Saturday, December 26, 2009

Storing Guns Safely, Yet at the Ready

The subject of firearm storage has come up a few times recently, and it got me thinking about safe storage of firearms - more specifically, how to store them safely yet remain at the ready.

Firearm storage is a touchy subject with many people. Most gun owners know how to keep their weapons secure and out of the reach of unwanted people, or little fingers. There are also those who are uninitiated into the gun ownership way of life that automatically assume that guns should be kept unloaded in the house.

I am going to do my best to dispel the rumors regarding safe firearm storage and at the same time give some insight into what method works for me. There is no catch-all when it comes to safe storage of firearms, but a few basic rules do apply.


The first rule that you need be intimately familiar with is James' first universal rule regarding safe firearms handling and storage: GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED. If you do not yet understand this rule, then let me repeat: GUNS ARE ALWAYS LOADED. Even when guns are not loaded, they are to be considered loaded and must be handled as such. You wouldn't point a loaded weapon at your best friend would you? Of course not. So why point an unloaded weapon at him? Chances are you will blow his brains out because the weapon you thought was unloaded was, in fact, loaded. Many people are killed by weapons that were assumed to be unloaded.

Of course, a lot of stupid acts had to lead up to unnecessary accidental deaths involving firearms. Rules, such as keeping your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, ensuring the safety was engaged, not pointing the gun at anything you didn't want to destroy, etc were ignored. All of these rules aside, the most important rule to understand is that a gun is always loaded even if it isn't loaded.

It is a pet peeve of mine to hear someone say that guns ought to be stored "unloaded." It contradicts basic firearms understanding. Guns are always loaded. Any competent shooter will tell you that. It is the naive and ignorant that make suppositions about guns being stored "unloaded."

I will let you in on a little secret. In my house, all of my guns are loaded. Whether they are really loaded or not does not matter. I still treat them with the same measure of safety and respect as if they have live rounds in the chamber. This way, I don't do something negligent, like blow a hole in all of the walls in my house.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the safest way to store a gun is to keep it locked up and away from people you don't want to give access to. These people could be other relatives, children, neighbors, the neighbor's kids, etc.

Some argue that the ammunition should be stored separately from the weapons. However, should you have your guns locked away in a gun safe, wouldn't it make sense to lock the ammo in there too? Your situation may vary. If you have the room and the ability to lock ammunition away separately from the guns, then by all means. I personally don't like keeping ammo in the same place, but then again, if you are an apartment dweller or have limited space, you have to work with what you have.

Ah, and here comes the ignorant statement: Guns should be stored unloaded. Never mind this statement since it doesn't apply. All guns are always loaded and shall be treated as such.

So much for conventional wisdom.

Here's my wisdom regarding safe firearm storage:

1. Keep your gun locked up, away from those of whom you do not want to have access (friends, neighbors, kids, etc).

2. Lock up your ammunition. Note, I'm not saying whether or not to store the ammo separately because that depends on your situation.

3. Treat your gun as if it is loaded, even if it isn't. If you always treat your gun as if it is loaded, you will develop a good habit of being safe. I'm not here to teach you how to handle a loaded weapon. If you do not know how to handle a loaded weapon, seek out training immediately before you get yourself, or someone else, killed!

4. When handling a firearm, practice muzzle discipline, IE: don't point it at anything you don't intend to destroy. Practice trigger control, IE: don't touch the trigger until you are ready to shoot (if you aren't going to shoot, keep your damn finger off the trigger!). Be mindful of the mechanical safety, but remember that your brain is your number 1 safety - your finger is your second. Do not rely on weapon safeties at all! Be smarter than the gun.


For those who have firearms, a good solid safe, or gun locker is an absolute must-have item. For pistols, a smaller lockable box is suitable. In my situation, I have a GunVault Multi-Safe (pictured above). It stores my dedicated bedside handgun and my concealed carry gun. It resides within arm's reach of the bed and is protected against unintended opening via a combination locking system that only I, and my wife know. My son, as inquisitive as he is, cannot figure out how to open it. It is a 100% other-person-proof safe that keeps my family safe, yet helps me maintain a state of readiness.

State of what?

State of Readiness

Consider this, many people in Washington State have concealed pistol licenses. I carry a gun everywhere with me, with exception to places I am restricted by law (post office, taverns, schools, etc). I don't carry an unloaded gun because guns are always loaded, and my carry gun is most definitely loaded. When I go to put it away, it doesn't make sense to unload it just to load it again the next day. Besides, statistics show that 100% of home invasions happen in the home. Okay, all farcical statements aside, the serious side is that if you are at home, and a home invasion does occur, you want to be ready for what goes "bump" in the night.

Keeping a weapon loaded in the house is not only a good insurance policy, it is the right thing to do. The last thing you want to be doing is fumbling around trying to load a weapon in the middle of the night when the burglar, or predator is on you.

Another thing, when you buy a brand new gun, it comes with a trigger lock. Throw the trigger lock in the garbage! If you don't understand why, consider this: try unlocking one of those things under stress, in the dark when you are barely awake, with a key you have to keep close by, and then figure out how to charge the weapon. Did you know that trigger locks require you to first pull the trigger in order to get them on? How are you going to do this with a revolver without blowing your brains out in the process? You won't. You must first unload the gun before you can put the trigger lock on. So, all statements about guns being loaded aside, when you go to take the trigger lock off a wheelgun, you must then load it... and you must do all of this UNDER DURESS!

Good luck!

As for me, I'm more of a practical man. I have a vault for my pistols. It requires no keys to access - just a keypad combination. It is a code I've practiced over and over again until it has become muscle memory. Accessing the vault twice a day helps maintain this muscle memory. Once I press the proper sequence, the door flings open (it is spring-loaded) and my guns are right there. With no trigger locks to mess with, no loose rounds to load, no magazines that need to be inserted, I simply pull the gun out and level it on the suspect. I can also easily slip out of bed and silently move around the house to either "clear" it, or locate the suspect.

Tower Ready

This is a term a good friend of mine taught me some years ago. It is called "Tower Ready". It is a term used by the Department of Corrections at one of the state prisons. It means that a weapon has a loaded magazine, but there is no cartridge in the chamber itself. Before firing, the weapon must first be charged - that is to say that the firearm needs to have it's action cycled and a round chambered before it will fire.

It is a safety protocol to protect people. Now, even though all guns are always loaded, it doesn't hurt to add a measure of safety. My automatic pistol is kept "tower ready" because it doesn't normally go with me on concealed carry. It only resides at the bedside in the vault. It takes but a fraction of a second to rack the slide and charge the weapon if I need it.

Consider this: you are fast asleep in your bed and you hear a sound. A light turns on, and your bed is disturbed by what you do not yet know. Without hesitation, you reach for your gun and level it onto the first thing that moves. That movement is your wife.

Believe it nor not, that scenario plays over and over in this country all the time. Keeping a gun "tower ready" will help you to ensure that you don't accidentally blow the head off your significant other. Before you are able to accidentally end her life, you must first charge the weapon. There is a good chance that you will be getting an earful from your angry woman before you have the chance to do that.


Seriously, before you invest in a firearm, or if you have already purchased one, get some training. Learn how to react to different scenarios. Practice loading and unloading your gun (with dummy rounds of course). Learn to maintain your gun. Clean it as needed, and shoot it as often as you can.

I have been shooting ever since I can remember. My earliest memories are that of my father and I shooting targets, pop cans, and veggies at this old gravel pit near our house. My father taught me a lot of little gems that have remained with me all these years and these have helped keep me safe when handling firearms. To date, I have been shooting and handling firearms for almost 25 years. I have passed much of this knowledge to my wife and intend to pass it to my posterity because if they are safe, then I am safe.


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