I've been researching secure storage now that I've moved into a house and can set something up for the long term (like 10 to 30 years).
Once you have more then three or four guns, especially long guns, it's time to start looking into a large container to store them all securely.
Notice I said "container" and not "safe." That was deliberate. The majority of what are commonly called and sold as "Gun Safes" are actually UL (Underwriter's Labratory) listed as "RSC" or "Residential Security Containers" and not actual safes. This includes the "safes" available at big box stores like Academy, Gander Mountain, Sam's Club, etc, with brand names including "Liberty," "Winchester", "Browning," etc.
So what is a RSC, and how is it different from a true safe?
Simply speaking, a RSC is a large, sheet metal box with a lock. The metal for the sides and doors is typically 12 gauge or 10 gauge. The actual door or walls may be thicker due to the addition of gypsum wallboard or similiar materials designed to reduce (not eliminate) the effects of heat or fire. The other advantage, from a seller's point of view, is this type of "composite" or "clad" construction makes the door and wall look thicker and more secure to the average buyer and helps with sales.
The locks are usually UL rated and offer good security. The weakness is in the actual body of the unit.
The UL RSC classification means that any specific RSC labelled container will resist forced opening for up to *five* minutes by an attacker using simple, non powered, hand tools. We're talking screwdrives, hammers, and pry bars LESS then 18" long. RSC's are not rated against any attack by power tools or any attack lasting longer then five minutes.
Five minutes, that's it, and that's with just hand tools. And that's assuming a more or less amateur attack. To a pro, it might as well be unlocked. This attack does allow the attacker to knock the RSC over. It is much easier to get through the back or sides then the door or lock. The welded corners are especially vulnerable. For maximum security, RSC's should always be bolted down to keep them from being tipped over and attacked at the weak points.
Now, as long as you understand the limitations of a RSC, and don't pay too much for one, they do have a role. A RSC will protect you from your kids or unauthorized guests getting into your firearms (unless they are willing to destroy the safe to do so. Not likely if they just want to "play with daddy's guns.")
A RSC also helps protect you from quicke "Smash 'N Grab" burglaries, of the type typically done by teenagers and other 'ner do wells. The "smash 'n grab" robber wants to be in and out as quickly as possible and often won't take the time to try to defeat a RSC. You can add to your security by hiding the RSC to make it less likely they'll even find it in a quick run through the house.
Even though RSC's advertise fire protection, my sources tell me not to rely on that. At best, a RSC will help protect your firearms from a less-then-complete house fire. The shorter duration and lower the heat, the better. Don't trust the ratings advertised by the manufacturers though. The only consisent, reliable and independant fire rating that means anything is the UL 1 hour (or better) ratings. Unfortunately, there are no RSC's that meet this rating as the standard materials and construction required to offer this kind of protection are too expensive for RSC use.
Don't get me wrong though. Any fire protection is better then none, just don't believe the manufacturer's claims and don't rely on a RSC to keep vulnerable items like paper documents, jewlry, or electronic media safe, even from a smaller fire.
Enough about RSC's, let talk about true safes.
By comparasion a true, "B rate" (construction graded) safe will have a 1/4" steel body and 1/2" plate door, minium. That's the low end of a "true" safe and is based on construction materials, not resistence to attack. Some "B rated" safes may also have the UL RSC classification if the manufacturer choose to spend the money to submit that model to UL for testing. While these safes have the RSC classification, any RSC made to "B rate" construction standards will be head and shoulders above any other RSC rated container.
UL also lists safe with "TL-15", "TL-30," and higher ratings. This is a measure of attack resistence against attacks using power tools. A "TL 15" rated safe will resist attacks for 15 minutes, a "TL 30" for 30 minutes, etc. That extra resistence does come with a price though as the heavier materials used in the construction and better build quality add significantly to the expense.
There are also "E" and "F" construction ratings that are roughly comparable to the TL 15 and TL-30 UL ratings. These safes have not been submitted to UL for testing though (typically due to the expense of doing so).
Be aware that "burgler resistent" and "fire resistent" safes are two different things designed to do two different jobs. Typically, the construction methods and materials used for fire resistent safes don't offer much protection against forced entry and the burgler resistent safes don't offer much fire protection. The two goals are mutually incompatable to some extent. There are dual "burgler/fire" resistent safes available. My understanding is that they would protect adequately against either danger, but not as well against each specific threat as a safe designed specifically for that purpose.
Now the bad news. Typical B rated or better safes are *generally* much more expensive then RSC's. In most cases, the higher the rating, the higher the price. However, there is often a price overlap between the more expensive, "high end" RSC's, especially at full retail, and some of the lower end B rated safes. For about the same amount of money you can significantly improve your protection by looking for a B rated safe instead of some of the more expensive of the RSC's.
How much money you should spend depends on what you need to protect, from who, and the value of the items you want to protect. It makes no sense to spend $3,000 on a safe to hold $1,000 worth of Mosin Nagants or Mausers. Conversly, it's "penny wise and pound foolish" to keep a $10,000 collection in a $500 RSC.
A RSC is going to be easier to find, easier to move, and will protect you from unauthorized access and quick smash 'n grab robberies.
A safe is going to be a little harder to shop for, harder to move and install, usually be more expensive (but not always) and offer increased protection against a determined thief or an attack with power tools.
The best advice on RSC's I got from a locksmith and Safe Tech was this: Since the majority of RSC's offer essentially the same level of protection, you should get the least expensive RSC you can find that meets your needs.
If you compare RSC's that are the same size with the same storage capabilities, the more expensive models usually just have better finish, nicer trim, or more "features" that don't really make them more secure. So why pay more for things that don't help? He recommended the "Winchester" labelled RSC's available at Sam's Club for a good value in a RSC.
For safes, the brands I've been told are good and are commonly available include American Security and Graffunder. There are others as well, but those seem to be more common and a good value.
Another option is to hunt for a used commercial safe, usually from a Lock and Safe dealer. These will be made to "B" standards as a minimum and offer a significant savings over a new model. I looked at some TL 15 rated safes yesterday that were only $1,000. That's about a $5,000 savings over a new example. The downside is that they aren't configured for guns so you will need to hunt to find a unit tall enough for long guns. You'll also need to build or buy the gun racks yourself as the safe will either be empty or have simple shelves. (I passed on the TL 15 safes as they weren't long enough for rifles. They would have worked great for a large handgun collection though)
As with any business, used inventory turns over constantly. To find a used safe call around to local "Lock and Safe" stores. Use the yellow pages and google. Find out what warranty they offer and don't forget to ask about the cost for delivery and installation. Also make sure your floor can hold a heavier, "real" safe, as they can weigh up to several thousand pounds empty, depending on size and materials.
One last thought. Whatever you pick, RSC or safe, go with a good quality mechanical lock, not an electronic lock. If you don't believe me, talk to a few locksmiths. If you open your gun safe on a regular basis, all electronic locks WILL eventually fail. A mechanical lock, properly serviced, will last a lifetime. (Yes, mechanical locks do need service. How often depends on how much they are used. You don't service an electronic lock. You just cut it out and replace it when it breaks).
R.I.P HK33K - Gone, but not forgetten.