When considering the purchase of a gun safe, many people want to know the difference between a gun safe and a gun cabinet. Both are designed to keep firearms secure from unauthorized access and loss, but there are some important differences. Let’s go over the basics, the pros, and cons of each design so you can make an informed decision.
What is a gun safe?
A gun safe is a secure container, with an exterior usually made primarily of steel, with a mechanical or digital locking mechanism designed to prevent theft or unauthorized access to firearms. Better gun safes also provide significant protection against fire damage.
While there are small gun safes and handgun vaults that will not accommodate a long gun (rifle or shotgun), when comparing gun safes and gun cabinets, most people think of a typical-sized gun safe that’s tall enough to store long guns.
The best gun safes have thick steel bodies, hardened steel doors, hidden hinges, and other security-enhancing features (which we’ll talk about below) to help prevent unauthorized entry from opportunistic criminals using pry bars, drills, hammers, grinders, and similar tools.
What is a gun cabinet?
A gun cabinet is typically a lightweight steel storage cabinet with provision inside for storing several long guns. A gun cabinet usually has a very basic, keyed lock and lightweight locking bars (if any), and typically no protection against fire.
Another type of gun cabinet that was more popular in the 20th century is a piece of furniture (typically wood and glass) intended to display firearms while keeping them locked away from children.
Neither type of gun cabinet is designed or intended to protect against a determined thief or a serious fire, but gun cabinets have their uses in certain situations.
Features that make a great gun safe/cabinet
There’s no question that gun safes are better than gun cabinets when it comes to protecting your firearms and keeping them away from thieves. But some gun safes are better than others. Here are some features to look for when choosing a gun safe.
You want your gun safe to keep your guns, well, safe. This means it should be extremely difficult for thieves of opportunity to break into your safe. While no safe on earth will keep out a determined, knowledgeable thief with the right tools and a lot of time, you want to make that process as difficult as possible, so the bad guy will give up and pick an easier target.
This starts with a heavy gauge steel safe body and a thick safe door, ideally with hidden hinges and a pry-resistant design. The door itself needs to be thick enough to discourage drill attacks and hammers, as well as the steel around the door, needs to resist bending from crowbars or pry bars.
The safe locking bars or bolts should be hardened steel, to resist cutting, grinding, and prying. Ideally there should be a hardened steel plate protecting the locking mechanism. Entry-level safes may have either no hard plate or a single hard plate (all Liberty safes are protected by a hard plate). Mid-range models might come with a beefed-up triple hard plate, while top-tier safes like Liberty’s Presidential line feature a ball-bearing-hard plate that can easily snap drill bits if thieves try to break in.
Also, look for tamper-resistant safe relockers or relocking devices that automatically trip and lock the safe if the lock mechanism or back plate is compromised.
The electronic dial or mechanical lock of your gun safe should be reliable, durable, strong, and, if electronic, resistant to EMPs and tampering. Learn more about Liberty’s safe lock options.
A good gun safe will have provision for an in-safe dehumidifier to keep mildew, mold, and corrosion from destroying your valuables.
The better gun safes also have significant protection from fire, with proven fireboard panels and expanding door seals to help lock out smoke, fire, and water.
Learn more about Liberty Safe’s security ratings.
As for features that make a good gun cabinet, look for a high-quality lock and handle, and buy the thickest-gauge steel you can afford. A gun cabinet is definitely not up to the same level as a quality gun safe where security is concerned, so maximize the security where you can.
A good gun cabinet will also have provision inside to lean your long guns against the interior walls in dedicated, padded racks, rather than letting your guns touch each other and get scratched.
Also, look for pre-drilled locations to bolt your gun cabinet to the wall (ideally into the studs) to provide a little more security from theft or tipping.
Cabinet or gun safe? How to make the right choice for you
There are four primary areas of difference when it comes to comparing a gun safe and a gun cabinet: Price, security features, weight, and fire resistance. It will be up to you to determine what matters most to you in your situation. Let’s go over some pros and cons of each option.
Gun cabinet advantages
The main two advantages of a gun cabinet are low price and light weight. If you can afford a gun, you can afford the price of a lockable gun cabinet to help keep it secure. Often, big-box stores have sales and you can get a functional gun cabinet for a ridiculously low price.
Additionally, most gun cabinets (at least the metal type we’re primarily talking about in this article) are easily moved into or out of a room, and one person can usually manage this task, particularly with a hand truck or dolly. If you live in an apartment, change locations a lot, or just want to be able to move your gun storage cabinet frequently, a lightweight gun cabinet can make sense.
For keeping firearms out of the hands of young children or out of the sight of the casual observer, a gun cabinet can be part of an effective strategy.
Disadvantages of a gun cabinet
One of the main advantages (mobility and light weight) of a typical gun cabinet is also a potential downside. A couple of motivated thieves can walk off with your entire cabinet and contents, and break into it at their leisure. It’s a good idea to bolt your cabinet down (as with a safe), but the metal of most gun cabinets is so thin that a motivated thief can rip it away from its moorings.
Additionally, the security of a gun cabinet is generally relatively poor compared to a proper gun safe. The keyed locking handle, the flimsy bars, the thinner metal, and the loose tolerances of a typical locker-type gun cabinet make it easy for anyone with a pry bar, drill, or grinding tool to break in and steal.
Third, the vast majority of gun cabinets offer no fire resistance at all. If you have a home fire, your firearms and valuables will likely be a total loss if you store them in a typical gun cabinet.
Advantages of a proper gun safe
In our view, the advantages of a quality gun safe are so numerous and profound that there's almost no reason to go with a gun cabinet, except in very specific “edge cases” mentioned above. A real gun safe (like Liberty’s line of USA-made gun safes) offers drastically improved security, with much thicker steel, infinitely better dial or digital keypad locking mechanism, hardened locking bars or bolts, a pry-resistant door and hinges, drill-resistant, hardened steel security plates, and redundant automatic relocking mechanisms.
In addition to the increased security features, a proper gun safe with a humidity-controlled interior also protects its contents from the ravages of mildew, mold, and corrosion.
And anyone who has experienced the devastation of a home fire will tell you the benefits of keeping your most precious valuables, records, and firearms in a good, fire-resistant Liberty safe.
Disadvantages of a gun safe
Compared to the cheapest gun cabinet, even an entry-level gun safe may seem expensive. After all, you have to pay for all those additional security features and fire resistance. We’d opine that anyone can afford a good gun safe with a little determined budgeting, but the higher price of entry is a factor you’ll need to consider.
A good gun safe is also pretty heavy. Our smallest rifle-sized gun safe weighs around 245 lbs empty. That’s pretty mobile for a larger person with a hand truck (or a couple of strong buddies), but if you’re on your own, you’re probably going to want to hire a professional to move your safe around, especially if stairs are involved. A large-capacity, top-security safe can weigh over 1,500 lbs empty. These larger safes require planning for installation or moving, and also for floor load capacity.
Buy a Liberty Safe and keep your guns secure
Now that you know a bit more about the features, pros, and cons of gun safes and gun cabinets, you can make a more informed decision about the best way to keep your firearms safer.
If you would like to learn more about gun safes, compare prices, look at the options for paint and interior finishes, and see if a Liberty safe is right for you, check out our online catalog or visit a Liberty safe dealer near you.