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Gun safes are an important safeguard against accidents and theft

If you own guns of any kind a gun safe is a must. Safely and securely storing your guns -- whether they be handguns or long guns -- will drastically reduce the chance of them being a factor in a tragic accident. The best gun safes also will protect your valuable weapons from fire and theft, while offering quick access to your firearms.

That quick access is why so many reviewers recommend the GunVault SpeedVault SV500 (Est. $160). Its 18-gauge steel and keypad lock won't keep a determined burglar out, but it offers reliable everyday security while keeping your firearm close and accessible.

When you tap in your personal combination on the four-button keypad, the bottom of the GunVault SpeedVault SV500 drops open, giving you instant access to your firearm. There's also a small light to illuminate the vault's interior. The SpeedVault can be mounted for right- or left-hand access, and it's approved by the California Department of Justice. If the keypad stops working or the 9-volt battery gives out, a back-up key will still open the vault. There's an audio and light-up warning to let you know when the battery is nearing the end of its life.

With the GunVault SpeedVault SV500 you can program your own access code,  even pressing more than one button at once as an "entry" in the code -- which makes for more than 12 million potential combinations in all. Users generally love how well this unit works, although they do say the keypad is a little touchy if you try to key in your code too quickly. It also "beeps" when you key in your code, but there is the option to turn off the sound. If you think someone has tried to access the SpeedVault without your permission, you can activate the tamper detect feature -- although that requires you to specifically press certain buttons, it does not automatically alert you if an incorrect code has been keyed in.

Owners say the GunVault SpeedVault SV500 is easy to mount, although several are frustrated by the tiny installation screws that come with it; you may want to consider using longer screws and securing the vault to something that can't be easily carried off or ripped apart. It's also available in a biometric version, although user feedback on that model's fingerprint scanner is mixed. Both the biometric and keypad versions come with an override key to immediately open the vault in case the other mechanism fails.

For another take on quick access, we also like the SentrySafe QAP1BE (Est. $200) quick-access biometric pistol safe. This 12-pound steel box can hold one J & K size resolver or a full-size semi-automatic handgun. You can also mount it in place to make it a better theft-deterrent but, again, its strength is keeping children and inquisitive adults away from your firearm while still allowing quick access when you need it.

The SentrySafe QAP1BE has a pry-resistant steel door, a foam interior to protect your handgun, and easy one-handed access: Just tap the fingerprint scanner to "wake it up," then press your finger to the biometric scanner for one second and it'll pop right open. You can program multiple fingerprints for access to this safe, allowing more than one person access with either hand or, say, with a different finger in case one is bandaged. A compression gas strut lifts the lid for quick, quiet access to your firearm, although users say it's not completely silent: You'll hear a sound variously described as a thud, thunk or click.

Most users say the biometric reader works very well once it's programmed, even if you have unusually rough or worn fingertips; however, if you put your finger on the scanner at an angle, it might take several tries to get a good reading. You can also use the keypad entry or backup key lock to get in. The QAP1BE can only be mounted horizontally. It's not meant to be mounted on vertical services, because there's no lip to hold the handgun in place once the safe is open.

While SentrySafe doesn't disclose the thickness of its steel casing, the QAP1BE draws a lot of praise from users for being thick and heavy. The SentrySafe QAP1BE runs off four AA batteries, and has an indicator to let you know when battery life is running low.

For a portable, hard-sided handgun safe on a budget, we suggest taking a look at the GunVault NanoVault NV200 (Est. $40). It also can double as an economical nightstand safe if you don't need it for a gun.

This 18-gauge steel safe isn't meant to deter a determined thief, but when paired with the included 1,500-pound tested security cable that's meant to anchor it in place, it helps discourage quick snatch-and-grabs. A thick memory foam interior helps protect your firearm from jostles and impacts, and you can also purchase the NanoVault in a slightly smaller case size, the 20-gauge GunVault NanoVault NV 100 (Est. $35) or with a 3-digit combination lock, the GunVault NanoVault NV 300 (Est. $30) instead of the NV200's key lock mechanism.

Users say the GunVault NanoVault NV200 is also very good for keeping inquisitive little hands away from your handguns, and it meets TSA firearm guidelines for travelers. It's not, however, approved by California's Department of Justice; if you live in that state, consider upgrading to the GunVault QuickVault or the SentrySafe QAP1BE biometric gun safe, both of which are DOJ approved.

Your long guns should be securely stowed, too

The safes we just covered are a good way to secure single handguns. However, if you own long guns (rifles or shotguns) and expensive accessories, or an assortment of handguns, you should consider a larger safe. As you might imagine, these safes are often built with the collector in mind, so their capacity may be a bit too much for the casual owner; but they also provide a safe place to store your ammunition and accessories like scopes or spare stocks, and you can also use them to store other valuables as well.

Of the large, fireproof gun safes we evaluated, the best that's likely to be within the budget of most gun collectors is the AMSEC BF6032 (Est. $3,000). It's the smallest in a series of residential gun safes that, according to the extremely thorough reviewer Jaime Capra at GunSafeReviewsGuy.com, is built using the same techniques and material that you'll find in many commercial safes.

Not all of AMSEC's safes are built in the USA, but the AMSEC BF6032 and the larger safes in its line (the BF6030, BF6636, BF7240 and BF7250) are. The AMSEC BF6032 has a 1/2-inch plate steel door and 2-inch walls, the latter a combination of AMSEC's proprietary poured DryLight fireproofing insulation and two layers of steel. The DryLight insulation is a concrete amalgamate that, unlike the moist fireproofing material used in SentrySafe's fireproof safes, doesn't generate condensation inside the safe.

Thanks to that DryLight insulation, the AMSEC BF6032 is ETL verified to provide two hours of fire protection at 1200 degrees, with the interior temperature staying lower than 350 degrees; it's also UL-rated as a residential security container (RSC), which meets California DOJ standards and means that it can resist up to five minutes of consistent attack with typical household tools including pry bars, hammers, chisels, a handheld drill and screwdrivers. (Capra offers an excellent explanation of the various security ratings you'll find on a safe, including the RSC rating.) It also has a UL-listed Group II lock with hard plate and two relockers.

The AMSEC BF6032 can store up to 20 guns -- although depending on how you configure the interior storage, that capacity may be reduced -- and weighs a hefty 913 pounds. That weight in itself is a theft deterrent; nobody is going to just pick this safe up and run off with it, and users are generally very happy with its build quality.

The end result is a sturdy safe that is well-made enough to draw high praise from Capra, who also points out that the AMSEC safe's Palusol intumescent door seal is the industry standard for fire protection. At almost $3,000, the AMSEC BF6032  represents a hefty investment, but it's one of the best ways to protect another investment -- those valuable weapons -- that you've already made, and of course it'll keep your guns safely away from inquisitive children or adults as well.

If the AMSEC BF6032 is a bit too rich for your blood, but you still need to store multiple long guns, take a look at the Stack-On 14-gun Safe FS-14-MB-E (Est. $330). It's more widely available at retail than the AMSEC, and stores up to 14 guns, depending upon the type and configuration. The FS-14-MB-E is fire resistant up to 1400 degrees for 30 minutes, and conforms to California DOJ standards. It's not quite as theft-resistant as pricier models, but, at 290 pounds, no one's going to pick it up and haul it off. And owners say it seems as if it would be plenty hard to break into. The interior features four adjustable shelves that make it versatile enough to use for any of your valuables. However, the manufacturer does not recommend storing CDs, DVDs, photographic negatives or other delicate storage media.

Trigger locks offer a measure of portable, inexpensive safety for gun owners

A trigger lock -- a small piece of metal that fits over the gun's trigger, ensuring it can't accidentally be nudged, pulled, or otherwise activate the firing mechanism -- won't keep somebody from carrying your firearms off. They do provide an extra level of protection, though, when used as part of a multilevel plan to secure your guns, or when used on firearms that you like to display in the open. Trigger locks are especially useful if you have children in the house, because even if they can get their hands on the gun, it's that much harder for them to fire it by mistake.

One of the best trigger locks currently on the market is the key-operated Master Lock 90DSPT (Est. $15) gun lock. GunsandAmmo.com praises this simple lock for its ability to fit most (although not all) guns, including pistols, shotguns and rifles; it also has rubber pads that help protect your firearm's finish. Experts also like its four-pin tumbler cylinder, which they say makes the lock harder to pick, although several users say they were able to pick the lock themselves in fairly short order. That's a reminder that, while trigger locks are an inexpensive and helpful addition to the security of your firearms, they should be more of an add-on, not the only layer of protection you use.

The Master Lock 90DSPT is made in China, but still draws near-universal user praise for its sturdy feel and construction, and it's backed by a limited lifetime warranty. It includes two keys, so both parents or multiple adults in the house can have quick access. This lock only locks the trigger, not the slide on a semi-automatic weapon, so you don't have to worry about weakening the spring in your firing action. However, be warned that if you're keeping your gun in a close-fitting case, the lock barrel on the Master Lock 90DSPT might be too long to fit in the case.

Consider writing down the number that's stamped on the Master Lock 90DSPT's keys and storing it in a safe place, or in Master Lock's secure online database at MasterLockVault.com; if you lose the keys, having that number allows you to get a replacement. This device is not approved by the California Department of Justice.

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GunVault SV500 SpeedVault Handgun Safe
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Sentry Safe Biometric Quick Access Pistol Safe Model # QAP1BE
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