What We Really Need Are Improvements in Safes

Smart Gun Error

There’s an article in the San Francisco Chronicle today asking “Can tech really disrupt gun violence?” speaking about several potential products, including a biometric lock. Basically a high-tech trigger guard.

Most of these entrepreneurs are taking the wrong approach. First, I have never recommended trigger locks to anyone, because a) they suck, and b) some of them are actually dangerous. Generally speaking, I don’t like the idea of futzing around and definitely not in the trigger guard of a loaded firearm.

The correct approach is to design a better quick open safe. You might recall a few years ago there was a guy putting out YouTube videos showing how awful some designs were, including one where he showed a three year old successfully opening one with a screwdriver. If Sentinl could have made a decent quick-open safe for under $400 bucks, I think it would sell.

A big problem a lot of these tech entrepreneurs have is that they often aren’t shooters themselves, so they don’t really understand what’s important. The guy behind Identilock says “Fortunately, my VCs include gun owners and appreciate the value I bring.” Are they gun owners, or do they actually know something about this stuff? I’m a car owner, but I’m not anybody who has qualifications to advise someone on producing an automotive product.

There is room in the market for legitimate product improvements for securing firearms, but none of the approaches taken by non-gun-expert entrepreneurs are correct. I think part of the issue is that designing a better safe doesn’t sound as sexy as designing a “smart gun” or even a fancy trigger lock.

Tech entrepreneurs may have something to contribute here, but they are going to have to seek the advice of people who actually understand firearms and know a thing or two about armed self-defense. Otherwise they will continue to keep producing products and technologies the market doesn’t want.

11 thoughts on “What We Really Need Are Improvements in Safes”

  1. The ‘tech sexy’ is a definite factor.

    A tech entrepreneur is going to look for a tech solution.

    And the problem is having their solution be superior (at the very least convincing a customer) to a “non-tech” solution.

    For many cases a mechancial key trigger lock would be better than an electronic one. Far cheaper too.

    Or if you want to go away from the whole “put mechanical stuff near a trigger” there’s the various cable-style locks that go into the chamber and mag well and keep the bolt from closing.

    Or as you said the small safe.

    Course at the root the “tech” aspect of all of those is the locking device, which is pretty independent of the mechanical means of rendering inoperability.

    Course… locks aren’t sexy to most tech entrepreneurs.

    1. I like the idea of a biometric quick-open safe, because I always have my fingers, eyeball, or whatever part you want to use for identification with me, and if the ergonomics are good enough, if I had kids, I’d be enthusiastic about such a product and would buy it.

      1. The key phrase being “quick-open”.

        Biometrics has the advantage (over keys, and lesser combos) when time is important.

        For generic, non imediate access, storage concerns they’ve got a much harder hill to climb.

        However, this means that the biometrics have to be fast *and* reliable.

        As you said “good enough”.

        And I agree such a case would be a nice option.
        It would also be cheaper and more reliable than a smart gun, and with the bonus of working with any gun that fits.

        But.. in terms of tech sexiness, that’s “just” a fancy lock on a metal box. Far from the appeal of having it in a gun-of-the-future.

      2. Not to nitpick, but biometrics aren’t exactly problem-free. One can change the combination on a safe in a couple minutes, and that’s true whether it’s a push-button electronic lock or a spin dial Sargent & Greenleaf; if my “safe combination” is my fingerprint or iris, how do I change that? In an emergency I can give someone the combination over the phone, and change it later, tough to do either with biometrics. And, I suspect cost would drive safe companies using biometrics to choose bio locks that don’t sense temperatures, so an individual finger will open the safe (so would an eye, for a couple of hours).

        Not to mention fingerprint damage; talk to any fingerprint tech about manual laborers, especially masons, and fingerprint readers don’t read through band-aids, grease or soap suds. Yes, multiple fingers can be programmed as a backup, but multiple fingers can also be injured.

        I’d offer that multiple layers of security may solve these problems: bio for rapid access, perhaps bio that requires activating through a numerical keypad, maybe with a high end S&G as backup, and the safe itself secured in a limited access room or closet. Modern alarm systems allow for separate zones, so a zone can be created for one room or a closet (or, one room and a closet in that room) to send a text (or activate the alarm) if the room is entered and activate the alarm (the closet).

        It seems, though, that if the tool is holstered on one’s hip it offers both rapid access and the ability to control that access.

  2. If you (or any of your readers) were to design a safe, what would be its features? Where are the market holes? What are the shortcomings of the current offerings?

    1. A handgun box should have good security – keeping out unauthorized users. All inexpensive (i.e., less than $100) boxes are poor at this. It should also be difficult to simply pick it up and walk away with it.

      It should also be reliable – allowing authorized access 100% of the time. If it has a battery, it will fall short of this.

      And it should also be cheap. Naturally, achieving all three of these goals simultaneously is impossible.

      1. There are ways you can deal with the battery issues. Smoke detectors currently warn you when the battery is low, and many have a backup battery just in case.

        I also agree it should be able to be bolted to a floor and not walked off with. That can be an accessory kit you can sell for more money :)

      2. @Rod: We have a few of the Shotlock branded pistol safes. They have push-button mechanical (not electronic) locking mechanisms of the sort you see on doors. The steel is solid enough and they have held up well over the last two years.

        They are easily portable. We use them on long drives and once my wife cable-locked one to the inside of her airplane luggage. You could do the same and tie to furniture, I guess. Overall a good value when we bought them (under $100).

        I also like their actual shotgun mount/locks for wall use. We keep one in the laundry room for quick access when critters come and attack our livestock. Quite handy, and I can say it works well when you are in a hurry. At least one fox would agree.

        I hate to sound like an infomercial, but something like those might help you regardless of who they are made by.

        EDIT: I just looked at their website and they have changed designs a bit, and added an electronic option for those who want one. Also I think my original has heavier steel. YMMV.

  3. You can’t have it all. There is no solution because the requirements conflict: easy reliable access; secure and affordable. It’s like disk RAID: pick two.

    If it’s electronic, it won’t work someday. I’ve had the electronics go bad on many a lockbox because of humidity, old age or whatever. So skip the beeping doo-dads.

    The little bedside safes are only good to keep out little kids. Anyone who wants to steal a gun will just steal the “safe” and open it later.

    The larger “gun safes” sold by almost everyone are junk. They advertise as “fire safes” but even there they suck – the inner steel lining is so minimal that it buckles and lets the water vapor in the protection jacket (often little more than fancy drywall) escape into the box during a fire. And even the large ones are too lightweight. Consider: If two men can roll it out with a cart then it is not a “safe”. Likewise if it has less than 1/4 steel on all edges, it is not a “safe”.

    If you look closely, most expensive versions call themselves “residential security containers”. In other words: an expensive box. They are fine for keeping the unmotivated from getting a handful in a hurry, but you can do that for a lot less money.

    I don’t have a perfect solution (truly secure, accessible, and affordable). We’re all about layers of defense here. I bought heavy steel locking cabinets that have more measurable steel between than most of the so-called gun safes, made them look like junk handlers, put them in rooms behind doors that stay closed…and it cost 1/6th the price.

    But in a household with kids, education is the absolute biggest thing we do.

    But if someone has a perfect solution, I’ll look at buying it.

  4. The first question is, what’s your threat model? What’s your use case? IS this holding your holster while you sleep? Is it holding your heirloom 1911 autographed by JMB his own self? What defensive layers is it behind? Is it in your car? In your basement? Behind the door in a disused lavatory with a sign saying Beware of the Leopard? (What kind of leopard?)

    There is no one solution, because there is not one problem

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