Patrick has joined the NRA. A couple years ago he bought a shotgun. He said the gun was for "home defense." Thankfully, it hasn't been used in that capacity, though he has used it to shoot clay pigeons on our friend Julian's ranch. For a year and a half, he was satisfied with one firearm. But then he started dropping hints to me like, "Guns are like potato chips, Eve. You can't just have one." I knew he was prepping me for another gun purchase, and, sure enough, last week, he proudly set a Smith and Wesson .357 revolver on the kitchen counter next to me. When we bought the shotgun, we took some safety precautions: trigger lock and a plywood locker, which Patrick built one evening. The .357 went in with the shotgun, and now Patrick's dropping hints about a rifle. That would make the closet locker pretty crowded. And, frankly, it makes me nervous to think that the only things between my kids and two or three guns are a piece of half-inch plywood and a combination lock. Moreover, my motherly instincts are warring with my survival instincts. Storing the gun unloaded, with the ammo stored elsewhere would relieve my motherly concerns, but the survivor in me thinks, "I wouldn't have time to load a gun and shoot." A push pad safe or lock box near the bedside seemed the solution to both problems. But, being a firearm novice, I wanted to check with some experts.
I began my safe search with a California Highway Patrolman friend of mine who asked me to call him Officer Rufus. First, he applauded our decision to arm the Kelly household. "If you read the American Rifleman that the NRA puts out, every month they publish a list of crimes that were foiled by armed citizens. There have been lots of stories of old ladies who have scared off dangerous criminals just by pointing shotguns at them. Even if you just pump the gun, that sound will often scare off a criminal," he said.
"Ideally," he continued, "for home safety, as long as the gun is locked away, I would keep it loaded."
Where should I keep the gun, under the bed?
"I wouldn't keep guns under the bed," Officer Rufus responded, "because kids might look for them there. You can keep the guns in your closet until the kids are older. Then you might want to look into a gun safe to have the gun more readily available. The important thing with home protection is to have a plan that you have thought through. Run over it mentally every few months so that it is fresh in your mind: where the gun is stored, where the key is or what the combination is, which gun you want to use. And take that gun out a couple times a year to re-familiarize yourself with it and to reload it."
Next call went to Lou Baldridge, owner of El Cajon Gun Exchange. Baldridge suggested I come in and talk to his resident gun safe expert, Ron Godwin. "He could talk to you all day on the subject and never repeat himself."
I knew Patrick, budding Second Amendment enthusiast that he is, would enjoy a visit to the gun shop more than I would, so I sent him down there one recent Saturday afternoon for what I thought would be a 20-minute reconnaissance mission. He didn't return for two hours.
Godwin started his gun safe course with a six-foot-tall safe marked "Display only." (He requested that I not mention the brand name.) "This safe retails for somewhere around $1200 to $1500," he said. "But look at this." Godwin opened the door and showed Patrick the flimsiness of the locking mechanism and thinness of the steel. A simple push on the bolts made them retract. "It'd be very easy to drill a hole in the ten-gauge steel over here on the side, then take a punch and a hammer and open this safe." Next he grabbed the top of the open door and pulled it toward him while pushing on the bottom with his foot. The door twisted and buckled. "Is that your idea of a safe?" he asked. "You see, people go into gun shops looking for a gun safe. They see one like this, then they see that the same-sized Browning safes over there, which are [$700 to $1500] more, so they buy one of these thinking they're getting a safe for their guns. In reality, they're spending around $1500 for little more than a locker."
"I'm living proof of that," chimed in a coworker of Godwin's named Jay. "I had this safe and my step-kids broke into it with only a crowbar and a screw driver and stole 28 guns."
"That's why we won't sell this brand of safe," Godwin resumed. "This one we keep for demonstrational purposes."
Godwin went on to show Patrick the features on the Browning safes, which are made by the company Pro Steel. "When Underwriters Laboratories tested this safe," he said of a six-foot-tall, three-foot-wide model, which sells for $2400, "it took two professional safe crackers four hours to get it open."
Godwin said the only three brand names he felt he could responsibly recommend are "Browning, Champion, and Heritage. Other than those three, I would want to be able to talk to the customer and show him just what he's getting before I discussed other brands."