A confirmed bachelor, I started a family relatively late in life. I was used to keeping my firearms collection strategically placed throughout my home, loaded and ready for bear. As a federal law enforcement officer who has served for many years on the Mexican border and in Afghanistan, I learned that a little paranoia can be a healthy thing. But a new bride and then a new child meant that my ideas on firearms storage needed a major overhaul.
I was taught at a young age that an unloaded gun was a paperweight—the only ones I kept unloaded were packed up in desiccant and stored away. I still believe that an unloaded gun is useless for home defense, but keeping a loaded gun out of my daughter’s hands until she is old enough to respect and understand it has become a paramount priority. I have a large gun safe, but I needed something for the bedroom, and so began my search for a pistol safe. I decided I needed something that would keep my kid out yet still be easily accessible to my wife or me.
My wife wanted something simple that she could open under stress—no keys, no dial combinations. I started researching. One of the first things I learned was the word “biometrics.” It refers to identifying people by their unique characteristics: voice, DNA, retina and fingerprint are most commonly used for locks. A small safe with a biometric fingerprint reader was an option, but I wanted absolute reliability. Like my weapons, I demand that my safe work the first time, every time. So after trying out many pistol safes, the following made the cut.
GunVault is probably one of the biggest name in pistol safes, and the company is no stranger to biometrics. GunVault has six models that offer a biometric lock. GunVault’s biometrics utilize a self-learning algorithm that adds new minutiae to the fingerprint templates each time a user touches the fingerprint sensor. Why is this important? Over time, your fingerprint may alter slightly. If your safe does not adapt, then you could have a false read. And the new system can store up to 120 fingerprints. Biometric GunVaults, which range from $229.99 to $349.99, run on 9-volt batteries, come with mounting hardware and have both visual and audible low-battery indicators as well as key-lock overrides. GunVault’s most unique pistol safe is the SpeedVault, which is thin, foam-lined and the perfect size for one pistol. The SpeedVault can be mounted on the wall or under a desk or kitchen sink and has a front that flips forward to place the weapon’s butt in the perfect position for a draw. (gunvault.com; 800-222-1055)
After a little online research, I knew I had to check out LockSAF’s PBS-001. The reviews were excellent, and in many ways the safe reminded me of my Glocks—kind of plain but completely reliable. The LockSAF PBS-001 is made from 9-gauge steel, weighs 22 pounds and runs on a single 9-volt battery. Touch a button, put your finger on the scanner, and the top flips open. The unit records up to 10 fingerprints and comes with two physical keys to make sure you’re never locked out. For $299.99, the PBS-001 is pricey, but it is built like a tank and as reliable as they come. During a meeting with LockSAF President and Owner Richard Nguyen, I learned about all of the refinements that had gone into this product and was impressed. (locksaf.com; 877-568-5625)
Known for making some of the most affordable gun safes and lockers, I expected Stack-On’s pistol safes to be made of thin metal and to weigh next to nothing—I couldn’t have been more wrong. Their PS-5-B, PS-7-B and PS-10-B safes are all more than 20 pounds. These biometric pistol safes come is varying sizes and open either from the top or front. Each one also has a four-button combination that can be used in place of the biometric fingerprint scanner, which can store up to 32 separate fingerprints. To open the safe, push a button, swipe your finger on the scanner or enter your personal code and then turn the dial a quarter-turn. Stack-On safes run on AA batteries, and mounting hardware is included. (stack-on.com; 800-323-9601)
9g Products hails from my home state of Kansas, and they are the only biometrics safe company offering a product that is 100 percent U.S.-made. Inprint safes come in two sizes, the Micro and the Multi, and are the only pistol safes with third-generation biometric technology. Their false-acceptance rate is 1 in 100,000 tries, while most competitors accept 1 in 5,000. Of all the safes I reviewed, Inprints were the only safes that could either run on a 9-volt battery or be plugged into a socket via an AC adapter. And if both power sources fail, there is a key backup. The Micro is top-opening, weighs about 6 pounds and will hold one pistol. The Multi is front-opening, weighs about 15 pounds and will hold a lot more. A shelf and mounting bracket is optional in the Multi, while the Micro comes with a security cable. Both models come in optional finishes such as marble, Burlwood and Skulz. The Micro retails for $224; the Multi, $349. (9gproducts.com; 877-877-8586)
Biometric safes have come a long way over the last few years. Biometric safes using older processors take longer to open for each additional fingerprint that is locked in its memory. Safes with newer processors don’t suffer from this problem. One piece of advice is, if your scanner seems less than 100 percent reliable, scan your fingerprint into the memory several times: one with your finger straight on, one angled left, one angled right and one pressed down the way you would do so under stress. This tends to increase the reliability of the more finicky readers.
When I started looking for a modern pistol safe, I hoped to find one that was “good enough.” I was pleasantly surprised to see how many small safes there are that meet my criteria: thoughtfully designed and offering a host of great features. Any of the above safes will do an excellent job of keeping your firearm away from curious hands, but always within reach of yours.