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When it comes to having a handgun for home defense, you must balance ease of access with security. To this end, what is the best solution? Namely, some sort of secured storage safe that effectively restricts access to the firearm while still offering lightning-fast entry.

When it comes to locks for these types of safes, there are (in general) three primary types. First is a simple mechanical lock, which can operate with a Simplex button combination, a numbered-dial wheel lock or a simple key. The positive characteristics of these are that they are robust, reliable and usually extremely affordable.

The next option is a powered keypad system. In my opinion, the most intuitive of these types are the ones with buttons laid out in a hand-shaped pattern, with each finger lying in its own respective channel.

Going further up the technology totem pole, we have biometric locks. In recent years, this type has become increasingly reliable and repeatable, and also more affordable, with fingerprint readers being the most common type.

Speed & Security

While recently researching this subject for my own home, I headed over to GunVault’s website. A quick perusal revealed a broad selection of units ranging from ones with straightforward mechanical locks to electronic keypad locks and biometric locks. As a result, I decided to try out each of the three types and selected the following, which are ordered from least to most expensive: a NanoVault NV 300, with a numbered combination-style lock; a MicroVault MV 500, with a “No-Eyes” electronic keypad; and a SpeedVault SVB 500, with a biometric fingerprint reader.

NanoVault NV 300: The NanoVault line is made up of the NV 100, the NV 200 and the NV 300. All three feature strong steel bodies (20-gauge steel in the NV 100, and 18-gauge steel in the NV 200 and 300) with memory-foam interiors. The NV 100’s exterior measures 1.75 by 6 by 8.25 inches, while the NV 200’s and 300’s exteriors each measure 1.75 by 6.5 by 9.5 inches. Unlike the key-locked NV 100 and 200, the NV 300 employs a programmable combination lock with three numerals. All three models come with a security cable for attaching the vault to a fixed object for added security.

The NanoVault is designed primarily as a reasonably priced, highly portable handgun storage system. Retail prices range from $34.99 to $44.99 and weights from 2 to 3 pounds. I was impressed by the NV 300’s robust construction and simple operation. Although the NV 300 is very compact, I found that a full-size Government Model 1911 could still fit inside.

MicroVault MV 500: GunVault’s MicroVault line comprises the standard MV 500 and the larger MV 1000 MicroVault XL. The MV 500’s exterior measures in at 2.25 by 8.5 by 11 inches, while the XL’s measures in at 3.5 by 10.25 by 12 inches. The MV 500 features 20-gauge steel construction and weighs 4 pounds, while the XL is made of 18-gauge steel and weighs 8 pounds. As with the NanoVault, the MV 500 features a foam-lined, protective interior and a security cable. It is available with either an electronic “No-Eyes” keypad system (as I received), or with a biometric fingerprint reader.

Unlike GunVault’s MiniVault and MultiVault lines, the MicroVault is designed to bridge the gap between an ultra-compact portable design and a more traditional “bedside” design. Both the MV 500 and MV 1000 feature what the company describes as a “notebook” design, with a top door that opens upward and has hinges at the rear. The electronic lock system is programmable by the user and powered by one 9V battery. An override key is also included. Prices range from $159.99 to $329.99.

SpeedVault SVB 500: With the SpeedVault line, GunVault has upped the ante on radical designs for fast access to a firearm in the home. Designed to be mounted vertically under a desk or on the side of a bedside table, the SpeedVault holds a single handgun via a foam-lined partition in a hinged “shoe” that swings downward when the unit is unlocked. When the SVB 500 is opened, the pistol is presented in a “draw” position with the grip/butt sticking up out of the interior.

The unit is available in two versions: the SV 500 with a numeric code pad made up of four round, numbered buttons, and the SVB 500 that features a biometric fingerprint reader (sample received). Both versions are made of tough 18-gauge steel and come with a mounting-plate attachment that creates multiple mounting options. The lock mechanism is powered by a single 9V battery, and the interior features a courtesy light. An override key is included. Prices range from $209.99 to $329.99.


Hands On

The NV 300 proved to be a breeze to set up. Also, the MV 500 was no problem as I have used such units before. It was the biometric SVB 500 that was new territory for me. With a battery installed and the instructions in hand, I examined the unit closely. The fingerprint reader itself is located on the upper angled face above the hinged door that contains the handgun. It is made up of a roughly 1-inch-wide channel with a round button at the top and a scanner window in the middle. The instructions explained that the lock can “remember” 120 fingerprints and designate two as “administrators.” With a few button presses and about five finger sweeps across the reader pane, I had the safe programmed to read my finger. What was unique to me about the SVB 500 was the fact that you would swipe your finger across the reader rather than hold it in position. This instinctive system requires you to press your finger in at the top of the channel to press the activation button, and then sweep downward smoothly.

With all three programmed, I set about comparing their relative speeds and ease of use. Obviously, the NanoVault would be the slowest with its simple combination lock. But the real contest was between the No-Eyes keypad on the MV 500 and the biometric lock on the SVB 500. I quickly found that I could unlock both safes in roughly one second. In fact, I found that I could unlock the No-Eyes keypad slightly faster than the biometric lock. Its finger channel system proved to be very instinctive and easy to use, even in total darkness. I also noted that each channel had raised Braille-like bumps that indicate positions 1, 2, 3 and 4, respectively. But it required more conscious dexterity than the biometric system.

My suspicion is that each of these have their merits. The No-Eyes system is potentially faster and relies upon a less technologically complex locking system, but requires that, under duress, you be able to key in your selected combination. The biometric, on the other hand, only requires that you sweep your finger over the reader window. I did find that you must be sure to sweep your finger evenly and flatly over the window just the way you did when you programmed it.

Critical Choices

Armed with this knowledge, as well as a grasp of your own personal needs and budget, you should be able to choose a storage system that is right for you. In my opinion, any of these three robust, reliable GunVault safes should be able to fit nearly any user’s needs and budget. And, once you choose it, be sure to practice with your safe until using it is second nature. For more information, visit gunvault.com or call 909-936-0161.

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