Quick Access Safes, and Why You (Probably) Need One

This is something that I think most people who swing by here already know, but needs to be said anyway. If you have kids at home, your guns should be locked up. If you don’t have kids in your house, and you never invite anyone over that you wouldn’t trust with a gun, then feel free to leave your blasters all over. Your home insurance will cover the value of stolen goods up to a certain point (depending upon your policy), so just stash your gats wherever you please. If you have kids, you have a moral obligation to keep them safe, and that includes from the things you use to keep them safe.

So, lock up all your guns all the time, got it. The only problem with that is the time it takes to access your defensive arms. Citizens are normally behind the initiative curve when it comes to defensive gun uses, so speed is a real concern. These two aspects of speed and security are both necessary, yet diametrically opposed. What do?


Enter the Quick Access Safe (QAS)

What is a ‘quick access safe’, exactly? Its a box you toss your home defense gun in that trades some security for speed of opening. It is not meant to keep your stuff safe and out of the hands of burglars who are intent on taking your stuff and have time to do it. A QAS is meant to keep curious children and nosy houseguests out of danger, and little else. Security and convenience exist at opposite ends of the same spectrum. The more you have of one, the more you give up of the other. There is no one solution for every situation, merely better compromises for your specific application.

The QAS is a relative newcomer to the industry. Safes, vaults, and lockboxes have been around for hundreds of years with an ever-increasing amount of security. The QAS has only been around for a few decades, and is what looks to be the first intentional turn away from heightened security in favor of speed. The only reason I can come up with for this is the increase in firearm safety awareness in the last half century. In 1940 or earlier, if you had a rifle you used for hunting and/or protecting the homestead, you basically had it hanging on the wall, or leaned in the corner, or above the mantle. I’m not sure if kids back then were just less curious about guns or lethal childhood accidents were so common that letting kids have basically unrestricted access to guns was the least of a parent’s worries (some combination of the two, most likely), but I’m not aware of a demand for a product at the time to fill the role of a modern QAS.

Where people used to keep their home defense guns

As we progressed through the 20th century, we as a whole became far more safety conscious, especially around guns. As our gun culture evolved (not ‘progressed’, since every federal gun law in the US has been written after 1930), we became more & more aware of the risks of giving children uncontrolled, unsupervised access to guns. People of course started putting safes in their homes to keep their guns locked up and out of the hands of children and burglars. The problem is that you want to have your home defense (HD) gun quick to get your hands on, and spinning the dial on a combo safe at 2am isn’t exactly the fastest thing in the world. So, for a time the best solution was that you lock up your stuff in your gun safe with the exception of your HD gun, which you put in a corner, or behind a door, or the top shelf of your closet, basically somewhere it is out of sight and out of reach of little hands, but still fast to get a hold of when you need it. As the parent of a toddler who climbs literally everything she can, I can tell you with 100% confidence that no surface in my house will be out of her reach forever. Once she learns to push chairs around to climb on counters and tables, it’ll be game over. Just hiding a man-stopping weapon ‘out of sight’ is beyond irresponsible, and I have no plans to make such an idiotic mistake.

Quick Access Safes

If you do nothing else, watch this video. I don’t agree 100%, but I agree like 95%.

This guy also made a follow up vid covering rifle safes.

So, now that we know the role of a QAS, let’s actually talk about them. Specifically, let’s talk about the different kinds. I divide them into two kinds: The kind that only open to correct button presses, and the kind that can be opened via signals. And no, I don’t have better names.

Can be Opened With Signals

These seem to be all the rage these days, and I’m not a fan. These QA safes can be opened with RFID chips, RFID stickers, RFID bracelets, and some can even be opened by Bluetooth apps. If you’ll remember the security/convenience spectrum, these are a little too far to the convenience side for me. I’m sure that they are nearly as safe, if not indistinguishably so, as the kind that can only be opened with a correct combination, but RFID and Bluetooth do not make me feel safe. There are also QA safes that unlock with the use of fingerprints. Those also weird me out because of the ease with which they can be fooled into opening, and with how finicky they can be with authorized fingerprints. The smartphone I carry everyday has difficulty in reading my fingerprints, and it cost a lot more than I would ever spend on a QAS. That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

That being said, they do look very fast and convenient. I’ve only ever seen these kinds of QAS with buttons that will allow entry so it’s not like you are completely locked out if you lose your RFID ‘key’. Honestly, if someone picked up one of these and kept the RFID keys strictly controlled, I’d have no actual concerns about it.

Button Presses Only

These are the kind I like. There is no RFID code you can spoof, no Bluetooth app to download or fake my login for. You can’t snag my phone while I’m not looking and use it to gain access to my gun. You can’t fake my fingerprint. You can’t grab one of my spare RFID bracelets. The only way to get it to open is to enter the correct combination. Period. Outside of physically defeating the box, that is.

There is also the flip-side to that coin: I always have access. If I rely on an RFID bracelet or sticker, I need to always know where it is. If I misplace my RFID ‘key’, I have to remember the button combo. If I don’t enter the button combo but once in a blue moon, how likely am I to forget it? Since my QAS is button-access-only, I am forced to enter the combo every time I put a gun in and every time I take a gun out. That combo is burned into my memory. Plus, now I have a key to my QAS that I don’t have control over. I won’t know who has it until I find it again, and that includes my toddler. If I can’t keep my kids out of the QAS, then it has completely failed at the one job it’s supposed to perform.

Electronic vs Mechanical

This is the bit where I can go either way, though I do have a preference. QA safes have two kinds of locking mechanisms: Electromechanical, and pure mechanical. The difference between them is pretty obvious: one uses electronic components to lock & unlock, and the pure mechanical ones don’t. This is also a big division in the full-sized-gun-safe market, though that is beyond the scope of this post and beyond my area of experience.

The advantage of an electronic locking mechanism is in the ability to unlock in ways beyond mere button presses. A pure mechanical lock cannot be opened with an RFID key, or with a Bluetooth app. An electronic operator has a higher number of possible button press combinations when compared to a mechanical lock, due to design limitations of mechanical locks. Electronic locks are also just kind of cool, especially if you can tap the app on your phone and the darn thing just opens up like a James Bond-style gadget! As much as stuff like that shouldn’t matter, to outright say it isn’t attractive would be a lie.

The big advantage of a mechanical lock is that it’s batteries will never die, since it has none. Another advantage (this means more to some than to me) is that the QAS doesn’t rely on cheap electronics that were almost assuredly made in China by the lowest bidder. While that isn’t as big of a concern, I still take that into account. The Simplex lock design has been produced continuously since the 60’s so, even though it is kinda cheap these days, it has been figured out for a long time. There is a certain comfort that comes with something who’s rough spots and weak points have been discovered and mitigated. These are my preference. I’ll trade bells & whistles for known quality.

Quick Access Safe Locations

So we’ve discussed the types and methods of locking mechanisms, but what of the safes themselves? What do they look like, what can they hold, and where can they be placed? That’s the most diverse and (to me) interesting bit of a QAS. Since speed of acquisition is the driving design concept, having the QAS close at hand is obvious. This has led QAS designers to make models that can be stashed almost anywhere a person might feel they might need a weapon. This means you can get a QAS to sit on top of your nightstand or desk…

…to fit under the top…

QuickDrawer from ShotLock

…to attach to the side of any vertical surface…

SpeedVault by GunVault

…for wall-mounting in a closet…

…to go under your bed…

…to fit in your car between the seats…

…they even make some that just hang out in your house like an accent piece! This last one is a bit too much for me.

There are also all kinds of variations that I haven’t shown here. Also, I know that I showcased a lot of Hornady products here, but I’m not necessarily saying that they are the best. They just happen to offer a lot of options in these niches and have good, short videos to accompany them. There are lot of other manufacturers out there, and lots of options that Hornady doesn’t offer, so spend some time looking at what’s available. Unbelievably, Amazon has even started offering their own rebranded versions of some QA safes, too!

Other Options

Secure or not, that’s just cool looking

One company that I haven’t mentioned yet is Tactical Walls, and there’s a reason. I don’t believe that they make security products, they make diversionary products. Their products are all made of wood and ABS plastic, with either RFID locks or magnetic child locks for security. On the convenience-vs-security scale, they’re a little too insecure for my liking in a house with children. They do offer the advantage of not looking like something with a gun in it, which shouldn’t be discounted. All the QA safes I’ve shown thus far are made of steel, but anyone who sees it will know there’s a gun in there (Gunbox possibly excluded). A safe could honestly be made of cardboard if it were impossible to find, but in the real world I’m afraid that little hands would find their way into one of these things eventually. If I trusted everyone in my house to keep their mouth shut (imagine being 8-years-old showing your best friend from school something straight out of a spy movie!), and my homeowners insurance was adequate to cover the cost of replacement, I honestly wouldn’t mind having one of these.

Conclusion

This post isn’t meant to help you burglar-proof your house, but to help you better understand some simple, affordable ways to keep easily avoidable tragedies avoided. There are lots of interesting variations of the QAS that I’m still finding today! They can be endlessly specialized to you and your specific application, and that’s before we consider just buying a simplex lock and building your own, assuming you can.

The security-vs-convenience scale, on the other hand, I believe to be applicable to almost everything in your life. There are times that you can meaningfully gain security or convenience without giving up any of the other, but for the most part it is a zero-sum game. Thankfully, we don’t need to pick only one place on that scale. We can (and should!) pick a variety of products that land at varying points along that scale, and use them accordingly. Some things need to be locked up in a literal bank vault, whereas other things should be kept readily-accessible, and most things land somewhere in between. I don’t want to tell you how to live, but I do want to show you some options so that you can make a more informed decision.

Stay safe, and I’ll see you next Friday. -S_S

*Cover image taxed from Pew Pew Tactical. I am not affiliated with or compensated by any company making any of the products shown here*

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