How Gun Safes Work

Experts find that dial lock gun safes are more secure than electronic lock safes. See more firearms pictures.

Most responsible gun owners know the choice to own a deadly weapon comes with the obligation to keep it secure. It's mostly common sense. To avoid accidents, thefts and other unfortunate ends, a gun should be inaccessible to pretty much everyone. That means, in most cases, a gun safe, and the logic goes: Insert firearm, don't make the code your birthday, and relax knowing your firearm is secure.

Then watch someone in footie pajamas open a gun safe, and you can start to rethink the logic.

A child's accidental death in 2010 triggered an investigation that revealed some startling truths. Three-year-old Ryan Owens of Washington state died of a gunshot wound after he got into his dad's police-department-issued, $36 Stack-On gun safe, leading to an independent assessment of that and other low-cost safe models [source: Tobias]. Results were presented at the hacking and security conference Def Con in 2012, and they go something like this: Not just one but multiple popular gun safes can, in fact, be opened by a toddler [source: Finkle].

Gun-related tragedies at home aren't rare. According to the Children's Defense Fund, the risk of accidental death in a home with a gun is four times higher than in a home without one. And since four out of 10 gun owners with children don't lock up their guns, the high incidence of tragedies affecting children isn't surprising. Indeed, nearly a quarter of children living with guns at home have accessed them without permission; and of all U.S. teens who commit suicide using a gun, more than half found the gun in their homes [source: Children's Defense Fund].

What is surprising, at least to those outside the lock-and-safe industry, is that some of those accidents are happening in homes where the weapons are locked in a gun safe.

A safe for storing guns isn't much different from any other kind of safe; it's designed to let certain people in while keeping everyone else out – and like any other kind of lockbox, it can fail. Still, storing firearms in a gun safe is a huge step toward increased security, both in human and property terms. Any good safe will do, but one designed for guns can make storing, organizing and accessing them a lot easier.

What makes a safe a "gun safe," then, is mostly a matter of practicality.