Below are remarks I hear regularly from people. I will respond to the remarks in the order I usually hear them.
#1: These safes are only intended to keep kids away from guns.
The phrase “keep kids away from guns” is a catchphrase. For a variety of social and political reasons, gun ownership in the U.S. has been reduced to a child safety issue in the minds of many people who do not own guns. In fact, people on all sides of the debates over gun control, gun laws, gun rights, and gun safety now invoke child safety to argue their points—whatever the points they’re arguing. But gun ownership is an “everyone safety issue,” as well as a sport, a hobby, and in some instances a defensive measure.
If people can be convinced that handgun safes are made to “keep kids away from guns,” they have no reason to ask themselves, “How would an adult or young adult access my handgun safe?” The owner of one of these products therefore has no reason to question whether the safe has any security vulnerabilities an adult or young adult could exploit. The owner never becomes aware of the safe’s design deficiencies, because he has no inclination to look for them.
One of the greatest dangers in reducing gun ownership to a matter of child safety is that companies importing cheap handgun safes only need to convince people, through product packaging and advertising, that a handgun safe is inaccessible to a three or four-year old. If the product appears inaccessible to a small child, the product appears to fill its purpose. It doesn’t actually have to work.
#2: These safes are not intended to permanently store firearms.
I’ll briefly explore this line of reasoning to show why this is the wrong way to look at handgun safes. We cannot expect that gun owners remove their handguns from handgun safes at night and return them to full-sized, floor-standing safes before going to bed, because gun owners tell themselves they want ready access to a firearm for that “bump in the night.”
We also cannot expect that gun owners remove handguns from their handgun safes in the morning and return them to full-sized safes during the day. Gun owners tell themselves they want ready access to a firearm for defensive purposes during the day, which is also their reasoning behind getting concealed-carry permits.
The bottom line: A handgun safe in any given home has a firearm inside of it. Small handgun safes (or “pistol boxes” or “lock boxes”) are used to permanently store firearms, and there is no arguing about this fact. For those who own a single handgun and who live in an apartment or condominium or townhome, a full-sized safe is not an option. There's no place to put a full-sized safe. The handgun safe is therefore the only realistic gun security option for these people, and because of that these devices must be secure.
#3: These safes are only intended to keep honest people honest.
This folksy-sounding platitude has the air of common-sense wisdom. In fact, the remark is meaningless. A truly honest person doesn’t contemplate breaking into your handgun safe, and therefore doesn’t need to be kept honest.
In all likelihood, people making this remark are revealing their assessment of people, that people are fundamentally dishonest. If this is your assessment of your fellow human being, then your handgun safe better damn well work. Which leads us back to the problem with most of the handgun safes put on the market—and my reasons for testing them. They don’t offer any real security.
#4: These safes are only intended to prevent “smash and grab” theft.
“Smash and grab” is a catchphrase that causes people to overlook the many reasons for using a handgun safe. Handgun safes are used to prevent unauthorized access to firearms, which may involve keeping firearms out of the hands of small children, tweens, teens, adults with inadequate firearms training, or adults with mental-health issues or substance abuse problems.
Individuals who are not allowed access to a firearm often live in close proximity to the safe. They know where the safe is and what is inside it. Therefore, we must consider that a curious individual who is unsupervised for a period of time will have multiple opportunities to explore how to access the safe. If that individual discovers a means of covert entry into the safe, smashing the safe to grab its contents will not be necessary.
#5: We’re better off teaching young people safe gun handling.
This remark does not in any way address the design deficiencies of handgun safes I’ve examined, so in one sense I can ignore it. But I want to point out something that should be obvious if one gives the matter even a moment’s thought.
We put young people through driver education to give them the best chance possible of being safe drivers. We cannot ensure that putting them through driver education will give them good judgment. Judgment and maturity must come with age. Not surprisingly, young people make up a disproportionate number of the fatalities on the road. They may pass their driving tests and get their licenses, but they are not always ready for the responsibility.
Similarly, teaching a young person safe gun handling will not ensure that a young person has the judgment to handle a firearm. Some young people are ready for the responsibility. Others are not. In either case, we’re not “better off” teaching a young person anything without taking into consideration a certain, hard-to-define readiness factor, the knowledge we have of that young person’s ability to make good decisions.
#6: Anybody can break into one of these safes with a pry bar if he really wants to.
The reason we should be concerned about the lack of security in the handgun safes being foisted on gun owners is that one doesn’t need a pry bar to access them. As can be seen in the demonstrations posted on this site, I have accessed these devices using paperclips, plastic zip ties, 7-Eleven Slurpee straws, and other common materials. Many of the safes can be accessed without leaving signs of entry, which means the safes can be opened, the contents can be removed and returned, and the owners of the safes would never know it.