secure the door is also an advantage against burglary.
Many gun safes sold in the UK are tested to BS BS7558/92, the British Standard for gun safes. The British Home office recommends that new cabinets should conform to this standard.
Any person applying for or renewing their gun licence in Ireland must have a gun safe installed in their home. This was made law under the Firearms (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 2009. Safes must be tested to the British Standard BS7558. Additional requirements including monitored alarms are necessary for those with more than 3 guns.
Although rare, large gun safes may pose a hazardous risk to small children who could accidentally lock themselves inside one. To minimize this risk, stores should not leave large safes unlocked and unattended, and home owners should always lock them after use. Also, gun safes should in general be bolted down, both to deter crime, as well as to eliminate the possibility of the safe when empty from tipping over upon a person upon opening the door; the heaviest portion of many safes being the door.