Guns in the Home: Balancing Security and Accessibility
I used to be one of those guys who slept with a handgun right next to me on the night stand. Then I had kids. Having children in the house changes everything, including your gun habits. At least it should. Even if you do not have kids of your own, you may on occasion host others with children, or even other adults that are not trustworthy. Generally speaking, I am a reformed man in terms of leaving un-attended firearms about. Here is my policy: Any firearm that I own is either physically on my person or locked up and inaccessible to unauthorized users. No exceptions. This is the only way to responsibly maintain your guns. The issue that plagues many, however, is balancing the necessary safety with quick accessibility in case you actually need your gun to defend the home. Here are some suggestions for striking this balance.
The optimal place to store a home defense gun when you are awake is on your body. It is that simple. We tend to relax and certainly shut the world out when we are at home. Even most folks who carry a gun when in public put the gun away when in the home. Being a victim of a home invasion is quite low statistically. However, when it comes to self-defense I encourage people to remember that the odds don’t matter, what is at state matters. Just as having a fire plan is important for yourself and your family, even though being the victim of a house fire is exceedingly low statistically, having a home invasion plan is also important. The best place to have a home defense gun when your walls are breached is on you. For me personally, my approach to carrying a gun does not change whether I am home or out in the world. I always carry a gun unless denied that right. In the morning my gun goes on my body and remains there until I go to bed at night. Therefore, my foremost defense at any moment is my handgun on my person, even if at home. This is the best policy for home defense, making no distinction between home defense and general self-defense.
As a father of small children my carry habit has the added benefit of gun safety. My handgun is never unattended. A handgun lying on the coffee table is not an option. Though rare, every year there are multiple incidents of children accessing guns at home, resulting in tragedy. Leaving loaded handguns out and about in the house is exceedingly irresponsible if you have children who are too young to be trained and educated in firearm safety. A firearm that is carried on the body is the only firearm you truly maintain control over. Any gun not worn directly on the body needs to be locked in a secured container of some sort, period.
Another reason I am generally opposed to unsecured guns in the house is the fact that they tend to remain unsecured, even when the homeowner is gone from the house. Many people who leave guns laying around claim they always lock them up when not at home. I find this is rarely true. It has happened more than once, a homeowner returns home to a robbery in progress only to be killed with his own firearm. These are all reasons to avoid the habit. This being the case, the only way to truly ensure immediate access to a gun is to wear it while at home. Alarm systems, secured doors, perhaps a dog, all will hopefully buy you time in the event of a home invasion, but if such measures fail and you are confronted with hostiles within your home, you may never have the chance to run for and access a stored firearm, or even an unsecured firearm laying on the coffee table, if there is a guy wearing a ski mask between you and your coffee table! Unfortunately, such events have happened. Therefore, home carry is the ideal solution, and while some find it inconvenient, it is effective.
Let me now address what some refer to as “staged” handguns for home defense. If you do not home carry, this is going to be your best solution. Even if you do home carry, but only carry a smaller handgun, staging a full-size combat handgun in a quick-access safe is a sound idea. I have found that a quick-access hand safe is the ideal balance of speed and security for the home defense handgun. These devices are not only suitable for in the bedroom next to you at night; these safes are quite small and can be secured out of sight in different locations of the house, keeping the gun out of unauthorized hands, yet providing rapid deployment.
These small quick-access safes can be found ranging from fifty dollars or so, up. The cheaper safes use more traditional keypad locks and more expensive biometric safes will use fingerprint recognition. I will mention this: many of the biometric safes are notoriously unreliable and often fail. Therefore, I have always used only traditional keypad locking mechanisms. Any handgun that is not actually on your body should be locked in one of these small quick-access safes, or locked away in a big gun safe for storage. Small hand safes are not as robust a theft deterrent as large gun safes are. Therefore, for those gun owners who maintain a hand safe and also have a large gun safe, I recommend that when away from the house, at least for extended periods of time, all handguns are stored in the big safe.
Regarding the hours of sleep, some people are very concerned with the idea of having a gun quickly accessible if, heaven forbid, you wake up to an intruder literally right in the room with you. I am of the opinion that your bedside handgun is best kept in a quick access safe for safety on a number of levels. Being forced to gain enough consciousness to open the safe may also avoid an accident. The best solution here is to ensure that there are warning systems in place that will wake you before an intruder is actually in the bedroom with you while you are fast asleep. While the open gun on the night stand may be fast for you, it may also be right there for an intruder to grab himself if you are dead to the world while he stands next to your bed. Terrifying thought indeed, but the answer to this is multiple layers of security and warnings to ensure that you are awake if your home is breached. Alarms and/or alert dogs works here.
The handgun is, in my opinion and that of many others, the most essential component of the home defense arsenal. Shotguns and rifles vastly outclass handguns in terms of ballistic power and hit potential, but the maneuverability and faster deployment of the handgun trumps that superior power in many situations. Therefore, I truly suggest home carrying or at least maintaining a handgun in a quick-access safe as your first line of home defense. While asleep, having a handgun in a quick-access safe is much faster in deployment than a long gun locked in the closet. For many, the handgun may well be the only weapon kept for security within the house and certainly it will most likely suffice for any given home defense situation. The ability to move with a handgun within the tight confines of a house often warrants it as the best solution should you have to move around in the event of a home invasion, and in the event of having little warning it is generally much faster to deploy.
Staging Long Guns
For those that wish to embrace the effectiveness of a long gun, I think there is sound motive here, but it should be considered supplemental to the handgun, and utilized and deployed from a planned position of ensconced defense. The long gun is harder to stage, less maneuverable within the house, and slower to deploy into action than a handgun. However, if unwanted company has gained entry into the home and all members of your household are accounted for in the designated safe room, now is the ideal time to be holding a shotgun or a rifle. Therefore, a home defense long gun is best staged within the safe room, whatever room that may be. If it is the master bedroom, perhaps you wish to mount a shotgun or rifle to the wall somewhere in that room. The same safety issues that apply to handguns apply to long guns: the gun cannot be simply left in the corner of the closet; it needs to be locked up.
There are a few solutions for long guns that facilitate fairly quick access yet provide good safety. There are some quick-access locks that can hold a rifle or shotgun and will release via a keypad locking mechanism. There are a number of full-blown quick-access long gun safes available that work similar to the handgun equivalent, typically housing at least a single long gun with a mechanism that works quickly. A third option is to use an actual lock, like a Santa Cruz lock, the sort that is utilized in police cruisers. These types of locks require a key, so that certainly complicates the issue, as storing a hidden yet quickly accessible key will be necessary. These complications of deployment lead me to suggest a home defense long-gun as a supplemental line of defense to the handgun, not as a substitute for it.
In conclusion I will say that securing the home against violent criminal activity is a complicated business. A firearm is, of course, the best tool for the job of defending yourself and your household against invaders. There is a great deal to consider, though, regarding the safe keeping of your weaponry. With some pre-planning and consideration you can maintain safety for all within your house while still remaining prepared for trouble, which can happen in an instant, even in the peaceful domain of your home.