Your Gun Safe Is Probably Crap

by Stu Chisholm

Child Gun Safety
Your Gun Safe Is Probably Crap
Knowing Guns: The Ins & Outs of Firearms & Firearms Politics for the Uninitiated
Knowing Guns: The Ins & Outs of Firearms & Firearms Politics for the Uninitiated

Detroit, Michigan –-( Some of you who have read my articles, rants and ravings both here and elsewhere might already know that I’m something of a geek.

I’m a DJ by profession, so I really get into all of the audio gear, lighting and other tech toys.

I’m a sci-fi nerd, an original “Trekkie” (yes, from the original group in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who the term was coined to describe back in the ‘70s) and, as most of us fans do, I occasionally attend conventions.

A popular one here in the Metro Detroit area is called Penguicon, which will be taking place on May 2 – 4 2014, at the Westin Hotel in Southfield, Michigan.  The con kicks-off with a shooting event called “Geeks With Guns,” held at a nearby indoor range.  Yes, firearm fans, there are kindred spirits among fandom!

Another huge component of fandom has always been the engineer contingent, both amateur and professional.  Known for things like the “Maker Faire,” cons hold classes, seminars and demonstrations of various engineering disciplines, electronic, software and mechanical.

An area of fascination recently has been exposing the poor engineering of everyday products. 

So it should’ve come as no surprise, then, when a friend sent me a video entitled “Defcon 19 – From Safe to Armed in Seconds: A Study of Epic Fails of Popular Gun Safes.”  (Caution: contains language not suitable for kids.)  The video basically shows how many cheap gun locks and safes can be easily defeated.  Yes, when gun products meet geeks, they’re gonna do what they do best: hack ‘em!

Thinking that most kids aren’t hackers, nerds or geeks, and even if they were, they wouldn’t be able to get into MY nice little safe with its tight electronic keypad and rugged, all-steel construction, another video from my buddy quickly dispelled that notion.  It is from the following year’s convention, called “Defcon 20 – Safes and Containers: Insecurity Design Excellence.”  In it, security expert Marc Tobias ( goes into greater depth in showing how most popular gun locks and safes are nothing more than condoms with a pinhole: they lend confidence, but deliver nothing but a false sense of security.  To my horror, that tight little safe in my own bedroom is one of the first to be exposed as deficient and, in fact, the easiest to open of the lot!  Given that I’ve owned guns for well over 40 years and have always kept them secure – or so I thought – I couldn’t help but wonder how many of my fellow gun owners are clueless as to just how bad these safes are?  (Tobias doesn’t even call them “safes,” but pointedly calls them “containers.”)

Because the video made my brain explode with questions, I decided to contact Marc Tobias directly and he was nice enough to give up some of his time to answer a few.  Naturally, the first and foremost question in my mind was what caused him to take an interest in this aspect of security.  He reiterated the account from Forbes magazine, where the ten-year-old daughter of a Deputy Sheriff in Vancouver, Washington was shot and killed by her brother with their father’s department-issued firearm.  The gun had been stored according to department guidelines, in a safe that had also been issued by the department.  The tragedy was totally preventable, the result of a poorly engineered locking mechanism.  Tobias was hired as an expert witness.  He refused to take a fee.

So I just had to ask him what brand of gun safe that he, himself, owns.  He explained that, because he doesn’t have any children and due to the nature of his work, he doesn’t bother with any type of safe, keeping his Glock at hand at all times.  Not exactly what I had hoped to hear, so I decided to press him for a recommendation.  “Honestly, they’re all junk.  I wouldn’t buy [any] one of them,” was his response.  He went on to explain that most are made in China and cost-cutting is paramount.  But he’s not resigned to the situation.  He’s taking action.

So Marc Tobias and his company are working on developing their own versions of safes “made the way a safe SHOULD be,” as he describes it.  “The safe is basically done.  We’re waiting on the electronics currently being worked on.”  He hopes for a summer launch, and advises interested parties to watch Forbes magazine, where he’s a frequent contributor.

Marc knows that a decent product is only one prong of his overall strategy.  The other is the one he’s been doing a bit longer: filing lawsuits.  After exposing how poorly engineered their products are, complete with videos of a three-year-old child opening a safe in seconds with no tools, or just a soda straw or paper clip, and being ignored by both retailers and manufacturers, Tobias and his company took on the biggest offender: Stack-On safes.  It was the company that supplied the safe implicated in the aforementioned shooting incident.  As a result, they were assessed a hefty fine and now their products must carry a warning sticker alerting buyers that their safes are not suitable for protecting children.  More lawsuits against other manufacturers will be sure to follow until/unless their unsafe products are recalled and/or redesigned.

When I mused that Tobias’ company seemed to be doing the work that government should be charged with, he did say that he’d met with the Consumer Products Safety Commission previously that resulted in two product recalls, again involving Stack On.  More such meetings are likely.

Omega Automatic Pistol Locks
Omega Automatic Pistol Locks

Lastly, I also inquired about trigger locks.  Since 1997, most new handguns sold are required to be accompanied by a so-called “child safety lock.”  They can also be purchased in sporting goods stores and gun shops, and most police departments will give them away free of charge.

Regardless of the source, Tobias is straight-forward in his assessment: “They’re mostly worthless.” 

The only lock he’s currently recommending is a barrel lock made by Omega.

Until his gun safes hit the market and/or the others have properly re-engineered theirs, it might be wise to install such a lock on every gun kept in your old “containers” and watch this space for further developments.  Help IS on the way!

About the author:
Mobile DJ, business owner/entrepreneur and author Stu Chisholm was born in Detroit, Michigan. A columnist for the DJ industry trade magazine, Mobile Beat, Stu’s series on “DJ Security” contained a controversial segment on concealed carry and the use of guns. It was later included in, and expanded upon, in his book, “The Complete Disc Jockey,” published in 2008. Running a business and pursuing what he considers logical security measures, Stu obtained his CCW permit in the state of Michigan in the late ’90s and later became active in the gun rights movement. He joined the grass roots group MCRGO, the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners, helping to reform Michigan’s concealed carry law in 2001. Stu remains an active DJ, writer and activist, and is currently collaborating on an upcoming science-fiction book set in Detroit’s near future. He is married to cable television producer, Janette Chisholm and lives in Roseville, Michigan.

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The man who has a gun should have a gun safe to keep away from children.

Stu Chisholm

UPDATE: This interesting video just found its way into my inbox:
Go to Youtube and search “Open Sentry Safe in less than 5 seconds”. (Mr. Locksmith)

Stu Chisholm

The Fort Knox safes are REAL safes and not sold at places like Home Depot (last I checked anyway). While I’m no authority, I’ve never seen one opened as I have the Stack-On, Sentry and other el-cheapo brands.

Kevin Jones

What are your thoughts on the Fort Knox gun safes?

Võ Đình Hạnh

anyone who owns a gun should have a gun safe to keep away from children


The cheap locks that manufacturers are forced into putting into the carton along with the firearm are just China Junk.

My bolt cutter or Dremel will slice that cheap cable in seconds.

I have my stuff inside a Knaack tool locker bolted to the floor. No kids in the home.

Stu Chisholm

The best child safety is educated children, no doubt. Plus, I agree with Lott’s research. I carry daily and have an HD gun within reach at all times. That said, what angers me is that people who buy gun safes aren’t getting what they PAY for. If you’re like me, you’ve got several guns. You can’t keep all of them on you at all times. If you go to work or travel, you need to secure them against theft and/or access by unauthorized persons. It’s called “due dilligence.” Lastly, all kids aren’t perfect. They get up to things regardless of… Read more »


I don’t even have a gun safe, but all the kids are grown.

chris rakes

what a FUDD. i thought this writer was a joke. then i seen he was from Detroit, that explains a LOT.
teach your children to be safe and they will be

Carl Stevenson

These products actually increase danger by rendering your weapon useless for self defense in a home invasion.
John Lott’s research, based on government statistics, proved that these so called “safe storage” laws ( gun safes, trigger locks, etc) have NO effect on child deaths and actually put people and their families on more danger.
Keep weapons up where toddlers can’t reach them.
Teach kids from a young age the dangers, respect for weapons, safe handling, etc. and the “problem” is non existent.


And what super human kid has the strength to chamber a round on a gun like that?