25 March 2013

Narrowing gun safe selection

In my previous entry on Selecting a gun safe I gave my overall criteria for a gun safe and I won't rehash those here.  With the criteria firmly in mind and also a budget to beat, I set about looking just about everywhere I could find that could meet my minimal criteria and who just might have a decent price.  If the listed price (MSRP) was too high, I just crossed that safe off the list – if they want to give a discount they can say so right up front and be honest that their stated MSRP is just too high.

Also note that I don't consider a gun safe a security safe, in truth, but a high end industrial cabinet with locking and fire protection features.  This means I also looked at the antique and used safe markets to see what was available because, really, if I could get such a hefty cabinet without a lot of amenities to my front door for a few hundred, then I would be willing to put in sweat equity to improve it or hand it over to a restoration shop.  I learned a lot about safe history this way... more than I wanted to, but you never know when the odd bit of historical information will come in handy.  With that said I did my best to standardize the feature set, which meant that while a stock safe might have a low cost, it would have to have additional work done to it for things like bolts, fire protection, etc. unless it offered something unique to counter what would be a normal deficiency (say, having a body made of stainless steel but only at 11 gauge).  Finally, to leaven the mix, I got one quote from a high end manufacturer for their lowest end model that fit my needs, just to give a sanity check on everything.

There are a lot of non-big box store brands out there and it is worth the effort to find them as they can offer somewhat better quality at an equivalent or even lower cost than those with large advertising budgets but are skimping on their specs.  I was not out to eliminate the big name brands, but the minimal spec. and pricing limit process effectively did that.  The fun thing was that for a few of the brand names you can dig back just a few years and find advertising that will tout them never stinting on quality or materials and, just a few years down the road, they are skimping on materials which makes you wonder a lot about quality.

In no particular order, the list and do keep in mind that this is personal experience only, not an in-depth, customer base review or anything of that sort:

Security Products

These were not the first people I found, but they did have the most unique set of safes and features.  Their claim to fame is the Clearview Safe, which features bullet resistant glass so you can get the combined benefits of a display case AND a safe.  Great stuff and I can't afford that and actually wouldn't want it.

Their other unique feature is the use of ATM style key locking mechanisms for their safes.  Since they started in that business, they have an idea of what your typical semi-sophisticated criminal has in mind for getting past security features.  I got a pricing for their Regency Safe, which fit my basic criteria.  I actually like the locking mechanism from the gadget standpoint: yeah a criminal can beat you up to get your key, but they can also beat you up to get your combination.  Keys are also easier to hide and I can think of a few dozen places to slip a key that no one will look for or even find, metal detector or no.  I would get that very Evil Genius from a James Bond flick putting a key into the safe and having it open itself... really, that is just plain cool.

Unfortunately they hit at the high end of the price range and while they didn't out price the high end manufacturer, they did put themselves at the top of the field for everyone else.  When it came down to final selection, price matters when all else is equal.


Smith Security Safes

Anyone wanting to secure their firearms before a new child arrived would normally just purchase a safe or a bunch of chain locks and be done with it.  Most people would NOT build a gun safe, right off the bat.  That is the founding story here and the business started in the 1980's and then got into the vault door end of things which was the majority of their business right up to around 2009, where safes suddenly started pushing ahead in the sales column.  When I first ran across the website I didn't know that there was an actual dealer for these safes, but as they are just one site orders can go either way.

Unlike every other company, Smith Security Safes does not give you a 'stock safe' but gives you the full itemized price of everything they normally put into a safe.  That was daunting to look at until I realized that a spreadsheet would do me just fine so that I could get the three types that generally fell into my sizing category ( Redwood, Oak and Oak Plus) and all I needed was what shipping would cost.  I contacted the owner of the business to ensure that I got the numbers right, got the basic shipping costs and had my first  manufacturer that handily beat my price limit with all the minimum features being met!  That was only a week into my search.  Suddenly I had multiple choices to work with.


Sun Welding Safes

This was actually the last company I found and it was by accident going through a message board based in California.  Then I saw the safes being resold by an online retailer and decided to drop by the web site and look around.  With good local word of mouth, people visiting the manufacturing site and decent customer service spanning decades, its just a wonder that they can survive in California.

I went with one of their Pony Express safes for a quote, but that then needed additional features added into it so as to meet minimum specs and each of those small things cost money.  What had started out as the lowest cost contender now only became the lowest cost that was going to set the price range's bottom by beating out Smith Safes.  By the end between the last three that I would have to decide upon, the price range was down to $150, delivered.  From what I can see they offer a fine safe, don't change the product lines all that much over time and I would be happy to own that safe.


Hall's Safe

From their satisfied customers the one thing I heard over and over again: You can't go wrong with a Hall's.

They blow my minimum specs all to hell and gone, what can I say?  They are my sanity check on pricing and they bust past the budget limit I had very easily.  Just their Standard Stage in my size category is a far better safe than I need.  More than happy to get the quote from them!  Nothing else I looked at will touch their price.  Damn right I would be happy with a Hall's.  Ain't happening.  Besides I am no longer convinced that they would give me the best value for the price.


Vault Pro USA

This is a start-up small business that is expanding in... California.  I'm getting the idea that when CA makes it impossible for the safe manufacturers to continue and they leave, then the State is done for.

I was impressed with the line-up from Vault Pro, and theirs was the first safe to meet all my minimum specs with just one modification (at no extra cost!) in the price quote.  Their safes actually beat my specs in most other areas and they have a good line of upgrades in body thickness that are pre-priced so that if you want to get into something that will compete at the low end of the bigger, established luxury end of things, you can.   They seem to have a decent handle on just what basic security is in a gun safe and then went ahead and made sure they met or exceeded those minimums.

This would not be the lowest cost safe in the round-up, but would not be the highest one, either, as I wasn't looking for something to compete with the higher end manufacturers that don't spend on an advertising budget.  I actually consider that very interesting.


Ironman Safes

Actually their FB Page does a better job showing the company than their web site does.  I found this company a couple of times through online resellers, but finally decided to take a look at them a bit more.  The safe I looked at in the size range did not have the top/bottom bolts that were on my requirements list, but did have a full hinge-side top to bottom passive bar seal to give the door added resistance to pry attacks and to totally thwart bolt drilling attacks.  I hadn't seen many passive designs in anything but the vintage and antique safes, and this was the first of the modern safes that showed one.

As the stock safe at the resellers site had everything I wanted otherwise, and included shipping costs, I decided that I would give an alternate security allowance for Ironman Safes and wanted to have them to help balance out the selection group.  In the end they would make the final three to decide upon because it is always worth having someone doing just a little different to help make sure you've done your analysis right.


Sportsman Steel Safes

I found this manufacturer first, and its hard to miss them in a search engine look-up.  I contacted them through their webform for a price quote... and a week later I got a great call from a sales rep. and that they would send a quote to me via e-mail.  That e-mail bounced which happens on a very rare occasion from my main e-mail provider, and I got a phone call and gave an alternate e-mail to get it to me.  Two weeks later and I sent a message asking for the price quote.  I generally rely on e-mail as my limited time for physical and mental acuity is limited in the day, and e-mail is easier to handle as asynchronous comms.

Luckily I wrote down the verbal one to have when going into the mix.  Lack of sales follow-up does matter, however.  No matter how nice the safe (or any product come to that) and no matter how nice the sales person, actually being able to get a price quote out and assure its arrival is important.


To narrow this field of 7 to 5 was easy: Hall's went and so did Sportsman's Steel.  Do note that this was not throwing out the high and the low, but actually seeing what fit the price range and what was actually available for me to look at in the way of price quotes.  That was easy.

Narrowing things down after that was much, much harder as that remaining field had $900 between top and bottom, but cost isn't the sole criteria: best value for the money is.  In other words I was willing to go $200 over budget if I got a head and shoulders much better safe for that money.  That I had to actually sleep on for a couple of nights as it isn't an easy question and is purely subjective in nature.  Was a single security feature worth the money to pay for it?

If that question is hard then the other end of the scale and weeding out amongst the low end of it is even harder: there are a group of safes and manufacturers that all make the same basic product with a high and low end with just a small number of details amongst them that set one apart from another.  Size of business matters and so does where they were in the business cycle: were they new, were they expanding, were they established?  So does what you are getting in the way of protection and both Ironman and Vault Pro had features that were standard that the others didn't and Security Products had a feature that no one else even considered.  For customization it is hard to beat Smith Security Safes or Sun Welding and they were at the low end of field.  And how can the California businesses stay in business with their business climate?  Would any of them be around next year?  Would a few of them de-camp for lower taxes and overhead cost?  That means you get a multi-variable matrix of cost, features, and business trade-offs that must also include what the manufacturer can arrange as stock 'get it to ground level in front of your home' as their final cost.  Only that cost is objective, the rest is subjective in nature and it is those subjective factors that decide outcomes.  That is a process I described elsewhere in the political realm, but serves as an analysis tool for other venues, as well.

Yes I did narrow it down to 3 and then, finally, to the selection and purchase, which has now gone into production.

At this point I'm looking to figure out how to save on shipping costs by looking on my own since the manufacturer is amenable to having a different shipper.  Of course I want the shipping, delivery and basic placement of the safe done all in one package, along with removal of the skid and packaging.  I would actually look to do that with ANY of the final 5, so this doesn't say much about who I chose.  Shipping, delivery and install are all something somewhat apart from the safe, itself, although base cost shipping if I can't find something better played a part in the decision, itself.

So there you have it – how I decided on a gun safe.

Not WHAT gun safe I decided upon, but the process and procedure to do it.

21 March 2013

Selecting a gun safe

Actually not just a gun safe but a place to store a few valuable items and documents as well, since my firearms collection doesn't amount to many pieces.  A place to store them safely means that open storage has just run out of space and the time has arrived to collect the collection plus all the extraneous stuff, like spare parts, manuals, and even the cleaning supplies into one volume that is secure.

I've read a lot of the do's and don'ts of getting a gun safe and I do take to heart that you don't buy for today, but for tomorrow because it is more than likely that you will need to store more than you thought and inevitably collect more items.  If the economy allows any survival at all, that is.  Speaking of cash, you also need a budget for this so you don't go hog-wild.  Money will determine quality, but space will also play a major role in cost, as well.  Thus the first part of the process is determining just how much you have and what space is available to put a safe.  That means you will want to fill up that space with a safe, not purchase a safe to hold your materials.  From that you either get: a closet, a place in the basement/garage, or any other open space that can be cleared out where a safe will not impede the traffic pattern necessary to walk around your abode.  These three choices then dictate certain fall-out decisions on safe purchase, and I had to think through 2 out of 3, not having a garage and the basement is out of room due to my workshop... and yes, some tools will get stored in the safe as they are the ones that would facilitate getting into same.  Those also take up space.

First is a closet, which generally means a 5' high limitation due to the hanging rod for clothes.  If you take that out and have a shelf that is decently high, then a 6' safe is about the maximum height you can get into a closet without contacting someone to install armor plating into the closet and getting a vault door for it.  That latter is a bit much to go through for a closet, so it got nixed right off the bat.  What that left was getting a safe into a closet and only the upstairs ones are available for that, which means you will want to think about if you can actually maneuver a rigid body object up and down the staircase to the upper floor.  In general this is possible with the floor plan I'm living in, so that left a regular safe as an option, although the work of getting hauled up would be one requiring expert movers... who will be required for anything but the one alternative that isn't a rigid body safe: a modular safe.

Your standard 60" x 30" x 24" safe should fit in a double door closet just fine, and that is what I had to deal with.  In fact I could get up to 35" wide with no problems.  And at that size a safe would just barely fit what I have to put into it... still I thought it through and realized that in a closet it is very difficult to get to the sides and rear of the safe to attack it (if you are a criminal) without first having to either remove structural framing members of the doors and wall.  And torching a safe in a closet is a massive fire hazard and quite counter-productive to being inconspicuous.  You don't need the best of side wall thickness, just a sturdy internal frame and safe door, plus bolt holes to put lag bolts in and bolt the safe to the floor.  There are lots of choices, including the modular safe types like from Snap Safe and Zanotti Armor.  A modular safe is one that is made to be taken apart for ease of moving it from room to room and is an excellent choice if you are a renter or a member of the military that gets base changes on a frequent basis.  Instead of a rigid body you get a pallet that has boxes that contain the major walls of the safe that you then just piece together wherever the safe has to go.  This is actually a neat idea... if I could get enough volume out of the closet space, that is.

Size matters and the closet doesn't have enough of it.

Researching for the closet space meant that one other major concern came up – electronic locks.  Any reader of this blog knows that I do not place something like a long-lasting CME out of the question in the near future as those major events appear to have a cyclicity rate and a pre-requisite of a very quiet sunspot cycle, which we are now in.  The answer for that (and an EMP if Iran or NoKo decides to have some nuclear fun) means either a plain old dial lock or a dual lock where either opens the safe (Ft. Knox does the dual bit as separate pieces, and Cannon integrates them into one piece for their high-end safes, such as they are).  Later research would uncover one other way to do this, but I didn't know that was available at the start of my safe quest.

My basement has no real space available and I don't want to deal with a getting my hammer drill out to put in holes so I can install lag bolts.  This is something you need to do with any concrete surface that a safe will be on, and really points out that expert installers actually do have a place in the safe ecosystem.  This is also a concern as I have two half-flights of stairs to get to the main floor of my residence, one concrete the other internal wood construction.  About the maximum any single solid wood construction stair can take is about 1,200 lbs, but a boxed safe can be slid up stairs on 2x4's or a sheet of plywood to distribute the weight.  Also even though this is 'live weight' for putting on a floor, the safe will just sit in one place and the maximum most main level construction can hold is 2,500 lbs (varying on construction, wood, joist spacing, etc.).  Safe movers are a must for this sort of situation, really.  The wall to wall carpeting is in the 'original to the house' state and is getting on 3 decades old, which means I don't really care about the condition of it, overmuch, and the safe should do just fine on what is there.

The 'there' in question is space in the living room that can easily be cleared for a 72" x 40" x 28" safe.  As it isn't really going into a corner, there is only one side wall of the safe that will be inaccessible, although the back will be very difficult to work with for any criminal type as it will be against a shelf overhanging that second half-flight of stairs.  The safe, itself, needs to be a major deterrent against casual smash'n'grab theft in which only a light bag of hand tools can be brought along.  Start banging with a sledgehammer on a safe in my living conditions and neighbors will notice.  Thus prybars and such become the main threat as well as your basic 'bust the lock out' sorts of dimwitted felon-to-be.

As I went through the literature, presentations and other useful material, the idea dawned that the people making safes had already addressed this with 'relockers' and other fun fail-safe methods which are meant to foil the drill and screwdriver attacks on a lock opening the safe.  This became another item to put on the list of must haves: a relocker or two.

Next up is what it takes to actually deter prybar attacks, and that is generally an internal means to secure the door (bolts or internal fitting passive hinge-side material) which starts with the actual front of the door and its fit into the frame.  A good place to start is with 1/4" of steel plate for the door and if there is hardened plate behind crucial parts to slow more intensive drilling attacks, then that is very good.  But 1/4" thickness is really a pretty decent deterrent against most short prybars and even gives wrecking bars a run for their money.  A good, solid frame for the bolts to keep the door in place also slows the prybar attack, which is all to the good.  With just these items and my budget, I've eliminated the true monster safes, and a fair number of the low end safes as well.  In fact that 1/4" is something you want on for a closet safe, and more is better as the door is the only easy thing a would-be thief can easily get to.

Now I'm not counting thieves as incredibly stupid and one might actually carry a decent fireman's axe around to break into stuff.  A bit out of the 'easy to carry and be inconspicuous' concept, but a hefty axe is something to consider when looking at side body thickness.  Growing up in a Rust Belt region with the remains of industry dotting the landscape also meant that I got familiar with all sorts of industrial storage containers.  This is important as many had to hold engines for automobiles, or other clunky stuff like compressors for ocean-going vessels.  Metal cabinetry had to be pretty decent stuff and you learn that the lower the number for sheet metal thickness (that is its gauge) the thicker it is for actual measurements.  It is one of those inverse relationships like the gauge rating for a shotgun where higher gauge means lighter and smaller shells.  Here is what I call a 12 gauge side wall for a safe: inadequate for industrial use. There is an 18 gauge cabinet I have that is just fine for lightweight materials and offers zero theft impedance.  Yes 12 gauge is thicker... but not thick enough in my book.  At 10 gauge (just a bit thicker than 1/8") you start to get to decent, low level industrial shelving and cabinets.  If a good half-ton of metal crunching against the side of a cabinet is fine for industrial abuse, then abuse with a fireman's axe will take someone who is either a weightlifter or just incredibly skilled with an axe to do any real damage to metal at that thickness.

Next is the other major threat to guns and valuables: fire.  Way back in the day to get fire resistance for a safe you poured concrete into pre-made forms, let it 'dry' and then put that in between the interior and exterior sheet metal of the safe.  If you made the safe with water concerns in mind, you could just directly pour the concrete between the walls for a form-fitting, fire resistant media.  This method is still used by a couple of manufacturers, safe with better and somewhat more space age materials.  The majority of manufacturers use fireboard, which is basically sheetrock like you get installed in your home, but made with a bit more fire resistant materials.  One thickness of that stuff at 5/8" gets you through about a half hour of a fire with little heat transmitted to the interior of the safe.  Another method is ceramic fiber compressed and then put between the walls.  While the stuff would normally burn if it was solid, by breaking it down to fibers you get an outer charring effect to slow the spread of heat and without fresh air there is no real way for it to suddenly burst into flames. 

People need to be able to judge just how long it would take for their abode to burn to the ground and think about that if fire rating is a concern.  I figured a minimum of a half-hour and a maximum of one hour for my residence: if a real fire gets going, there isn't much to stop it and it would be fast and hot.  Also for safes is a liner that will expand under heat to stop said fresh air flow and also stop water and smoke.  Expansive liner for door seal is a must. Thus I'm now getting a decent list of the 'must have' items:

1) Space, maximize utilization thereof,

2) EMP/CME proof lock,

3) Bolt holes to bolt safe to floor,

4) 1/4" minimum thick door,

5) Bolts on four sides of door or passive system that does the equivalent when mixed with bolts,

6) A decent frame thickness, generally a minimum of 3x the thickness of the door, more is better,

7) 10 gauge minimum body construction,

8) Fire resistant material, and while there is no particular order my preference is for the ceramic, but the others would do just as well,

9) Fire expansive door sealing material.

After that comes the interior and almost every safe offers a relatively standard set of firearms with mixed storage options.  As strange as it may seem to say it, this is in the 'nice to have' category as I have enough gun socks and soft sided cases to allow for loose storage until I could either make or buy the proper internal components.

In the 'should have' category there is exterior finish which really should NOT be glossy but either matte or textured.  Black works well as does a dark gray or any other dark toned color.  Heck if a company put it through a major bluing and then did a matte clear over that, I would be fine with it.  Also a stepped or jigsaw door for added fire and theft resistance go into the 'should have' zone.

For triage of desires, I'm coming up short on the 'should have' and 'be nice to have' and heavy on the 'must have' items.  Luckily there are a lot of options at my price range for this sort of thing, but the prestige firms all get knocked out due to price.  So no Halls or Graffunder, or Pendleton make the cut due to cost.

There is a final set of 'must have' items and they are not for material items but those things that I see as important that are not just steel thickness or fire resistance.  These items are: must be American Made and must be from a Small Business.  The latter is pretty easy to do, since almost all safe companies are small businesses.  The former, however, starts to knock out the low and mid-range of many of the Big Box and Big Name You See Everywhere safes.  Getting something that is not Chinese made is starting to look like a mid- to high-end requirement for pricing.  That sucks, but there it is, and requires research on each and every safe line from the Big Names out there as they are starting to farm out the low end of their lines or alternative names that sound almost as good to China.

I've narrowed my decision point to five companies and tomorrow I will finally place the order.  It is not the lowest cost, but the best value in my opinion.

More on that for a future article.

07 March 2013

Sen. Paul's filibuster and the question

Congratulations to Sen. Rand Paul for utilizing the filibuster on a question that he has been asking for nearly a month and asked of the head of DoJ, Eric Holder, and the White House during that period: in their opinion does the President have the power to order a drone attack against an American on American soil without due process of law procedures?

This is not the question: can the President order someone stopped when they are in the process of attacking the United States?  That is an in-process question where someone is armed, known, dangerous, affiliated with an organization that has already attacked the United States or has otherwise made clear their intention to attack the United States on their own or in affiliation with others.

That, incidentally, is called Treason and has its own due process procedure set by the US Constitution.

And a single penalty after trial and being found guilty of same.

The White House, Eric Holder and Mr. Brennan, the man who's nomination for head of CIA has caused all of this to come out, have all given a big, hearty waffle on this question.  Do note that if this was the previous Administration that the Left, the MFM and all sorts of others would be denouncing that President and calling attention to this question.  Their complicity in partisan, tyrannical ends is demonstrated by their lack of doing anything.  Save Code Pink and the ACLU, I will grant those organizations and any others that have stood up to join with Sen. Paul and his fellow Senators that assisted on this that they have followed on an ethical and moral line of reasoning.  No matter how much you may not like what some of these organizations do, and how insane their motivations may be at times, they are consistent in their insanity.

As for me the question should be self-evident: no, the President does not have that power nor authority to go outside due process.  Going after those actually wielding weapons, planting bombs or hacking into the infrastructure of, say, a major sewage system to put its contents into the drinking water of millions of people, those people should be stopped with whatever force is necessary short of an indiscriminant missile attack.  Anything that has a warhead measured in pounds of explosives, launched from any platform including a shoulder fired weapon from an individual, is a bit much to go after an individual who is not in a tank, not in an APC, not in a hijacked aircraft about to hit a building or other infrastructure component, or in a known and designated bunker or other fortified area.  The potential for the innocent getting hurt or killed in a non-war zone is far too high to be using explosives outside of a testing range  or other designated safe facility utilized for the training of same.

And as to the question of being on a 'kill list', I have addressed that previously as something that has a lack of stated doctrine and procedure with legal framework attached to it.  The Congress can and should play a part in this using their Article I, Section 8 powers under the Letters language as that is the power that is granted to Congress to address and deal with the Private Enemies of the United States and the language allowing Congress the power to set the means by which the military forces of the US operate.  This would allow Congress to name specific groups that have attacked the United States as Private Enemies of the Nation, and that joining such a group is treasonous as it is one that has waged Private War on the US as defined in the Law of Nations.  Further it could tell the President that individuals of that organization, foreign and domestic, are to be publicly put on a list of those individuals to be brought in by any means necessary, apprehended when feasible overseas, and that these individuals are admonished to turn themselves in to any US Embassy or any US military base or organization for proper tribunal or trial.  Congress could place the general activities of 'terrorism' as those of 'piracy' and put forward, via legislation, that all such individuals are engaged in Piracy when they attack the US on their own and not as part of a Nation.  This would actually allow the removal of the cumbersome terrorist statutes and embrace the pre-existing framework of Piracy trials which are also a known part of the international framework of understanding between Nations.

These things would then set a basis for doctrine of apprehension for the Executive Branch and also define when private individuals who are actively part of an organization attacking the US may be attacked, and that other individuals or organizations, public or private, that are aiding and abetting such hostile groups or individuals are to be put on a separate list so that proper legal proceedings can go forward to freeze their assets whenever possible and seize them once proper legal recognition and status is done via trial.

Thus I applaud Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster.

I also humbly suggest that he start legislation to finally get a hard and fast set of legal understandings put forward to properly define and scope out just what a President can and cannot do with drones and other unarmed vehicles in the pursuit of 'terror' groups overseas.  Congressional input and designation of groups is necessary, and the President will then have to ask Congress to add or remove organizations to such a list as this is a WAR POWER of the Congress at work.  That would then set a methodology that is public and well understood on who is on such a list, and what recourse they have to turn themselves in for proper legal procedures be they citizens or foreigners, at home or abroad.  This would then involve all three branches of government and could even set up an initial tribunal system to find out just who is and is not a 'combatant', with the military running such under the Geneva Conventions and defining that 'terrorism' falls under the 'Saboteurs and Espionage' trials for military affairs.  Those trials are well known and understood, and have a single outcome when guilty, and it is immediate and summary in nature.  That would also clear out Gitmo and allow the US to shut it down once the last of the detainees are processed.

These things are things that can be done by a Senator or Representative and work with others to put legislation forward and move it through Congress.

That is how the entire thing is supposed to work.

Best to remind everyone of that while there is still time.