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Defensive Pistol Storage in the Home:
By:  William P. Flinn

One of the things that we emphasize in our firearms classes above all else is firearm safety.  Of the NRA rules for safe gun handling, the third rule states ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.”  However, when teaching the “Personal Protection in The Home” course, we modify that third rule to tell you to always assume that the gun is loaded.  The reason for that is because our personal defense gun is considered to be the “ready” or “in use” gun, and is therefore usually loaded. After all, it doesn’t make too much sense to have an unloaded gun for personal defense.  Would you keep an empty fire extinguisher for kitchen fires?  Safety is paramount, but we are talking about the safety and proper use of a tool that we will possibly use to protect ourselves and our families some day.

In my own household, where our youngest is a teenager, the risk of a small child accessing our guns and “playing” with them is extremely small.  But what about that same teenager with nosey friends?  What about burglars who break in while we’re gone?  Part of my own philosophy about gun safety and responsibility says that I will not put guns in the hands of those who will intentionally do harm to others, but I will always have a firearm readily available when called upon to use it for defensive purposes.  We as gun owners have as much of a DUTY to keep guns out of unauthorized hands as we do the RIGHT to own them.

So having said all that, I wanted to use this article to discuss the various aspects of home firearms safety versus accessibility.  That is – the safe handling and storage of firearms versus accessibility to a “ready” firearm when you are in a crisis situation in your own home, and mere seconds count.  Having a ready firearm available and accessible involves a certain amount of risk analysis.  The risk of having a ready firearm that is accessible to unauthorized people versus the risk of not having a ready firearm available for self defense is a serious one and takes a great deal of consideration.  And when we say “unauthorized people” this can be a child who finds the gun and decides to play with it, a nosey friend of your teenager just looking around your house, or a criminal who has broken into your house and steals your firearms.  It is important to remember that safety not only applies to your own handling of firearms, but household members who could inadvertently hurt themselves, and also to criminals who steal your firearms and do harm to others.

To help illustrate this point - In my “day job” in the computer security biz, we often have to contemplate the balance between the need for keeping our computers and networks safe and our users being able to do their jobs.  If we are too secure, our network will never be hacked, but our users will not be able to conduct business.  If we are too lax or too open, we will be successfully attacked, our data stolen (or worse), and our business suffers greatly.  To accommodate the fine balance needed between security and accessibility, we use something called “defense in depth” to make sure that we have various layers of security.  Each layer is (hopefully) transparent to the end user, but presents a virtual gauntlet of protective measures that an attacker has to break through in order to get to our data.

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Likewise is the risk analysis that we as gun owners have to perform when we make the decision to keep a loaded firearm in the house for personal protection.  And just like the example above, we want to present a “defense in depth” of multiple security layers of protection.  This article will present some different scenarios of safety versus accessibility, along with an analysis of each method’s safety versus accessibility profile.  This is not meant to be an absolute recommendation of any particular safety strategy – only YOU can decide which is right for you!

NOTE:  The following sections talk about doing drills and performing practice.  Do NOT do your drill or practice with LIVE ammunition.  Remove all of your live ammunition from your ammunition storage container, and put some dummy rounds, or “snap caps” in your storage container, and in the magazines you store in that container. Check, double check, and triple check that your firearm is unloaded before doing any drills or practice.

 
Strategy 1:  Unloaded Handgun in the Storage Safe:

This scenario assumes the most safe and secure of all storage methods.  In this scenario, we are describing the large fire-proof gun storage vault with a combination lock and/or a digital keypad.  This strategy also assumes that the firearms kept inside are all unloaded, and in keeping with best practices, the ammunition is locked in a separate container.  If there are young children in the house, this is by far the safest way to ensure that getting to the guns is extremely difficult, but that an unauthorized person loading the gun and accidentally hurting themselves is more difficult still.  In the case of protection from burglars, this strategy makes stealing your guns and ammunition as difficult as it gets.

But what about accessibility in a home invasion situation?  Can you quickly get the storage vault unlocked, and retrieve a firearm?  Can you then quickly retrieve ammunition, load the gun, and make it ready for use?  How long will this take you to do?  In the mere seconds that it will take for a violent criminal to burst into your home and get to where you are, it is going to be very difficult to retrieve a ready firearm and protect yourself and your home.

Safety:  High

Accessibility:  Low

Recommendation: 

  • If you are preparing for home defense, and accessibility is a concern, change your strategy to one that is more suitable and considers more of a balance between safety and accessibility.
     

  • If you are insistent that you are going to use this as your only storage strategy, then drill yourself to find out how long it takes to retrieve a handgun, retrieve the ammunition, load it, and be ready to use it.  Practice doing this in the dark to see if you can do it, or to see how much longer it takes than doing it in the light.

NOTE:  Do NOT do your drill or practice with LIVE ammunition.  Remove all of your live ammunition from your storage container, and put some dummy rounds, or “snap caps” in your storage container, or in the magazines you store in that container. Check, double check, and triple check that your firearm is unloaded before doing any drills or practice.  Get a second person to assist you with your drills.  Have them verify that all live ammunition has been removed, and that your guns are unloaded and that only dummy ammunition is used in the drill. 

  • Put loaded magazines or speed-loaders in your ammunition storage container for easier retrieval and loading.
     

  • Harden the target.  Make sure that your home is as inaccessible to burglars as possible.  Keep as many barriers between you and the home invader as possible.  Those barriers might include dogs, locked doors, deadbolts, alarm systems, and a safe room in your house.
     

  • Make sure the gun and ammunition storage is in your safe room.  Having a locked door between you and the person invading your home will at least buy you some time to retrieve the firearm, load it, and be ready.

 
Strategy 2: Loaded Handgun in the Night Stand:

This represents the other end of the safety/accessibility spectrum; from both safety and accessibility standpoints, this is in direct contrast to the strategy mentioned above.  If there are no children in the house, then the risk of a small child getting to the firearms is relatively small.  Your firearm is immediately accessible in case you need it.  But it is also immediately assessable to unauthorized persons.  If you leave the firearm in your night stand while you are out, and a burglar breaks into your home, it will be easy for them to find and steal your gun.  A night stand, after all, is one of the most common places for people to keep pistols and other valuables.

Safety:  Low

Accessibility:  High

Recommendations:

  • If you don’t usually take your firearm with you when you leave the house, get a safe in which to lock up your firearms while you are gone.
     

  • Same goes for any other firearms you have in the house.  Even if you don’t have a risk of children who can get to your firearms, there is still the risk of a burglar coming in and stealing your firearms.
     

  • Use some concealment methods to hide your firearms.  Most burglars look for the low hanging fruit.  They quickly look around for items to steal and get out before they are detected or the home owner comes home.  Even if you keep your ready pistol in a handgun safe, consider concealing the safe.  Many small pistol safes can be easily pried open if the intruder has a crowbar or other tools.

 
Strategy 3: Loaded Handgun in the Handgun Safe:

This strategy offers an excellent balance between safety and accessibility.  The defensive handgun is readily accessible with the push of a few buttons, but is still locked up and secure from children and the amateur burglar.  Always keeping your ready firearm in the pistol safe gets you in the habit of always retrieving your gun from that safe.  In contrast to the scenario above, you develop a habit for going to that location for your defensive pistol, and do not run the risk of forgetting to move your handgun from the night stand to the safe each day when you leave.  There won’t be that nagging “Did I leave my pistol out?” feeling.

 

 

Safety:  High

 Accessibility:  High

 Recommendations:

  • Make sure to buy a pistol safe that can be bolted to the floor or other solid structure.
     

  • Choose a location for your pistol safe that is quickly accessible to you, but not readily visible to children or burglars.

 


 

  • Drill yourself on how long it takes to open your pistol safe – including drills on doing it in the dark.

NOTE:  Do NOT do your drill or practice with LIVE ammunition.  Remove all of your live ammunition from your storage container, and put some dummy rounds, or “snap caps” in your storage container, or in the magazines you store in that container. Check, double check, and triple check that your firearm is unloaded before doing any drills or practice.  Get a second person to assist you with your drills.  Have them verify that all live ammunition has been removed, and that your guns are unloaded and that only dummy ammunition is used in the drill. 

  • If you have a pistol safe with push buttons or other electronic technologies that require batteries, test the mechanism often, and change your batteries often.  Perhaps coincide this with your schedule for changing your smoke detector batteries.  (You DO have smoke detectors, right?)
     

  • Put a low intensity battery powered light near your handgun safe.  This provides a quick way to get low level illumination on the safe so that you can see the buttons, and helps provide light in the immediate area so you can open your safe.  I use one of those big push-button closet lights.  You push the large dome for the light, and the light comes on.  It is very low intensity so as not to hurt my eyes, but so that I can see the safe and the immediate area.

     


 

  • Put a high intensity flashlight inside of or in the immediate vicinity to your pistol safe.  This will help you illuminate the area in front of you to make sure you are only aiming at the bad guy and not a family member.  The high intensity light will temporarily blind the intruder as well.
     

  • When you travel, if you do not take your ready handgun with you (some states do not recognize your CCW permit), then take your handguns out of the handgun safe, unload them, and put them in your gun storage vault.  Put the ammunition in your separate ammunition storage container.
     

Wrapping It All Up:

Safety versus accessibility, when it comes to firearms, involves a great deal of consideration and risk analysis.  On one hand, if firearms are not secured, even though they may be highly accessible, unauthorized people can gain access to them.  On the other hand, if secured too tightly, you may not be able to access and use them when needed during a home invasion or other personal attack. 

Food For Thought:  If someone breaks into your house, and you end up in the same room, it takes the average intruder only one and a half seconds to reach you from a distance of thirty-one feet away.

As I mentioned before, “unauthorized people” can be a child who finds the gun and decides to play with it, or a criminal who has broken into your house and steals your firearms.  It is important to remember that safety not only applies to household members who could inadvertently hurt themselves, but also to criminals who steal your firearms and do harm to others.  I certainly don’t want to be the one who is responsible for hurting a child, and I especially don’t want to be the one who enables a criminal with a new tool (my firearm) to use for committing their crimes and other acts of violence.

Use defense in depth!  Build layers of protection around yourself and your firearms with good household locks, personal awareness, home security strategies, and common sense.  Take an NRA Personal Protection in the Home course or attend an NRA or Refuse to Be a Victim seminar.  In our NRA developed and approved courses, we will teach you how to have a plan, practice the plan, and use common sense to keep yourself and your family safe.  These courses cover such things as designating a safe room, keeping your firearms secure yet accessible, and how to be aware of your surroundings.

Firearms security versus accessibility means practicing risk analysis to avoid risky practice.  Practicing your methods and strategies is vital to successful deployment in a crisis situation.  Having a plan and being able to react quickly can save your live and the lives of others.  Your personal safety and the security of your family depends on it!

 
 

       

 

 

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