A Guide for Renters — or Anyone Who Can’t Justify a Vault Room
[This article originally appeared in CONCEALMENT #27]
We’ve all seen huge, awesome vault rooms before, if not in person, then on YouTube or in movies. It’s fun to imagine spinning the dial on a thousand-pound door, swinging it open to reveal a well-stocked armory with weapons displayed on all the walls.
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While this isn’t necessarily an unobtainable goal, it’s not practical for the vast majority of homeowners even if they have the money and space — and it goes well beyond what most leasing agreements would ever allow.
In this article, we won’t talk too much about bunkers or safe rooms. Instead, we will address approachable storage solutions for renters or those who own their own homes but can’t justify a vault nor bust out sheetrock for hidden safes behind mirrors or paintings.
Per the latest U.S. Census data, an average American will move nearly a dozen times in their lifetime — all told, it’s not uncommon for homeowners to leave heavy safes behind simply due to the expense and effort of relocation nothing of a vault room.
Firearms are dangerous in the wrong hands and can be an expensive investment. It’s not unreasonable to spend a portion of the value of your collection to help ensure its security.
Ultimately, secure storage should be the last line of defense; for more information on building up layers of security beyond a safe, read Chad McBroom’s Onion Peel series in CONCEALMENT Issue 17 through 20. Still, if the Oceans 11 team or a group of professional ninja assaulters are planning on taking down your residence, there’s not a whole lot that you can do.
Nothing can stop a determined thief with the right tools and unlimited time, but everything we do to secure our guns should increase the required effort — ideally enough so they either give up the pursuit before they accomplish their goal or they have to be on-scene long enough for law enforcement to intervene.
WHOM DO YOU KEEP THEM SAFE FROM?
The short answer is “anyone who shouldn’t access them,” but the first concern should be children. Even if you don’t have any kids, if a child will ever be in your home alone or otherwise, those guns should be locked up for everyone’s safety.
Even if your kiddo is the smartest and most responsible out there, you can’t rely on their friends being the same. Additionally, some states have laws regarding gun storage requirements and liability.
Another main concern is theft. The violation of a burglary is bad enough all by itself; discovering your firearms are now in the hands of criminals deepens that injury.
For our most-likely scenario, we look to some stats from a UNC crime analysis study as well as information from the Department of Justice. While just over 10 percent of burglaries are planned in advance, most are crimes of opportunity.
The average time spent in a residence is 8 to 12 minutes, and they typically look for portable (think fitting in a backpack) items like cash, electronics, prescription medicines, and jewelry. The most common tool used by an opportunistic burglar is a screwdriver or small pry bar.
Per the latest data from the DOJ, 65 percent of burglars are at least acquainted with the person they’re stealing from. It doesn’t mean that they’re best friends or anything, but it might be a neighbor who watches you come and go, or a shady maintenance crew member; this is especially true in multi-family residences like apartments or condos.
Often when “gun people” visit one another, a game of show-and-tell starts. This can be super fun, but you really have to be cautious of whom you play it with and what you let them see. While none of us would like to think that we’re friends with someone who would steal from us, the best way to never find out a friend is a thief is to not give them the opportunity in the first place.
If you’re going to show off your guns, don’t disclose how and where they’re secured. No matter what physical locks or containers you have, there’s undoubtedly a LockPickingLawyer YouTube video about bypassing or breaking it.
The scale of opportunistic-to-extensively-planned burglary is about the risk/reward involved. If someone knows what you own, how you store it, and what other security measures you have, a burglar is more likely to have great success because they can prep for their criminal endeavor with the right tools and information.
KEEPING YOUR FIREARMS SAFE
OUT OF SIGHT
Children or guests shouldn’t accidentally come across your firearms or ammunition, and a burglar shouldn’t be able to simply walk out with them. But merely hiding in and of itself as security is a bad idea; kids always know where the holiday presents are stashed. Furthermore, you’re far more likely to misplace or lose a firearm this way. “Did I lose this pistol or did someone take it?” isn’t a fun question to ask yourself. The largest problem with security-through-obscurity is that it’s no security at all if people know what they’re looking for.
You’re likely to come across people who advocate stashing guns in random out-of-sight places. Upon first blush, this may seem like a good idea to the uninitiated. But under a bed, the top of a closet, inside a cereal box, or taped to the underside of a coffee table may keep polite guests from coming across them at a barbecue — but they aren’t hidden at all from an experienced burglar who hit three other places that day and knows common spots to check. Whatever hiding place you can come up with or book you hollow out, it’s guaranteed that there’s a meth head out there who uses the same trick for their stash.
Prepared or planned hiding places take many forms; by now we’ve all probably seen the large wooden American flags with hidden pistol drawers inside, or perhaps a custom-made piece of furniture like a nightstand or shelf with quick-access compartments to hide goodies from unsuspecting eyes, or even tissue boxes and wall clocks. While many of these specialty items will hold up to more scrutiny than the cereal box method, they rely solely on the ignorance of the searcher. Even those nightstands with magnetic locks that look neat in TikTok only take a screwdriver to breach if one already knows there’s a gun inside.
If you spend the cash on custom gun-hiding furniture, you must resist the urge to show your friends or the internet.
IF IT’S PORTABLE, IT’S JUST GIFT WRAPPED
Pelican cases and similar hardcases are excellent for keeping your guns safe from the rough and tumble of traveling to the range in the back of a pickup or from uncaring baggage handlers when flying, but they aren’t real security in your home.
Guns stored in a locked Pelican are just giftwrapped for later, after the thief has walked away with your locked case and can pop them open at their leisure. The same goes for untethered quick-access bedside or drawer safes.
Similarly, any safe or container, even extremely heavy ones, that can be physically moved is far less secure than one anchored to the wall or floor.
Even those large 6-foot-tall safes are easier to pop if you can tip them over to gain better leverage, and we’ve seen entire safes removed from residences by criminals with the aid of appliance dollies (this falls into the “planned crimes” category).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, cheap safes like those from Harbor Freight are more difficult to bump or otherwise force open if they’re firmly secured.
SECURITY SOLUTIONS FOR ALL BUDGETS
Giant safes and vaults can be great from a security perspective, but they cost a considerable amount of money to purchase, deliver, and install. If you can afford to get your dream safe, that’s great. But don’t let “perfect” get in the way of “good enough.”
Any functional security is better than no security at all. Once again, the goal is to make accessing and stealing your firearms and other valuables as difficult and time-consuming as possible. In other words — make it a real pain-in-the-ass.
You won’t get out of this without at least sinking some screws into studs. As long those holes can be covered and painted when you move, your security deposit is likely fine — but we’d trade a security deposit for safer gun storage any day.
We should note that sometimes when “gun safes” are brought up in conversation, a pedantic person will start talking about UL ratings and how we should really call them “residential security containers” instead.
While this is technically true and we should have realistic expectations, you don’t need a bank vault to protect against an opportunistic smash-and-grab burglary.
TAKE A TRIP TO THE HARDWARE STORE
A low-cost solution involves a long eyebolt and a thick steel cable. Sink the eyebolt deep into a stud in the back of a closet and run the cable through all of your guns before locking them together. You get bonus points for more than one eyebolt to spread the pressure load. Yes, the eyebolt can be unscrewed with the right tools and your lock or cable can be cut, but it’ll stop or slow a thief with a pry bar.
Interior doors are famously flimsy, especially on rentals, but a lock on the door will prevent casual access. You may be able to find a drop-in solid-core door as well, but someone can always bypass that by going through drywall. Once again, we’re balancing time and effort.
Bear in mind while this inexpensive solution is a hassle for criminals, it’s also a hassle for you.
MOUNT CABINETS/SAFES IN AWKWARD PLACES
Cheap gun cabinets are usually keyed affairs made of thin-gauge steel that can be pried open. You can make them more of a PITA to access by not only securing them to a wall or floor, but also placing them so it’s harder to gain leverage with a prying tool, like in the back corner of a closet.
The same can be done with any metal-sided lockable container. Alternatives to gun cabinets you can find at a big-box hardware store or used online are jobsite boxes. Designed to secure tools at construction sites, they’re usually far tougher than a gun cabinet.
Higher-quality, heavier containers often go on sale at places like Tractor Supply, Lowe’s, or Home Depot. Even though they’re heavier, they should still be fastened to the wall or floor.
NOT ALL EGGS IN ONE BASKET
If you’re a renter, it’s especially important that you maintain the ability to transport secure storage between residences without the need to hire a piano mover.
This means multiple lighter safes rather than a single heavy one; with the help of trusted friends or family members, it’s much easier to move five 300-pound safes than a single 1,500-pound safe. It also comes with the advantage that instead of a single safe or container to pop, a would-be burglar has to spend more time on each individually.
Multiple safes secured to a wall — or each other — also allow for expansion if you acquire more firearms or other items needing secure storage.
• A fire rating isn’t as important as some manufacturers would lead you to believe. A whole-house fire can reach temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees F, and insurance companies may write off all contents as unsafe even without visible damage
• To coincide with the first point, if the worst comes to pass and you’re hit by a pro team, have sufficient insurance to cover your collection. Look at your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy for their firearms coverage and also shop around for firearms-specific insurance.
• To lighten your load during transport, first remove all contents of your safe or security container before moving. Most larger safes have doors that can be removed after opening, and the door is usually the heaviest part of the entire system.
• Most securing hardware that comes with even expensive safes is subpar. For concrete, 3/8-inch anchor bolts that are 3 inches long work well. Tapcon screws are excellent for cinder blocks and bricks. If you don’t have a hammer drill handy, while a cheap Harbor Freight model isn’t great if you’re a construction worker, it should do the job here.
• Big-box hardware stores often have inexpensive truck rentals. It’s a good option if you don’t have a vehicle or one of sufficient size to move a safe or container.
OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Avoiding external signs of firearms ownership can help prevent your residence from being specifically targeted by thieves; plastering your vehicle with 2A stickers and hauling obvious gun cases in and out of your home are the opposite of subtle.
While sometimes suspicion is unavoidable, there’s a difference between knowing and knowing
Pistols are easy because they can be hidden in nearly anything, but rifles take a bit more creativity to disguise. A rectangular case may or may not have a rifle in it, but a rifle-shaped case most certainly does.
A plain black case, rather than OD or FDE, is less assuming, and a little bit of misdirection like a Roland or Yamaha sticker can go a long way. Tennis racket bags, music equipment cases, and even folding chair bags can also be used to haul your long-guns.
For instance, Savior Equipment manufactures cases, such as their Ultimate Guitar Case, specifically designed with misdirection in mind, and they offer more physical protection than shoving a rifle into a chair bag.
It’s true that synths and guitars are also appealing to thieves, but firearms are more criminally useful than simply flipping them on Craigslist
Additionally, we’re not only talking about bumper stickers and distraction cases — gabbing with your friends about guns while sitting on your balcony in an apartment complex will also let nosey neighbors know what you have.
Another way to reduce your risk of losing your firearms in a burglary is storing the bulk of them (minus your home defense and concealed carry weapons) outside of your residence.
Many people store weapons at the home of a trusted friend or family member, preferably using the same precautions outlined in this article. Your local gun shop or range might also rent out storage lockers for the same purpose, which is especially helpful if you live far away from loved ones or in a high-crime area.
While undoubtedly there are many safes stashed in storage units, we hesitate to recommend their use to store your guns — thieves often have considerably more time to breach the container and the safes usually can’t be properly secured to a floor or wall.
We’re broken records here, but gun storage is your last line of defense when it comes to keeping what’s yours secure. Layer your security so that every step makes your residence a less-desirable target. The more time and effort you put in, the more likely you are to keep your firearms out of the hands of someone who shouldn’t have them.
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