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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.
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 against forced entry. Some safes provide only protection against smash and grab burglary and unwanted access from young family members at home or outside, 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 various countries
All Australian states require that firearms must be locked in steel cabinets or safes, although wooden safes 'deemed not easily penetrable' are allowed for Category A and B weapons in all states, apart from Western Australia. In most states, the law states that the ammunition (and bolt if readily removed), must be 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 in most states for safes with a mass of greater than 150 kilograms). In addition, shooters in Western Australia must have double locks on their safes if the swinging edge of the door is greater than 500 mm and less than 1500 mm. Additional locks are required for safes with a swinging edge greater than 1500 mm. 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.
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.
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. Glass fronted cabinets are legal in the U.K, provided the security glazing comply with BS5544 requirements and have no more weak spots than a full steel cabinet.
If citizens do not own a gun safe, according to 'Secure Storage', it is acceptable to remove the firing mechanism from the firearm and store it in a secure container. It is then required that you lock away the rest of the firearm.
Some gun safes in the United States are tested by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). The least rigorous UL certification for safes is specified in the standard UL 1037 as Residential Security Container (RSC). RSC certification requires that the safe resist for five minutes expert attacks employing tools including screwdrivers, adjustable wrenches, pry bars, punches, chisels and hammers no heavier than 3 lb. Such well-known standards for the level of security provided by safes have been shown to fail to consider many covert or forceful methods of attack using commonly available tools, and hence are of limited value.
Many gun safe manufacturers state that their gun safe is "DOJ approved". The state of California Department of Justice (DOJ) has required that any gun safe sold in California should be approved by the Regulatory Gun Safe Standards. This DOJ standard has now become a common rating for the classification of gun safes. In 2012, a report appeared in Forbes written by the investigative attorney and physical security specialist Marc Weber Tobias, presenting the results of his investigation into the quality of the security provided by eleven different models among three leading brands of gun safes sold in the U.S. through many retail outlets. Eight models from one of the brands are said to conform to the DOJ standard. Tobias reported that he and his colleagues found that all eleven models could be opened with one of a variety of simple implements and techniques, including bouncing and rapping, or insertion of paperclips, wires, drinking straws, screwdrivers, or brass strips that can be purchased from a hardware store. Four of the models were unlocked by a three-year old child. (It was a fatality resulting from such an occurrence that led to the investigation.) When Tobias reported their findings to the manufacturers and retailers of the "safes", no useful dialog or corrective action resulted. Tobias concluded that the DOJ "Standards are woefully inadequate and do not address any of the issues that we found in any of the gun safes that we tested. If the Standards do not cover a method of entry, then they are meaningless."
Fireproof gun safes have an UL classification, and depending on the build of the gun safe, the inside must not get warmer than a certain temperature during a certain period of time. A common rating for gun safes is "350-1 hour" or "350-2 hour", which means that when the safe is in a fire, the inside will not get warmer than 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 or 2 hours. It has been noted that fireproof safes may be insecure against unauthorized entry.
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.
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