If you’re a gun owner, you’ve probably thought about buying a gun safe or maybe even upgrading the safe you already have. And that’s a smart move for a variety of reasons. One, for safety—it prevents children from having access to guns. It’s also a great move from a security standpoint. For many, building their gun collection is a huge investment and firearms are one of the most commonly traded commodities on the black market, which makes your gun collection a huge target for thieves looking to make a big haul in one fell swoop. No matter what your motivations, getting a gun safe is a smart move, but it’s important to note that not all gun safes are made equal. Some “ratings” that sound prestigious are meaningless, and some robustly-built safes can be broken into with manual tools in a matter of minutes. This is why it’s important to understand gun safe ratings.
The quick and dirty on gun safe ratings
The main gun safe ratings you’ll come across is those that have been set by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), which uses rigorous testing to determine the ratings they put out. Unfortunately, the lowest rating the UL hands out for gun safes is the most common: RSC—Residential Security Container. To get this rating, a gun safe must be able to resist break-in attempts by experts using manual tools (think screw drivers or sheets of metal) for five minutes, which is a really short time compared to what a determined thief could do when home alone, hence why it really is just a basic rating and not really rigorous.
Another really low rating that sounds prestigious is “DOJ-approved”, which means it meets California’s Regulatory Gun Safe Standards. A now-famous investigation by expert Marc Weber Tobias reported by Forbes in 2012 showed just how inadequate that rating is, when a toddler was able to break into four of the safes tested.
For those truly interested in security, stick with UL ratings higher than RSC. B-rated and C-rated safes are the next steps up, with C being the higher of the two. These ratings and those higher than these tend to be used as requirements for insurers when insuring valuables and may correlate to monetary value. From a gun-owner standpoint, what you need is a safe that can’t be manually opened in a few short minutes, like an RSC-rated gun safe. How far you want to take it after that depends on your preferences and what, if any, other valuables you will be storing.
UL TL-15 is the first rating (next rating after C) that means the safe can withstand a basic assault with mechanical tools, like an electric drill. The 15 in the rating nomenclature means it can withstand this sort of assault for 15 minutes—but only the door. The sides, which are weaker, are not involved and could still be opened in less than 15 minutes most likely.
UL TL-30×6 is the first rating that deals with an assault on all six sides of the safe, but is still limited to mechanical tools. The next and last rating is the first to include torches. These very high ratings tend to be saved for safes that are multipurpose and hold things like high-end jewels and collector’s items.