Gun Safe Haven Gun Storage, Arms, Defense, and General Babbling Mon, 08 Aug 2016 02:52:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Liberty Centurion 24 Owner Review Mon, 25 Jul 2016 20:47:16 +0000 Make: Liberty Safes

Model: Centurion 24 gun safe.

Amount of gun storage advertised: 24 guns.

Amount of guns stored: 10 long guns and three handguns.

Doors open. Currently storing 10 long guns and other miscellaneous contents

Doors open. Currently storing 10 long guns and other miscellaneous contents

General contents: Shotguns, rifles, handguns, ammo, reloading equipment, silver coins, and silver flatware.

External configuration: Located in the basement of the house.  The safe is bolted down into the concrete with Liberty’s anchoring hardware.  The basement gets a little damp, so we put a foam mat underneath the safe to act as a moisture barrier for rust prevention.

Internal configuration: All of the long guns are on the right side, resting in the built-in gun rests.  A center partition separates the long guns from miscellaneous valuables, including documents, silvers, and a revolver (still in the box).  The upper shelf is used to store ammunition, reloading gear, and a couple more handguns.

Liberty Centurion 24 Long guns on right side partition.

Long guns on right side partition.

Liberty Centurion 24 upper shelf

Upper shelf stocked with ammo.

Safe accessories: As mentioned, the safe is bolted to the concrete floor using a Liberty anchor kit.  It also has a Drirod dehumidifier to keep the guns from rusting.  The house has a Simplisafe security system, and a smoke detector in the basement near the safe.

Drirod dehumidifier

Drirod dehumidifier

Favorite guns and other notable contents:

F.I.E 410 side-by-side double trigger shotgun.  Great 410 coach gun.  A lot of fun and easy to handle.

FIE 410 double barrel side by side

FIE 410 double barrel side by side

Browning “Baby Browning” .25 auto pistol.  It’s just a neat little six shot pocket semi-auto.  Got this one in the early 80’s I believe.

Baby Browning .25

Baby Browning .25

Remington 12-A pump action .22 long rifle.  Great little 12 round 22.  It is a joy to shoot, and is my go to for garden varmint control.

Remington Model 12A 22 LR Pump Action

Remington Model 12A 22 LR Pump Action

Also have a couple World War II bayonets, a few packs of silver eagles, junk silver (coins from before 1964, when they still had silver), and a set of silver flatware.

Unopened case of silver eagles

Unopened case of silver eagles

World War II bayonets

World War II bayonets

Silver flatware set

Silver flatware set

Safe queen: It would probably be the Browning Gold Hunter just because it’s never been fired.  I’ve just never gotten around to shooting it; haven’t even taken the tag off.

Browning Gold Hunter 12 gauge semi automatic

Browning Gold Hunter 12 gauge semi automatic

Things that I like about it (pros): I’ve had it for about five years, and the lock has never given me any trouble.  I’ve never had to have it serviced..  There’s plenty of room to store everything that I need to.  I suppose if I pick up some new guns, I can always reorganize things, and store a few in the gun rests on the left side of the safe.  There would be plenty of room for that.

I got a decent deal on it.  I think it cost $700 delivered at the time.

Liberty Centurion S&G mechanical combination lock

S&G mechanical combination lock

Things that I don’t like about it (cons): The shelving seems a little flimsy in it (as you can see by the pictures).  There’s a pretty heavy amount of ammo on the top shelf, but I didn’t really expect it to bow like it is.

When I first got it, I kind of wished I got an electronic keypad lock, but the manual dial has grown on me.  I can open it in about five seconds now, so I guess that’s not really a big deal.  No other problems to speak of…it’s been a pretty solid safe.

Final thoughts: I got this safe about five years ago with enough room to keep all my guns, plus a little more.  Unfortunately, my gun collection hasn’t grown much at all since, so there’s still plenty of space.  I think, with a little reorganization, I could easily fit six more long guns in there in addition to the current contents when I decide to expand my collection.

There haven’t been any break-in attempts on the safe, so I can’t say for sure how secure it is, but I have zero real complaints about it.  I’m very satisfied with the purchase.

Manufacturer Specs

Security Rating Non-UL
Door Type Composite
Door Thickness 4″ total with 1″ composite door front
Door Bolt Sides 2-Sided Military Style locking bars
Body Steel Thickness 14 Gauge
Total Body Thickness .75″
Lock UL Listed, Sargent & Greenleaf™
Lock Type S&G UL Listed 6741 mechanical lock standard (NO key locking dial) with optional upgrade to NL electronic lock
Relocker Type Fail-Safe™, Punch and Drill
Hardplate Lock Protection Single RC63 hardplate
Bolt Locking Type Direct Cam Drive
Bolt Diameter 4″ Military Style Locking Bars
Bolt Protector Type Single Hardplate
Fire Protection
Fire Minutes 30 Minutes
Fire Rating 1200°/30 Minutes
Fire Temp 1200°
Layers 3 in ceiling and door, 1 on sides and doorjambs
Door Seal Heat-Activated, Expanding Palusol™
Style & Functionality
Fabric Type Gray Fabric
Upholstery Fully Upholstered
Interior Lighting optional
Door Panel None; Accessory Door Panel Available
Model Details by Size Centurion 12 Centurion 18 Centurion 24
Bolt Count 10 10 10
Long-Gun Storage
(PLEASE NOTE: Gun capacity may vary depending upon size of guns and scopes)
12 18 24
Interior Type Gun Only Gun Only or Dual Flex Gun Only or Dual Flex
Dimensions H x W x D (Depth includes handle spokes installed; Add 1.5″ for optional outlet kit) 59.5″ x 18.25″ x 18″ 59.5″ x 24.25″ x 22″ 59.5″ x 28.25″ x 22″
Exterior Height 59.5″ 59.5″ 59.5″
Exterior Width 18.25″ 24.25″ 28.25″
Exterior Depth (Includes handle spokes installed; Add 1.5″ for optional outlet kit) 18″ 22″ 22″
FOOTPRINT (Width x Depth) 18.25″ x 16″ 24.25″ x 20″ 28.25″ x 20″
Exterior Cubic Feet (safe body only) 10.1 16.7 19.4
Interior Height 57.4″ 57.4″ 57.4″
Interior Width 16.7″ 22.7″ 26.7″
Interior Depth 11.6″ 15.6″ 15.6″
Interior Cubic Feet 6.4 11.7 13.8
Weight 247 lbs. 334 lbs. 370 lbs.
Country of Origin United States United States United States
MSRP $599 $729 $849
Starting Price** $499 $639 $749
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Guide to Buying Your First Handgun Sat, 24 Oct 2015 02:42:19 +0000

This article was written to be used in conjunction with’s Handgun Wizard. I’m in the process of migrating and updating the tool on  In the meantime, feel free to use it, read the post below, and let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.


Opening Remarks

You’re reading this, so I’m going to assume you’re in the market for a handgun;, or at least window shopping.  Before making any big purchase, especially one that may guard your life, it’s critical that you first arm yourself with adequate information.

Therein lies the purpose of’s Handgun Wizard: to offer you, the defense-minded consumer, the knowledge you need to make a sound purchase.

Before I continue, I need to make it clear that OpenSoar’s intentions are to simply guide you into the next step of purchasing a firearm.  I do not expect–nor do I advise–you to visit an online gun broker, and brashly order whatever guns our wizard ranks at the top of the list (for the record, I do think online dealers are a fantastic resource for the already knowledgeable buyer).   Everyone’s hands and shooting preferences (whether or not they know they have them) are different.  A pistol that feels just right to one person (proverbially known as a Goldilocks or a Baby Bear gun), might have the ergonomic qualities of a brick in the hands of another shooter.

Having said that, I strongly suggest that instead of buying blindly, you visit your local firearms dealer, and ask to handle the guns suggested by our tool (and don’t be afraid to try models that aren’t listed).  If your hometown dealer has a range, take your shopping experience to the next level and put a few rounds through the final candidates.

The Handgun Wizard is an educational tool, and is in no way a substitute for test driving the gun before you buy it, especially if you’re an inexperienced buyer.   Until you grip it in your hand, and feel the trigger pull, you can’t be sure it’s the right fit.

Oh, and please practice proper firearm safety every time you pick up a handgun (I wish I didn’t have to say that).

Ok, with my spiel now behind us, we can press on.  Here’s some information to consider when using the wizard, and ultimately, when making your final decision:


If you spend any length of time gun shopping, or searching through the table on this page, you’ll quickly notice that some of these handguns fetch a pretty penny, while others just barely shake Saturday night special status.  This raises a couple questions:

  • Why is there such a huge difference in price between some guns (e.g., Wilson Combat custom 1911s can run more than $4000 more than a standard Springfield Armory 1911; both of which are dandy shooters), and
  • Is price-point a good litmus test to accurately measure the quality of a pistol?

Variance in price essentially boils down to two major elements: manufacturing man hours and marketing.

Nowadays, there honestly isn’t a huge difference in the quality of individual components used to manufacture mainstream handgun models; just because an HK P30 costs more than a Glock 17, doesn’t mean that the Glock’s polymer frame is going to snap faster than the P30’s (note: polymer frames don’t usually snap anyway, especially not on HKs and Glocks).  There are certainly other differences that shape the cost disparity between these two guns, but raw quality of parts isn’t a factor that tops the list.

As a novice shopper, I’d advise you not to weigh yourself down with too many details, like whether to go with billet-milled or forged lowers, but if you’re interested in where your money is potentially going, you can start there.

Using our previous example, both Springfield Armory and Wilson Combat 1911 pistols have forged frames.  I’m not going to start a metallurgy argument (I have neither the chops, nor the patience for drama), but just know that forging is a rather labor intensive method of frame manufacturing.  While both companies have fantastic histories and die-hard followings, their manufacturing similarities start to drift at this point.  Wilson Combat does everything in-house, and keeps all aspects definitively American.  They also have freakish quality control standards to the point where their smiths’ wrists are probably more sore from signing checklists than crafting custom fittings.

When you add up all the boutique components and hardworking American labor, you wind up with a beautiful custom hotrod, and you pay for every bit of it.  Does all of this result in a handgun that justifies the ten-fold price tag over its Springfield Mil-Spec counterpart?

Wilson fans will tell you, “heck yes”; Springfield fans will tell you, “heck no”; I will tell you that I’ll gladly take both if you’re handing them out, but as for you…you need to pick the one that best fits your hands first, and personality second; I admit that’s bit of a cop-out answer, but as long as you can shoot it safely and comfortably, you and your budget can decide how fancy you want to get…leave me out of it.

The other price driver that I mentioned is marketing.  The only thing you really need to know about marketing in the firearms industry is that there are some companies that are exceptionally skilled at massaging money out of your pocket; it is inevitable that you will fall victim to their craft from time-to-time.  Given that, don’t be ashamed to let the drool dangle off your lip while you ogle the advertisements in Recoil (or whatever magazine you subscribe to that objectifies firearms’ bodies); just make sure you have a clear head before you visit the dealer (think about baseball).

Bottom line:

Some guns are made with better components and demand more meticulous craftsmanship than others.  However, the current handgun industry is extremely competitive, and is packed with more reliable firearms makers than ever.

Price can unquestionably be an indicator of quality, but it would be foolish to base performance and reliability on it alone; there isn’t a gun listed in the handgun wizard that hasn’t had a small army of satisfied customers (who will all argue with each other over who’s gun is the best when you throw them in a room together).   The chief advantage to having a big budget is that you have more options to find the right fit; that’s about it.

New or Used:

Should I buy a new or used gun?  Oh, what a common question among new buyers (myself included).   My opinion on the matter is pretty straightforward; if the gun feels right, fits your budget, doesn’t have any obvious damage, and the only thing hanging you up is that it had a previous owner, buy it!

Under the right circumstances, there is absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing a used pistol or revolver.  However–just to reiterate the points above–I’d strongly recommend purchasing your first few from a known reputable source (a.k.a., a local dealer), as they’ve very likely already inspected the firearm for any damage that may affect its reliability.  In addition, you can usually count on them to give you a fair price (the average savings between new and used models tends to be around 25%; that figure can vary a bit, depending on demand and condition).

Guns are machines that are built to have thousands of lethal explosions go off in them throughout their lifetimes.  A good one can shoot forever with proper care, but if you’re in a situation where the deal looks too good to be true, and you don’t know the seller, there are a few things you can examine on your own to make an educated judgment call.  I could try to lay out that knowledge myself, but other people have already said it better…Chuck Hawks did a nice post on the subject a while back: Buying a Used Handgun.

That should about sum up any questions concerning used reliability; just a couple more points I want to toss in, and we’ll be done.

Almost every new gun needs to be “broken in” to function optimally.  I was having feeding issues with my new out-of-the-box Sig Sauer 220 (I’m not downing Sigs–I love them–this was a fluke).  I called Sig’s customer support, and the first question out of the technician’s mouth was, “how many rounds have you put through it?”.  The problem ended up being a magazine issue, but the moral of the story is, broken-in firearms almost always shoot more reliably than their stiff, jelly-covered counterparts.

At this point, you may be thinking that buying used is the indisputable way to go…well, not necessarily.  If you’re the type that has to buy everything new, you can win too.  It’s a wonderful feeling to pull the trigger on a roscoe that’s never had another person’s mitts on it.  Romance aside, there other good (and plutonic) reasons to go new.

First, if warranty claims ever need to be submitted, you, the original owner is going to be on the right side of the fence for covered repairs and replacements (assuming the warranty isn’t transferrable between owners).

Secondly, if you strike at the right time, you can often score some pretty sweet manufacturer deals by buying new.  That Sig 220 I mentioned came with a rebate that saved me over $150 on a .22 caliber conversion kit, and when I bought my Smith & Wesson M&P, it included a $50 rebate and two extra 15 round magazines (on top of the two that were included when I bought it).

Bottom line:

Handguns hold their value exceptionally well; they’re made to work for generations.  If you’re buying from a reputable seller (like a local dealer), and the price is right, there’s nothing wrong with buying used.   That said, picking up a new gun might have some sweet perks that could potentially offer you more value than making a deal on the same used model.  Like anything, you just have to look at your options and make your decision; if you do that, and add a little caveat emptor, your decision will likely be a good one.


I’m going to break this down into two main categories; trigger reach, and overall size.  In my opinion, there’s no other part of your shopping experience that is more important than getting these right.

When I say “trigger reach”, I’m referring to the length between your hand on the backstrap, and your index finger on the trigger.  More specifically, you want to ensure that, while your thumb crotch (my favorite body part to bring up in polite conversation) is centered on the upper grip of the handgun (also referred to as the stock), the pad of your finger (past the last knuckle, right near the tip) can comfortably rest on the trigger.  Here are some pictures to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about (and what I’m not talking about):

How to grip the handgun

Keep your thumb crotch high on the stock, while the pad of your finger rests comfortably on the trigger. And again, squeeze, don’t pull.

The primary reason for getting this step right is safety; being an effective defensive shooter is a close second.  One of the greatest determinants of accuracy is trigger pull; trigger squeeze to be more precise.  When you squeeeeeze that trigger, you want it to travel straight back.  If you have never fired a gun, all of this probably sounds very silly–but trust me–this is crucial stuff here.  Proper trigger pull is hard enough to execute when recoil anticipation and nerves start to act up; if you ignore this step, you’ll be at a disadvantage before you ever put sights on your target.

When the gun doesn’t fit your hand, and you’re forced to overcompensate your trigger reach, your thumb crotch (there it is again) leaves the center of the backstrap, ultimately resulting in a split-second change in the bullet’s destination; i.e., you’re probably not going to hit what you’re aiming for…and when you don’t know your target, you’re violating one of the cardinal rules of firearms safety.  Bad!

Trigger reach can be negatively affected if the shooter’s hands are too big for the gun, but it’s a more common issue among shooters with smaller hands (specifically, those with a relatively short distance between their thumb crotch and the pad of their index finger).  In an effort to make your search easier, I added a couple properties to the Handgun Wizard that you might want to check out:

The Adj Backstrap option will filter only guns that include adjustable backstraps (e.g., my M&P included three interchangeable modules, which accommodate most hand shapes and sizes), and you can filter the Small Hands property to only display models that people with small hands have endorsed (this is a bit subjective, but I did a lot of homework to get a well-rounded sample).

Smith and Wesson M&P adjustable back straps

Handguns that feature interchangeable back straps allow fittings more many different hand sizes.

Numerous scientists and engineers have studied the link between trigger reach and accuracy (here’s a geeky-but-good read on the subject: Hand size counts in safe handgun use), but you can just take it from me and any other shooter with half a brain: before you buy the gun, be certain that you can pull the trigger comfortably and safely.

Overall size of the firearm is another huge contributing factor, one that should have significant bearing on your decision.  Handguns come in 101 different sizes, and when you factor in accessories and holster wear, variance in the overall footprint runs infinitely.  I obviously can’t cover it all, so for the sake of simplicity, I have split personal defense handguns into four primary categories: full, compact, sub-compact, and pocket.

The most important question you need to ask yourself when deciding on the size of your pistol is, “what am I going to be using this for?” (if you care about grammar more than I do, you won’t end your self-posed question with a preposition).   If you don’t plan to use the gun for concealed carry, you should probably subscribe to the “bigger is better” (in terms of handgun dimensions) adage; therefore full-size will generally be my recommendation for this application.

If you don’t have plans to carry concealed (and you aren’t law enforcement or military), I’m going to deduce that you’re looking for a home defense handgun.  I honestly can’t think of a single [generally applicable] reason not to purchase a full-sized model pistol for home defense.  Here’s a short list of advantages that full framed handguns have over their compact cousins (please note: I’m generalizing here–there are always exceptions):

  • They are more accurate.  Between superior sight systems (pocket gun sights often consist of a single bead above the muzzle) and longer barrels, bigger weapons are going to give you tighter shot groupings and more effective range.
  • They are more powerful.  The longer barrels allow for greater pressure buildup, resulting in flatter trajectory (again, accuracy), and a faster bullet.  Modern ballistics science and bullet manufacturing have made barrel length less of a factor in power, but make no mistake; a bigger snout blows harder.
  • They are easier to shoot.  A heavier gun results in less recoil, especially when considering the recoil absorption on the slide of a semi-automatic pistol.  Less recoil means easier follow-up shots, and less trigger pull anxiety (both of which can be corrected with proper training and instruction).
  • They are more forgiving.  Closely related to ease of shooting (mentioned above), a heavier gun is better at masking poor form, which often results in cycling malfunctions; see “limp wristing” (I’m not being derogatory…it’s a literal description for the cause of malfunctions that can occur when you don’t have a sufficient handle on the firearm.  Read more here: Limp wristing).
  • They have a higher capacity.  A bigger gun will almost always hold more ammunition, especially when we’re talking magazine-fed semi-automatics.   The variance can be great; usually 7-10 rounds between home defense pistols and their pocket-sized peers.
  • They lend well to accessorizing.  While many sub-compact weapons come equipped with accessory rails, and grip-mounted laser options, larger framed handguns provide more real estate for “tacticool” flare.
  • They run longer.  Full frame pistols are usually made with heavier parts that allow them to endure a beating longer than those used in lighter weapons.  Most compact, and even sub-compact weapons use the same mechanisms as their full-framed siblings.  That said, this advantage holds the most truth when comparing full-framed, home defense-style guns to pocket pistols.

If you’re astute, my earlier blanket proclamation that “bigger is better” might have brought another question to your mind; “Why get a pistol at all; why not get a shotgun or a carbine to guard the castle?”.   Hey, that’s a terrific question!  Good job, you!

Maybe you should.  Personally, I almost always have a holstered gun on my hip while I’m home (I have very few friends and family who don’t think I’m ridiculous), but next to my side of the bed, I have a 20 gauge shotgun locked-and-loaded (safely secured in a Shotlock).  My wife, on the other hand, has the semi-automatic pistol of her choice in her nightstand (safely secured in a V-Line handgun safe).

I love pump-action shotguns, and feel confident handling them.  My wife feels better with a pistol.  I like having both, a long gun and a pistol in my home defense repertoire, but if you don’t have that option, the handgun still has some advantages over shotguns and carbines, all of which play into concealment and mobility.

You might ask, “why would you have to worry about concealment in a home defense scenario?”.  Let’s say you hear banging at your door in the middle of the night, and the man on the other side is pleading for help; whether or not you open the door in the first place poses a question in itself, but let’s say you’re just the type who can’t say no to helping a stranger in need.  While you’re helpful, you’re also prudent, so you want to have protection in case your visitor is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The beauty of having a handgun at your disposal for this particular application is that you can keep it out of sight while you assess the situation at the door.  If you fling the door open strapped with a 30 caliber magazine-clip-fed assault rifle (yes, I’m totally making fun of Kevin de Leon), that stranger might freak out and call the police, and with hysterics and ignorance at play, it will be your word against his in what “really” happened; never let it get that far.

As mentioned, a pistol or revolver can also give you a mobile advantage in a home defense situation; depending on your circumstances.  Say, for instance, your spouse is out of town, and you have three kids down the hallway to protect, one young that you’d have to carry in an emergency.  If you’re forced to use lethal action to end a threat in your home, you will be at a tactical disadvantage juggling a toddler and a 40″ 12 gauge in both hands.  Whether you need to wield a child, a flashlight or a cell phone, a handgun will allow you to have that extra arm free while still providing protection.

You might also hear a lot of folks ramble on about the advantages pistols within the realm of penetration (i.e., not shooting your neighbor’s family room up behind the drywall).  With all the “home defense” ammunition available for rifles, shotguns, and pistols, I think this advantage is arguable, and hardly worth noting.  In other words, over-penetration and gun type aren’t mutually exclusive.

Everyone’s situation at home is going to be a little different.  If you’re buying the gun with home defense in mind, just make sure you consider all the applicable factors;  a handgun might just be your best option.

For those who are looking to buy a firearm with the intention of concealed carry (again, keep it legal), I already listed the advantages that full sized handguns have over smaller ones; just keep in mind that the smaller the gun is, the wider the gap you’ll have between power, accuracy, and reliability (again, I’m generalizing).  That, of course, isn’t to say that there aren’t times when a pocket gun makes more sense than a hand cannon.

As far as this post is concerned, a concealed carry weapon is only as good as it is useful.  If your piece stays locked on the top shelf of your closet every day because it’s too bulky, and you feel uncomfortable carrying it in public, it’s useless; you wasted money, and likely have a false sense of security.  Take your time making your decision, and you won’t make this mistake.

While the weight and height of the firearm will certainly play a role in the comfort of your carrying experience, I would recommend that you first size up your choices by length.  Once you have a good idea of what length you’re after, you can start narrowing down your selection based on the other two dimensions.  I also strongly advise that you “try it on” before making the purchase; a good gun clerk won’t have a problem with you asking to sample concealment options, and they might be able to offer some helpful suggestions.

Note: another dimension of utmost importance is the width of the gun, measured at its fattest part (in the case of a revolver, it will likely be the cylinder).  I plan to add a width column to the Handgun Wizard table in the near future, but the data at this time is incomplete and questionable in accuracy.  In the meantime, pay close attention to width, and the print (profile of the gun–if any–that can be seen through your clothing) when you try them on at the firearms dealer.

To give you a decent idea of your carry options ahead of time, I’ve posted some pictures that I took of several different models, spanning multiple size classes (the twenty is used as a baseline reference point, not for bling…I’m also plugging my local gun dealer, Backwoods Guns ;)):

Handgun Size Comparisons:

Glock 17

Full size Glock 17

Springfield 1911 Range Officer

Full size Springfield Range Office 1911


Full size HK USP 45

Taurus Public Defender

Taurus Public Defender. A big compact.

Glock 19 Compact

Compact Glock 19

Glock 26 Sub Compact

Sub-Compact Glock 26

S&W 642 Airweight

Sub-Compact Smith and Wesson 642 (can be a pocket gun in big pockets).

Ruger LCP Pocket

Pocket-size Ruger LCP

Sig Sauer 238 Pocket

Pocket Size Sig 238

NAA Mini Pocket

Pocket Size North American Arms Mini (one of the smallest carry guns on the market).

Concealing some of those pieces might be a daunting thought, especially for you skinny jeans hipsters.  Don’t fret.  Whether you need to conceal your weapon wearing a parka or jogging shorts, there are enough holsters and carry clothes out there to help meet almost any demand.  I personally use a Smart Carry holster most of the time; billed for “appendix” carry (that pretty much means it sits on top of your…ahem…stuff), it allows for deep concealment regardless of my wardrobe.  The best part is, when I’m at home, I can use the Velcro strap to secure it to my hip, even in sweatpants (it sure would be embarrassing to get shot by anyone wearing sweat pants)!

Bottom line:

When you consider the size of the gun, make trigger reach your first priority.  The gun must fit well in your hand; the pad of your index finger should comfortably rest on the trigger, while the crotch of your thumb stays centered near the top of the backstrap.

Your second priority is choosing a firearm that most closely fits your demands.  If you’re focused on home defense, and don’t have any public concealment requirements, bigger is usually better (more capacity, power, accuracy and reliability).  If you’re purchasing for a concealed carry application, ask yourself, while you consider each gun, “would I feel comfortable carrying this frequently?”.  If your answer is “no”, you probably need to go smaller, or at least try on a new holster.

Semi-automatic or Revolver?

The list of unique handgun models on the market today scales in the thousands, but every single one of them is going to fall into one of two categories; semi-automatic or revolver.  So which is better?   The revolver!  Just kidding!  I mean to say semi-automatic…but then again…

They both have pros; they both have cons.  It should come as no surprise that I’m not going to answer this “which is better” question.  Instead, you’re going to decide which is better for you.  I’ll try to drop a little knowledge to nudge you along.

I’m not going to write out details on how the two of them work, as I couldn’t do it any better than the hundreds who have before me.  That said, an understanding of how magazine-fed pistols (a.k.a, semi-automatics) and wheel guns (a.k.a ,revolvers) work is one of the first steps to becoming a good gun owner (and buyer), not to mention, you’ll avoid sounding like a blubbering California senator when you discuss them at the dealer (I’m going to make fun of you, Kevin De Leon, until you shoot me).

The mighty wheel gun:

Revolvers are simple, rugged, and come in some wicked punch-packing flavors.  Their primary appeal is reliability; ask a fan why they like them, and you’ll hear the delightful cliché, “they go bang every time”.  Wheel gun owners have been watching the same simple process of the hammer hitting the primer for the last 160 years.  With a double-action model (we’ll cover actions in more detail in another section), the operator simply pulls the trigger to fire it.  That’s pretty much it.

It’s their straightforward design that makes them so popular with beginners, as well as seasoned carriers; simple operation affords a valuable advantage during high stress situations.  Revolvers very rarely come equipped with an operable safety, but the heavy trigger pull of a double-action model offers an effective compromise between safety and rapid deployment.  For this reason, one of the most popular applications of revolvers is pocket carry (Note: always carry your firearm in a holster, even when kept in your pocket).

The reason they’re so easy to shoot is in direct correlation with their hailed reliability; though they technically can have more moving parts than a semi-auto (if you completely disassemble and count down to the last pin), they don’t have as many dominoes crammed into their movement.  A semi-automatic has to strike the cartridge to rack the slide, which ejects the spent case, and catches-and-feeds a new round from the magazine into the receiver; they’re marvels of engineering, but things can go wrong.

Semi-autos can also be less forgiving than revolvers to novice shooters due to the same dependency on timing (remember that “limp-wristing” we discussed earlier).  Things can still malfunction on a revolver–it happens–it’s just a less common occurrence.

Reliability is also reflected in a revolver’s appetite for anything.  Semi-automatics tend to be more picky about ammunition because so much of the cycling process is dependent on pressure-driven movements, and gas built up from some loads can cause hiccups in the timing.  I’ve shot plenty of auto loaders that will run anything you put in them, but generally speaking, revolvers are garbage disposals when it comes to the ammo they’ll eat.

They’re also ridiculously easy to disassemble and clean; so are many semi-automatics, but the same basic design that all revolvers share makes them a piece of cake to maintain.  You might hear some folks say that you don’t need to clean a revolver often because they’re so darn trustworthy…I disagree.  Clean it after every session, if you can (or at least every 500 rounds).  Simpler moving parts doesn’t mean no moving parts, and if you’re trusting you life to a piece, you want to be as sure as possible that it’s always ticking like it should.

Ok, revolvers are easy to use and very dependable, but where do they lack?  When stacked up to semi-automatics, they fall short primarily in reload time and capacity.  I’ll cover this in the next section, autoloaders.


Semi-automatic pistols, automatics, autoloaders; all of these are aliases for magazine-fed handguns (watch the video for a refresher on how automatics work).  Semi-autos weren’t commercially produced until roughly 50 years after the first cartridge-firing revolver hit the scenes, but since then, their overall popularity has far surpassed that of their multi-chambered counterparts.

Military service men and women, and our friends in law enforcement are rarely seen packing revolvers as their primary sidearm anymore, and us in the civilian market just can’t seem to stay ahead of  the ever-innovative pistol technology (although we do try, when our lovely spouses allow it).  All of that said, their popularity doesn’t make them superior to revolvers, but they definitely take home the prize in a couple areas.

In my opinion, the semi-auto’s biggest advantage is its potential for extremely rapid reloads.  A well-trained defensive shooter can replace a spent magazine with a new one in under two seconds.  Law enforcement, military personnel, and many carrying civilians (myself included) equip at least one extra magazine when out in the field; unless your clothes prohibit you from carrying a reload, it doesn’t make much sense not to.

For police and military, the reasons for carrying spare magazines are pretty straightforward.  First of all, they can; open carry is encouraged–if not required– and most duty belts and tactical gear are designed specifically for this purpose.  The other, more dire reason, is that armed professionals are for more likely to engage in conflicts with multiple attackers, who might very well be shooting at them.  When you’re taking fire from multiple angles, “easy” shots might not be so easily presented; ending the threat(s) might require not only extra ammunition, but a way to reload it…really fast.

I’m just trying to illustrate why semi-automatics have become so much more popular than wheel guns among military and LE.  There have been plenty of cases where armed civilians have had to fight for their lives against multiple gun-wielding attackers, but the chances of experiencing these frightening encounters are much higher in a war zone.

Another advantage of being able to pop in a new magazine in seconds’ time, oddly plays on a disadvantage of the magazine-fed system.    The problem with magazines is loading them; I’m not talking about slamming them into the grip of the gun.  I’m referring to filling them with ammunition (usually against a very defiant spring).  Feeding bullets into your magazines is an activity that you ideally want to perform at a time when bad guys aren’t trying to kill you; it’s tedious, and can take a minute to complete, even for experienced shooters.

Having said that, a shooter with a little bit of training can play this to their advantage.  Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: You’re in a gun fight, crouched behind cover, armed with a 15-round sidearm.  You know that you don’t have any more than five rounds left in the current magazine, your enemies are aggressively advancing and you need to quickly retreat, but you don’t want to get caught clicking an empty gun when you most need it.  With a semi-auto (and a spare magazine), you only need two seconds to pop in a new 15-round mag before making your move, and the almost-empty one can be pocketed in case you need it later.

Someone who has actually had the horrifying experience of being in a gun fight could probably offer a better example than the one above, but the point I’m trying to make is that extra magazines on-hand can add an additional level of tactical strategy and a defensive advantage that you won’t find in a revolver.  Given that, it’s worth noting that it’s incredibly easy to feed a couple loose rounds into a revolver cylinder if you need them in a pinch, but nothing beats the reload speed of a pistol magazine…if you have one ready to go.

When I mention handgun capacity, I’m referring to the amount of rounds that can be fired without reloading (assuming you don’t have any malfunctions).  I’m not going to spend much time discussing this right now because I talk about it more in another section, and we’ve already hit on most of the key points.

The takeaway is that autos almost always have a higher cap than revolvers.  Revolver cylinders typically have a capacity of five or six (occasionally eight or nine), while semi-autos consistently boast a round count well into the teens; a powerful exception is a .45 auto 1911, which usually has a capacity of 7+1 (“+1” indicates a round already included in the chamber).

Bottom line:

The call between a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol is one that you’re ultimately going to have to make yourself; they’re both just super, as far as I’m concerned.  The simplicity of a revolver makes them easy-to-operate and less prone to malfunctions; maintenance is generally painless, and they’re very forgiving to both novice shooters and crappy ammunition.

Semi-autos are continuously touting newer and better technology; revolvers remain a mainstay to many, but autoloaders are, and will continue to be where the innovation is.  They’re much more popular than wheel guns among military and law enforcement personnel.

While I refuse to give the blanket statement that semi-autos are less reliable than revolvers, their domino-style dependency on timing provides more opportunity in the cycling process for things to go wrong.  That said, their comparatively high capacity, and potential for lightning-fast reloads surpasses the respective attributes of a revolver.

Trigger Actions:

Before I get going on information you can actually use (click here to skip), I need to air out and provide a preemptive defense for why I chose to create the Handgun Wizard trigger actions column the way I did:

Of all the sections I’ve written in this document, I’ve been dreading this the most; not because trigger action is a difficult concept  to explain (although it can take a minute to truly grasp), but because this topic never fails to drum up epic technicality wars between shooting nerds.   You’ll notice in the Handgun Wizard table, that I divided the trigger actions column into four main categories: SA (Single-action), DAO (Double-action-only), DASA(Double-action/Single-action), and SFA (Striker-fired Action).

The reason I dread receiving feedback on my choice of categorization is because I made several sweeping generalizations in order to simplify the table.  For instance, there are many proprietary actions like Sig Sauer’s DAK (Double-action Kellerman), that I could have specifically included, but I feel that it would confuse too many people.  Instead, I just lumped Sig’s DAK trigger action into DAO (Double-action-only).  I did the same on a few others as well (see, Para’s LDA).

I also took a very broad approach when I included striker-fired pistols; the role a trigger plays in getting a striker to hit the primer is probably the most unnecessarily divisive subject in gun enthusiast circles.

Some SFA models are classified as SA; some as DAO; and still others say that SFA isn’t technically a trigger action at all; but for anyone who cares enough to have read this far, I classified striker-fired handguns like this: if the model uses a pre-set striker to fire the cartridge, and the trigger pull is typical of an SFA model, I classified it as “Striker-fired” in the table.  That said, I’m far from perfect; if you feel I made a mistake with the categorization of a model, please contact me, and I’ll make changes where appropriate.

Trigger action–simply put–is the count of how many actions are performed, relative to the striking device, when the trigger is squeezed; it either performs one action (single), two actions (double), or gives the operator the option of either (double-action/single-action).  It’s also important to know that there are two possible types of striking devices used to ignite the cartridge primer (which ultimately fires the bullet).  These devices are hammers and strikers.

As you probably know by now, my job in this post is to help you arrive at the purchase of a handgun  that’s right for you.  That said, I’m not going to go through the details on the function of each trigger action.  That said, I think gaining a grasp on varying action will ultimately make you a better shooter.  If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend watching the following video.  This guy does an excellent job explaining things in a way anyone can understand (you really only need to watch the first 15 minutes or so; he goes a little off-topic at the end):

As the author of the video mentioned, everyone’s preferences  will vary.  Double-action revolvers probably offer the simplest firing system, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a DOA revolver should automatically be your first handgun by default.  You may find that the less-intuitive, SOA function of a 1911 gives you warm tingle that you just can’t deny.  Either way, “trying before buying” remains vital.

Regardless of the trigger action (i.e., how you get the gun to fire), I still maintain the opinion that the way the trigger feels when you squeeze it and how it fits your hand, is more important than anything.  That said, each action has some inherent characteristics you might to review before picking your test drive nominees.

Note: Throughout this documentation, I refer to some handguns as “safer” than others (mainly within the context of heavy versus light trigger pulls).  It’s critical to note that EVERY gun, regardless of trigger weight, safety mechanisms, and otherwise MUST be treated with the same level of safety.  Please, please, please familiarize yourself with the principles of gun safety before handling a firearm, and make it a point to live by them (ignore them, and you or someone you love might not get another chance).

Single-action-only Revolvers:

SAO revolvers have been around for over 150 years; you’ve seen one if you’ve seen a Western.  The operator has to manually cock the hammer before pulling the trigger (which is what the cowboys in Spaghetti Westerns are actually doing when they spank the back of their guns).  The operation is a bit limited when compared to more modern firearms, but fans of the action will tell you that no other handgun in the kingdom has a crisper trigger break than a single-action-only revolver.  A clean trigger pull almost always results in better accuracy.

SAO wheel guns don’t usually appeal to newcomers who have never shot them, and for personal defense, they’re very unpopular.  However, there is something inexplicably wonderful about them that makes them a joy to shoot, and extremely lethal weapons in well-trained hands.

Single-action-only Semi Auto Pistols:

SAO pistols existed prior to the advent of the 1911, but John Browning’s design over a century ago is what put them on the map.  SAO pistols, like the 1911, have a very light, crisp and clean trigger pull.  Again, crisp and consistent trigger-travel aids tremendously in accuracy, and–in the case of SAO pistols–rapid follow-up shots as well.

Because the trigger is so light, external safeties (also referred to as operable or manual safeties) are almost always included (and arguably required); carrying a 1911 or any other SAO chambered with the hammer back, and the safety disengaged (also referred to as “condition zero”) is not something I’d ever recommend doing…personally, I wouldn’t trust my shaky fingers not to accidentally discharge in a stressful situation.

SAO semi autos are often associated with high-speed, highly accurate shooting.  That said, their operation takes a bit of practice to get used to.  I would never discourage a new shooter from buying a 1911 if he or she could demonstrate an ability to shoot it safely, but most beginners on SAO pistols are met with a small learning curve.

Double-action-only Revolvers:

There’s no cowboy cocking a double-action-only revolver, nor can you deliberately pull back the hammer with your thumb.  The reason is, DAO revolvers don’t typically have exposed hammers.  Often referred to as “hammerless”– technically a misnomer–most DAO revolvers have an enclosed (a.k.a., shrouded or internal) hammer, which is shaved down to avoid snagging on pocket lining and baggy clothing.

Hammerless revolvers are very popular for deep concealment, and are often used as back up guns (BUGs).  Whether kept in a pocket, ankle strap, or a fanny pack (much love to the fanny pack), these DAO punch-packers can be deployed quickly and smoothly for in-your-face encounters.  And, unlike semi-automatic pocket pistols, and even double-action revolvers with exposed hammers, DAO wheel guns can be fired from within pockets or fanny packs (beware of explosive fannies).

Their other draw is safety.  Double-action-only demands a heavier, longer trigger pull.  Because revolvers almost never have external safeties, and DAOs are often deployed from a pocket (sometimes in the midst of a scramble), the weight of the pull is key in preventing accidental discharge.  However, as mentioned previously, a heavier, “safer” pull often comes at the cost of accuracy.  This, of course, shouldn’t make much of a difference in your decision unless you plan on entering your snub nose into a marksmanship competition.

Double-action-only Semi Auto Pistols:

Like their revolving counterparts of the same action, DAO pistols cock the hammer back and fire the gun with each trigger squeeze.  As such, most of the pros and cons are the same; they don’t normally have external safeties, but their long trigger pulls ensure more deliberate shots.  As a result, accuracy tends to be reduced, and follow-up shots have a speed bump…for new DAO shooters, that is.

It’s definitely worth noting that thousands–perhaps millions–of law enforcement and service men and women protect our streets and our freedoms with DAO pistols every day.  Needless to say, with consistent training, one can get the job done proficiently, even with a long and hard trigger pull.  I’m sure that there are reasons beyond my understanding that explain why so many professional carry DAOs, but I believe the most paramount is the added peace of mind they offer when carrying with a round in the chamber.

Proper firearms handling, and safety mechanisms will prevent any modern gun from firing unless the trigger is pulled (regardless of the action), however, there is definitely an added comfort level when carrying a locked-and-loaded DAO pistol…just remember that complacency kills.

Double-action Single-action Revolvers:

With a double-action single-action revolver (DASA), the operator can simply pull the trigger to fire (double-action), or manually cock the hammer, then fire (single-action).  As you may have guessed, the single-action operation results in a crisp trigger pull, while the double is heavier.  It’s kind of a best of both worlds scenario, as the shooter has options, depending on the moment.

Unlike DAO revolvers, you don’t see a lot of DASA wheel guns in the pockets of concealed carrying Americans, mainly because the hammers can cause clumsy deployment.  That said, this trigger action in a full-frame model makes for one mean addition to any home defense arsenal.

Double-action Single-action Semi Auto Pistols:

DASA autoloaders have a slightly different situation than DASA revolvers; the operational logic is almost reversed.  In a DASA revolver, the trigger is going to be double-action unless the shooter manually cocks the hammer.  In the case of a semi auto, the first shot is double-action (unless the hammer is manually cocked), but all subsequent shots are single-action, unless the operator uses the decocking lever to safely disengage the hammer.  This is because the movement of the slide not only chambers a new round, but cocks the hammer back as well.

Some folks are intimidated by all the extra mechanisms on DASA pistols (i.e., decocking levers, hammers, and the occasionally included manual safety), and they’re often dinged for having inconsistent pull weight (between the double-action first shot, and subsequent single-action); personally, I view the aforementioned points of criticism as options.

If you purchase a DASA pistol, you definitely need to acquaint yourself with all buttons and levers, but when you look past all the gadgetry, most of them are very simple to operate, even for new shooters.

Striker-fired Semi Auto Pistols:

As I mentioned earlier, striker-fired (SFA) isn’t really a trigger action in itself, but the firing method shared among most striker-fired handguns is nearly identical.  I wanted to avoid confusing Handgun Wizard users, which is why I decided to shy away from designations like, “DOA SFA” and “SAO SFA”, or “half-cocked” and “full-cocked” pre-sets…honestly, it confuses me just the same.  I have kept things relatively simple by lumping most striker-operated handguns together, forming the tool’s “striker-fired” category.

SFA pistols’ popularity have skyrocketed over the last two decades, and I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere for a while.  Their main draw is ease of shooting.  As far as operative simplicity goes, nothing beats shooting a revolver (you won’t find many striker-fired revolvers, by the way), but SFA pistols are a close second.

There are many subtle differences from model-to-model, but you can fire just about any SFA by slapping a magazine into the grip, racking the slide to put a round in the chamber, deactivating the external safety (if there is one; many SFAs don’t include manual safeties), and pulling the trigger with the target in your sights (don’t forget to mind what’s behind your target before doing so).

The trigger experience is always the same, from the first shot to the last round in the magazine; same weight, same travel, and same reset.  Whether you’re training at the range or ending a nasty situation in your home, the consistency of SFAs can be very beneficial.

Strikers normally have lower profiles than hammers, and unlike a hammer, they travel in a flat trajectory to strike the primer.  Consequently, the bore is able to sit lower in a striker-fired handgun; the result is what is often referred to as a “low bore axis”.  Low bore axis allows the shooter to grip the gun slightly higher than they’d be able to on a typical hammer-fired pistol.  In this configuration, the energy of the blast travels directly into the palm, wrist and arms of the shooter (provided they’re employing proper form), resulting in less muzzle flip, and often a reduction in felt recoil.

SFA pistols have a couple disputed downsides, of course.  For one, many of them are missing the “second strike” feature inherently present in hammer-fired handguns.  Say, for instance, you pull the trigger and the cartridge doesn’t fire; with a hammer, you could simply try pulling the trigger again and hope for a bang on the second pass.  The same method can’t typically be employed on SFAs because the striker isn’t properly retracted after a misfire.

Some will argue that it isn’t a good idea to attempt firing a cartridge that didn’t pop the first time.  And, the old “tap, rack, bang” (clear a malfunction by slapping the bottom of the magazine, aggressively racking the slide, and pulling the trigger) works well on SFAs when trained properly, but to the credit of hammer-driven pistols, the couple seconds that are potentially saved with a second strike could prove very valuable when seconds count (that’s a pun).

I’ve heard people complain that the trigger break is lackluster on a striker-fired handgun; some have gone as far as calling it “spongy”, even “mushy”.  I’ll admit, nothing beats the sweet snap of a well-crafted SAO trigger, but in my opinion, SFA triggers really aren’t that bad.  Ultimately though, you’ll have to decide if it feels right to you.

Bottom line:

It’s definitely important that you’re comfortable with the trigger action on whatever model you decide to purchase.  It affects everything from trigger pull to the simplicity of operation; taking a few fundamental factors in consideration, here’s a quick and very general (dirty) breakdown of the pros and cons of each.  Read the rest of the trigger action section if you seek further detail:

Single-Action-Only: light and crisp trigger pull; high speed and accuracy; highest operational learning curve.

Double-Action-Only:  heavy trigger pull; generally lower accuracy; popular for personal defense and pocket concealment; medium operational learning curve .

Double-Action Single-Action: option of heavy or light trigger pull; relatively simple in revolvers, but semi-automatic pistols have a medium operational learning curve.

Striker-Fired: consistent trigger pull; lower muzzle flip and felt recoil; typically lack “second strike” functionality (ability to simply pull the trigger again after a misfire); relatively low operational learning curve.

Note: This is intended to be a guide; all stated learning curves are relative and subjective.  New shooters shouldn’t feel discouraged to test drive an SAO just because I said it has a high relative learning curve.  Practice shooting often, practice safety always, and you’ll be fine.


In the style of my previous spiels, I’m not going to include much banter on caliber measurements and naming conventions, nor will I will delve into the head-spinning world of ballistics.  My aim is to offer some general tidbits for you to store in the back of your mind when you go handgun shopping.  To maintain simplicity, I recommend you keep the following basic principle in mind when choosing a caliber: go as big as your comfort level and budget can afford.

Note: If you’re looking for more information, here are a few solid resources to get you started: Basic Bullet Guide (an easy-to-read beginners’ run down on handgun calibers); Caliber (an objective breakdown in tried-and-true Wikipedia fashion); Handgun Cartridge Power Chart (a nitty-gritty ballistics assortment that includes the majority of the calibers listed in our Handgun Wizard).

Let’s quickly analyze this principle:

First, the higher the caliber, the higher the stopping power.   Without stopping power, you can’t effectively end a life-threatening situation, and if you aren’t shooting to end the threat, you’re just an idiot with a gun (soon to be a dead idiot).

There’s definitely something to be said about subtle accuracy over brute force, and there are an army of experts out there quick to point out that many of the world’s most notorious trained-assassins prefer the mousy .22 long rifle as their round of choice.

The .22 might possibly be my favorite caliber for recreational shooting (they’re great for training as well; consider buying a .22 conversion kit for “cheap” training, if there’s one available for your model), but I’m not a professionally trained assassin with ice cold nerves and calculated timing.  For this reason, a caliber as small as a .22 or a .25 will never be my primary defensive weapon, nor will I recommend it to anyone else; they’re better than nothing, but I can almost guarantee that there’s something more appropriate for you out there.

If I’m ever forced into a situation where I need to fire my gun on someone, I’ll need to focus my rattled energy toward putting shots on my attacker’s center-of-mass, not threading the blacks of his eyes with a Hollywood trick shot.  Generally speaking (the only way I speak), the bigger the round, the lower your margin for error, and the better chance you have of coming out an unpleasant situation with your life.

Secondly, buy the highest caliber you can comfortably shoot.  There’s no point in buying a handgun for protection if you can’t control it–or worse–you’re afraid of it.  The .500 S&W Magnum is the most beastly mass-produced handgun cartridge on the market.  There is no murderous thug on the planet who is going to take a kiss from the .500 and keep coming at you.  In fact, there are few ne’er-do-well grizzly bears who can maintain a full charge after taking a blast from this round.

So, when I finally got a chance to shoot one, did I go out and buy one for my nightstand?  No, I wiped the tears from my eyes, took a knee and begged for mercy.  There’s no shame in moving to a less-powerful cartridge if the pistol you’re test driving jumps out of your hands, or in my case,  gives you anxiety attacks.

Thirdly, regardless of the handgun you decide on, it’s critical that you shoot it often enough to gain proficiency.  Everyone learns at a different pace; one shooter might start to figure things out after unloading the first magazine, while another may go through 1000 rounds before they feel confident enough to protect themselves with it.

There are plenty of exercises you can do to sharpen your skills without actually firing live rounds (I plan to cover some of these in the future), but every now and then, you do actually have to sling some lead.  For example, I’ve taken a few defensive shooting classes (something I recommend everyone does at least once to gain a solid foundation).  During my last class, I fired over 200 rounds of .40 cal throughout the course of my two hour range lesson.  At the time, a box of .40 target ammo (target ammo is typically cheap, full metal jacketed  rounds) ran me $16/box, and in today’s gun-hating climate, the price will likely continue to rise.

Now, I don’t blow through $100 worth of ammunition every time I shoot, but–using our previous example–had I decided to make the S&W 500 Magnum my round of choice (runs around $50/box of 20 rounds), I’d have to sell my house to get good with it.  Before you decide on a caliber, keep in mind the price of each shot.  The initial expense of buying the pistol itself is just the beginning of a beautiful wallet-emptying relationship.

As I’ve exhaustingly repeatedly, OpenSoar’s intent isn’t to tell you which gun to get, it’s to give you the knowledge you need to make your own informed decision.  With that in mind, there are a couple of features within the Handgun Wizard I want to point out that combine the basics we’ve discussed.  When you click on a gun in the table, you’ll be greeted with a pop-up containing some valuable information <include numbers associated with the example screenshot>:

  • Power: the number in the power metric represents the stopping power of the cartridge when fired from the featured gun (the length of the barrel is also factored into the equation).  The power rating is relative to the rest of the firearms in the table.  For example: a rating of 60 means that the gun is estimated to be more powerful than 60% of other firearms in the list.
  • Recoil: the recoil metric is a rough estimate of the energy felt with each shot.  In theory, the higher the number, the lower the recoil, and therefore, the easier the gun is to control.  There are many factors that play into actual felt recoil that can’t possibly be accounted for on paper (e.g., ergonomics, shape and size of the shooter’s hands, shooter’s physique, technique, etc.), but this will give you an idea of the wake up you’ll receive with each shot.
  • Ammunition prices: also included is a short list of ammunition prices associated with the caliber of the featured gun.  As I mentioned, ammunition prices change all the time, but I’ll keep the list as current as I can.
Handgun Wizard Info Box

Pay attention to the power rating, estimated recoil, and current price of ammunition.

Bottom line:

I recommend getting the biggest caliber that you can comfortably shoot, and one you can shoot often; reaching a competent level of defensive shooting takes lots of practice and many, many shots to get there.  That said, it’s also important to choose a caliber that fits your budget.  When using the Handgun Wizard, pay close attention to Power, Recoil, and Ammunition prices.


By capacity, I’m referring to the amount of rounds that can be fired from a handgun without the need to reload.  We’ve discussed capacity multiple times throughout this post, but I want to address another point or two before closing the issue.

Handgun capacity is often ranked as one of the most important factors to consider when buying a new handgun.  While I don’t necessarily disagree–it warrants significant consideration–I personally place it lower on the totem pole than most experts (of which I am not).  Many buyers are lured in by statistical data that suggest a magic number for the amount of bullets you need in your gun before you walk outside.  There’s a time and a place for good data, but in my opinion, this is not one of them.

Take one of the more popular figures for example: average shots fired per shooting.  The most popular figure I’ve seen linked to this topic comes from Urban-Firearm Deaths: A Five Year Perspective <LINK> which states that the average shots fired per violent encounter is 2.53.  I’m in no position to disagree with this figure, however, I invite you to do a little Googling; for every post that you find supporting its validity, a compelling argument exists that questions it.

It makes no difference if the golden statistic (which will never be proven) is 2.5, six, or 10 shots fired per “average” shooting.  You’re only limiting your abilities if you select a weapon based exclusively on the number of shots you think you might have to fire.  I advise you to first find a few models you feel comfortable shooting, then make your decision based on capacity.  After all, what good is a pistol that holds 21 rounds if you can’t put shots on your target.

Any lacking in initial capacity can be made up with consistent training and clever accessorizing.  I’ve already preached quite a bit on the importance of training, but I’ll just say, the more you practice with a weapon that you feel comfortable with, the more effective you’ll be at protecting your life.  If you were to stack a proficient shooter, armed with a six-shot revolver against three attackers, and a novice armed with a 17-round semi against one, I’d put my money on the former any day of the week.

Now, just because you have a gun that you can shoot well, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare yourself for worse circumstances than what the average statistics suggest; after all, that’s why you’re buying a handgun in the first place, right?

I mentioned earlier that I normally carry an extra magazine with me while concealing my pistol in public (and several more in my home defense preps).  I load my typical carry gun, a compact S&W M&P .40, with a 10+1 configuration (10-round magazine, plus one loaded in the chamber).  Chances are favorable that, if I’m forced to use my gun, I won’t need even need the 11 rounds that are immediately available (just look at the statistics that I told you to ignore).  That said, if my luck runs astronomically low, and I end up needing an extra 10, I’ll be very glad that I came equipped with a spare magazine.

There are so many different combinations of magazine sizes, holsters, caddies, and carry-clothes, that I struggle to think of many–if any–situations where a defense-minded individual has an excuse not to pack some extra ammo.  Even if you opt to carry an ole’ reliable, low-capacity revolver, you can still take an extra six, 12, or even 18 rounds along for the ride.  Speed loaders are great for reloading wheel guns in competition, when you can clip them comfortably to your belt, but carrying them concealed in a pocket can be a bit cumbersome.  With speed strips, however, you can carry reloads for your six shooter and still keep a flat profile for concealment.

All the revolvers listed in the Handgun Wizard have a fixed capacity, however, many of the autoloaders in the table have optional magazine sizes that aren’t featured (I plan on adding this feature in future versions of the tool).  With that in mind, if you like the feel and concealment of a Glock 26 (affectionately known as a “Baby Glock”), but the standard 10-round magazine isn’t cutting it, you might want to consider one of the 15, 17, or even 33-round optional magazines (I probably wouldn’t carry a concealed 33-round Glock, but if you want to try, and your local laws permit it, be my guest…let me know how that goes).

Bottom line:

Capacity reflects the number of rounds that can be fired without requiring a reload.  Having ample ammunition at the ready is a definite perk, but it’s not everything.  Before even thinking about capacity, I recommend that you first find a few guns that you feel comfortable shooting, then consider paring down your selection by ammo volume.  Any shortcoming found in a low-capacity model handgun can be overcome with proper training and utilization of ammunition-carrying accessories.

Other considerations:

Left-handed shooters:

To all you lefties out there who consistently face hardship and discrimination in a right-handed world, please prepare yourselves for further prejudice; like so many others, the handgun industry also caters to righties.  There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel.

Many popular firearms manufacturers have heard your pleas, and have done the right thing by including ambidextrous controls on their handguns.  Whether it’s a reversible magazine release button, a slide release latch, or an operable safety on both sides, lefties can find solace in a host of semi-automatic models, built with them in mind.

The simplistic operation of a revolver lends naturally to almost any shooter, regardless of their dominate hand, however, most can only be loaded by swinging the cylinder open to the left (advantage, righties).  Semi-automatics, on the other hand, are a bit more complex in operation, and not all of them offer ambidextrous functionality.  If you’re left-handed, and you fancy a pistol that discriminates against the trait that makes you special, don’t write it off entirely.  Many left-handed shooters will tell you that they’ve been able to quickly adapt to shooting a “right-handed” gun just as effectively as any right-handed shooter.  For example: rather than use your thumb to release the slide, or eject a spent magazine, you can train yourself to master the same tasks with your index finger.

I suggest that new left-handed shooters start their search by browsing models with ambidextrous control options (and don’t forget revolvers).  With a little adaptive practice, a lefty shouldn’t have much trouble operating a right-handed gun.

I’ve included a feature in the Handgun Wizard that allows left-handed shooters to filter based on ambidextrous safety controls (Ambi Safe), as well as other “ambi” features, like release buttons and slide catches (Ambi Features).

Weak hands/arthritis:

You don’t have to be able to rip a phone book in half to shoot a gun, but many handguns–especially those in larger calibers–do require a little bit of elbow, wrist and finger grease to operate.  This isn’t good news to those you who suffer from chronic pain in their joints, or good old fashioned general weakness.  If you fall into one of the said categories, I urge you not to fret; there is still a handgun out there for you.

Talking to arthritic shooters, I’ve learned that the most common pain points come from racking the slide on semi automatics, loading bullets into magazines, pulling stiff triggers, and absorbing heavy recoil.  Like I did for lefties and small-handed shooters, I added a filter for buyers with weak/ailed hands as well.  I began by trying to filter the list by objective data, but there are too many points that are difficult to measure systematically.  Therefore, the Weak Hands filter only displays firearms that weak-handed individuals and arthritis sufferers have told me are easy on the mitts…if you disagree with what you see, take it out on them…I recommend thumb wrestling ;).

Note: if you’re a shooter with weak grip, or chronic pain in your joints, and your favorite gun isn’t on the list, please contact me and I’ll get it added.

I’m not a firearms instructor, and I don’t have arthritis (yet…it’s rampant in my family), but there are operative techniques that you may be able to apply, even with not-so-gentle hand cannons.  Take for example, this video from Limatune’s Range Diary, which displays an ingeniously simple method of racking a slide with poor upper body strength:

That’s just one of many tricks you can master to overcome your limitations, and become a great defensive shooter.

Manual external safeties:

Every time I take a first-time shooter with me to the range, they always seem shocked to learn that the gun they’re about to fire doesn’t have a safety.  Perhaps that comes as a surprise to you as well.  While technically all modern firearms have safeties in place (several in some cases), not all of them are the external, operable safeties that we’re used to seeing in the movies (ya know…when the bad guy walks up to the naive protagonist, takes the gun out of their hands, and says, “you forgot to take the safety off”.  See Die Hard With a Vengeance).

The Internet is full huge forum wars between proponents of operable, manual safeties, and those who don’t feel they’re necessary.  With the exception of a few pistols (the 1911 being one of them), I probably fall into the latter group.  That said, I certainly respect the decision of those who have decided they need to have that extra layer of “safety” (I’m using quotes to highlight a homonym, not to express sarcasm towards folks who feel guns with safeties are more “safe”…there it is again).

I’ve included an additional filter called Safety that, when applied, will only display models in the table that have external, operable safeties.

Let me just express one more time, that regardless of where you stand on the issue, a gun that is being handled by an unsafe operator is not safe, whether it has a safety or not.  If you’re just joining us, please acquaint yourself with the following safety principles.

Mounted Accessories:

What are these accessories I speak of?  I’m talking about tactical flashlights, lasers (for targeting, not cutting), strobes, optics, even bayonets (for cutting, not targeting); accessories that if you so choose, can be mounted to your handgun for an added tactical advantage.

The topic of mounted handgun accessories is one that I could wax on for another 10,000 words, but I’m going to exercise restraint as we wind down to the end of this post.  The main takeaway is that some handguns are built for a wider variety of aftermarket gadgetry than others.  Revolvers, for instance, continue their simple trend, and don’t lend very well to accessorizing.  There are plenty of grip modifications that can be worked in to provide integrated laser sighting, but the mall ninja flare generally stops there.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that you can’t wield a flashlight and a revolver (or any pistol, for that matter) simultaneously; there are plenty of tried-and-true methods that enable this important target-identifying feat (a good summation of the basics can be found on this post,  but most wheel guns won’t hold the light for you.

Note: One of the core principles of shooting safety is that you know your target, and as you walk down your hallway in the middle of a pitch-black night, it’s critical that you have the means to identify the perceived “threat” as an actual threat.  If you aren’t going to mount a light to your weapon, I urge you to practice one of the many alternatives of identifying targets in the dark.

If you stray from the KISS method (Keep It Simple Silly-pants), and you have an itch for heavy accessorizing, you’re probably going to want to shop for a semi automatic pistol, specifically one with an integrated rail system.  Rails allow the operator to place a form-fitting attachment on their weapon that will–on a quality system–stay firmly attached, and present only minimal hindrance while shooting.  Rails are a very common feature among pistols, but to save you the trouble of sorting them out, I’ve included a filter (Acc Rail) that, when enabled, will only display models that include an integrated rail.

Before you drop $300 on an EO Tech Illuminator <LINK>, just make sure you know you’re buying a compatible system.  Accessory rails come in many flavors, including Weaver, Glock’s proprietary class, and probably most common, the mil-spec Picatinny system (a.k.a., 1913).  Don’t sweat the details–they’re all solid in their own right–just know that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

Metal or Plastic?

I refuse to fuel the ubiquitous holy war between fans of polymer (a.k.a., plastic) frames and proponents of all-metal guns.  Having said that, I’m going to entirely avoid a pros and cons approach to addressing this matter altogether.

Just know this: all mass-produced civilian firearms–whether they have polymer frame or not–rely on ample amounts of metal for upper functionality (i.e., you can’t sneak a Glock through a metal detector), and millions upon millions of Glock, HK, S&W, Ruger, and Kahr (the list goes on…) shooters can’t be wrong; there is no quantifiable difference in immediate reliability between “plastic” and all-metal handguns

Note: if you staunchly disagree, and have more than a bloated opinion, and handful of one-in-a-million horror story failures to back up your argument, please send me your facts and I’ll consider recanting my proclamation.

As I see it, the most important factor to consider when making the choice between a metal and a polymer-framed pistol is the feel; which feels better in your hand when you shoot it (I know, that’s my answer for everything…you will do well to believe me).  If you happen to have an opinion on the topic one way or the other, you can use the Handgun Wizard to filter plastic guns by enabling the Poly Frame feature.

Final Notes:

Well, there really isn’t much more for me to say.  In short, my only advice is to:

  • Think about how you plan to use your handgun before you start your search.
  • Shoot, or at least handle the firearm in person before you buy it.
  • Train with your weapon when you take it home.
  • Always, always, always practice safe handling and shooting of any gun, ever.

You’re going do great.  I’m proud of you.

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Hacking Handgun Safes Sun, 22 Jan 2012 23:46:33 +0000 If you have 40 minutes to spare, I strongly recommend watching the following video from The CORE Group’s, Deviant Ollam.  It’s a thumpingly interesting presentation given at Defcon 19 last August…finally got around to watching it.

Of course, if you’re like me, and you don’t have 40 minutes to spare (I had to watch it in four installments from the toilet), here’s the gist:

  • That padlock that came included with your new firearm is crap.
  • Gun cabinet wafer locks are laughable.
  • Most trigger locks are crap.
  • The majority of handgun safes on the market can be picked open with little effort.

This dude can torture test a pistol box like no one I’ve ever seen.  Of the three safes he showcased:

Here’s the video.  I’ll warn you–this gentleman, while very articulate, has quite the fun-lovin’ mouth–I deem this clip NSFW:

Safe to Armed in Seconds: A Study of Epic Fails of Popular Gun Safes from Deviant Ollam on Vimeo.

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Short Guide to Buying Cheap Gun Safes Wed, 04 Jan 2012 02:11:21 +0000 Liberty Centurion DLX

I’ve posted this link to the Liberty Revere 20 DLX (pictured to the left) at the top of this page, just in case you don’t feel like reading the following 2000 word guide, and coming to your own conclusion :).  Of all the cheap guns safes out there, Liberty’s entry model is my favorite, and for under $900 with shipping included (from the site in the link), I can endorse it with a clear conscience.  Now, onto the post…

So, you’re tired of storing your loaded guns unlocked under your bed.  Good.  I’m tired of you doing that too–it’s dangerous and ignorant.  You’re ready to step up your game, and get yourself a gun safe…but, you don’t want to spend any money, right?  Of course not–you’re not ignorant, you’re just cheap…I get it.

I’ll cut to the chase and tell you the features you want to look for, but first, I need to draw a line in the sand.  As far as I’m concerned, a cheap gun safe is a residential security container that falls within the $700 to $1000 price range.  Unless you’re getting a heck of a deal on a used unit, anything less than $700 is almost guaranteed to be a total waste of money.  Anything more than than $1000, and you’re wandering into a different class (which is encouraged, if you have the means).

A thousand bucks isn’t going to buy anything stellar, but find a model that carries the following features, and you’ll be off to a great start:


The lock is the most important piece of a gun safe, whether it’s $1000 or $10000.  I strongly recommend a combination lock over its electronic counterpart.  Yes, it takes a little longer to open up, and frankly, it isn’t as cool, but in the long run, maintenance and reliability are going to work in your favor.  Besides, in the said price range, you might not find a safe dawning a half-decent electronic lock anyway.

The are tons of crap locks on the market.  Avoid these by ensuring that the safe you purchase has a combination lock with a UL Group II listing or higher.  I’ll spare the technical details in this post, but the bottom line is, it’s going to work forever with little maintenance.  While popular brands, like Kaba and La Gard, have nice offerings, I’m partial to Sargeant and Greenleaf products–hard to go wrong there.

Bottom line: Get a safe with an S&G UL Group II listed combination lock.


When shopping for gun safes, you’ll find that most of your money goes into the steel.  I’m going to recklessly throw out a blanket statement, and say that the thicker the steel, the more costly the safe.  Having said that, when you’re going cheap, you’re going thin.  With your budget, you’re going to be in the market for a model touting 12 to 10 gauge steel (10 is thicker).

That’s not a lot of girth–a seasoned lumberjack with a sharp axe could tear into a 12 gauge safe wall within a few minutes.  Having said that, all is not lost.  First off, while professional attacks on the body of the safe (ie – the walls) aren’t totally unheard of, they aren’t very common.  Careful placement of your safe can stifle many of these attacks, anyway (mount it in a corner, don’t leave sledge hammers in plain sight, etc…).

Secondly, don’t be easily star-struck by the size and number of bolts around the door.  A lot of sub-par manufacturers will throw a dozen or so one-inch shiny bolts on the perimeter to create the illusion that the safe is secure, and “pry-proof”.  Don’t get me wrong, well-placed bolt coverage, coupled with solid linkage can be crucial in securing your contents, but if the rest of the safe is lacking, the bolts might as well be Christmas lights.

Lastly, what you’re missing in thickness and bolt coverage, you can make up in sound construction.  Avoid stitch-welded assembly and chinsy door framing.  You’re not doing yourself any good buying a safe with thick steel walls, assembled with duct tape and bubblegum.  Hyperbole aside, find a unit with solid welding and strong framing, and you’ll be well ahead of the curve.  A unit with gaping seams has weak integrity, and weak integrity invites destruction, whether it be from a house fire or the hands of a thief.

Without a trained eye, it can be difficult to spot quality versus shoddy craftsmanship.  If there’s a product you’re unsure about, ask a local safe dealer, or contact me–I’ll do my best to get you an answer ASAP.

Bottom line: Find a model with seamless/continuous welded construction, and at least 12 gauge steel.

Fire protection:

Most likely, even a cheap gun safe is going to offer some level of protection against fire.  Fire protection gets very tricky in the gun safe industry.  A true “fire safe” will normally carry a UL rating, branding it as a unit that has been harshly tested, and will almost certainly withstand the blaze for the time advertised.  Unfortunately for you, a UL-rated fire safe big enough to house a gun collection is going to be 10-fold out of your price range (and mine).

But don’t feel bad–UL fire-rated gun safes, as far as I know, don’t actually exist, at least through mainstream availability.  If the guy at the gun store tries to tell you that the $800 safe he’s selling is UL rated for fires, it’s b.s.  What’s likely the case is that the unit he’s hocking is a UL-listed RSC that also has an alleged fire rating, or the unit is lined with UL-rated fireboard…regardless, I can assure you it’s not a commercial-grade, UL-rated fire safe.  This, however, doesn’t mean that your gun collection is going to be DOA when the firemen show up.  Most quality cheap gun safes (bit of a paradox there) are going to buy you 30 minutes in a typical house fire.

While the bulk of manufacturers don’t actually test their safes in house fires (a lot of gun safe fire ratings are nothing more than educated guesses), you’re doing yourself an injustice by neglecting to get at least a 30-minute listed rating.  You’re not going to find cast insulation or ceramic wool lining for this price; just make sure it’s seamlessly constructed (as discussed earlier), and has fireboard installed in both the walls and the ceiling.

Bottom line: Understand the limitations of fire-“proofing” on a cheap gun safe, but find one with tight construction and fire board coverage top-to-bottom.


Believe it or not, you can spend less than $1000 and still get a safe with a lifetime warranty.  In fact, I’d go as far as saying, don’t get a safe if it doesn’t have a lifetime warranty–there are too many others out there that do.

The most important thing to note here is that you must read the fine print.  Legally speaking, “lifetime warranty” can mean a million different things.  Buy a safe from a manufacturer who will not only replace your safe in the event of a fire or burglary, but will cover associated freight and maintenance charges as well.  Here’s a list of safe manufacturer warranties if you want to dig deeper.

Bottom line: Don’t settle for anything less than a lifetime warranty, but understand the particulars before you buy.

Country of origin:

Like so many other goods, China churns out the largest number of imported safes to the United States, and while I’d love to state otherwise, not every single one of them sucks; Big Horn, for instance, is a pretty decent China-born budget brand.

The thing that Chinese manufacturers have going for them is that they put a lot of effort into to copying American design and craftsmanship.  On the other hand, what they don’t have going for them is that they rarely pull it off.  Long-story-short, the quality of the materials is often sub par, and construction is inconsistent.  If you can spend the same amount of money and get a decent American-made safe, why buy an import?  That’s all I’m going to say about it in this post, but if you want more information on import versus domestic, check out this post I made a while back: Are American Gun Safes Really the Best?

Bottom line: While not all imports are lousy, there’s no good reason not to buy an American manufactured safe.

Other stuff:

Buying on the cheap doesn’t mean you have to completely abandon security.  In addition to heeding my recommendations above, there are a few little things you can do to ensure you get the most out of your investment.

First of all, anchor your safe down.  If the model you’re looking at doesn’t have pre-drilled holes, I wouldn’t even consider it for purchase.

Do you have to bolt it down if it’s downstairs in the basement?  Yes.  Do you have to bolt it down if it weighs 2000 lbs fully loaded?  Yes.

No matter what the circumstances, take the extra time and anchor it down.

If you aren’t sure the best way to anchor it, or what materials to use, ask the manufacturer.  They’ll be more than happy to help you out here–many of them even offer inexpensive kits to help take out the guess work.

Even a one ton safe isn’t terribly difficult to tip over, and once it’s on its back, the crooks have a perfect opportunity to get the leverage they need to pry it open.  And if they can’t get it open in your house, they can scoot it out the door, load it in a van, and try it on their own time.  Like it or not, some crooks are pretty darn smart.

Which brings me to my next point…

Don’t give them a reason to break into your house in the first place!  Yes, sometimes being a victim of burglary is unavoidable, but there are very easy things you can do to stack the odds in you favor.  For one, don’t talk about what you have to anyone you don’t absolutely trust.  The dude you just met at the range might not break into your house, but he may have a shady friend who’d be glad to do it.  Put your pride to the side, and keep your mouth shut (that’s right–don’t create a website devoted to showing off your toys :)).

Also, to the best of your abilities, keep the safe out of sight.  You don’t have to build false walls and hidden rooms (if you were that devoted, you’d be spending more than $1000), but keep it away from windows, and places where the pizza man can see it.  It’s not too difficult–just do your best to avoid advertising that you have a treasure chest in your home.

Lastly, I’d recommend investing a little bit in basic home security.  I had a bit of fun a few months ago building a budget DIY home defense package, which included a monitored security system (I went with Simplisafe, and have been very satisfied with the setup).  If you’re too cheap to go for the real thing, at least fake it.  Get some alarm stickers, put a smoke detector above the safe (hardcore riff-raff use power tools, which can create a lot of heat and smoke), you may even want to consider a dummy camera.  The key is to make stealing your valuables as inconvenient as possible.  I wrote this post a while back, if you want to supplement with a few more ideas: Where to Put Your Safe.

Bottom Line: Anchor your safe, keep it out of the open, heed basic OPSEC principles, and don’t be afraid to supplement your investment with a security system.

Recommended unit:

The question I probably get asked the most in emails is something to the effect of, “what’s the best safe for under $1000?”.  While I couldn’t wholeheartedly claim any model to be the best cheap gun safe on the market–there are a few decent models out there–I could very comfortably recommend to nearly anyone Liberty Safe’s entry level unit, the Centurion DLX-20 (22 gun capacity).  It’s also made in the good ole’ US (to my knowledge, all of Liberty’s UL RSC listed safes are).

It has an S&G 6147 UL Group II combination lock.  It’s built with nearly seamless construction.  It also includes fireboard all around, giving it a respectable (for the price) 30 minute fire rating (at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit).  It only has bolt coverage on two sides of the door, and with 12 gauge steel, the body is a little thin, but again, 10 gauge is probably going to be the thickest steel you’ll find in this price range; at that point, you’re splitting hairs (literally–the difference is a fraction of an inch).

Liberty has perhaps the best lifetime warranty, and renown customer service record of any of their main competition, and I’d feel comfortable recommending this safe to anyone wanting to lock up their firearms for under a grand.  I helped my father-in-law pick one out, and he still lets me make babies with his daughter…now that’s an endorsement!

Regardless of the cheap safe you decide to roll with, make sure you don’t rush into it.  Ask tons of questions, hold the dealer and the manufacturer accountable when they answer them, and feel free to hit me up if you need any help in the process–if I don’t know the answer, I’ll do my best to get you one.

Stay safe!

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My Interview with Gunsafesandmore’s Billy Wayne Tue, 20 Sep 2011 20:22:45 +0000 Recently, my friend and fellow blogger, Billy Wayne, interviewed me to get my take on hot topics like imported gun safes and home security.  He asked some great questions that made me stretch my mind muscles, but most importantly, he gave a serious shout-out to the greatest movie of all time, Big Trouble In Little China.  Being the BTLC evangelist that I am, I sincerely appreciate his efforts.

You can check out the interview here: Jack Burton Releases Gun Safe Knowledge (Interview)

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15 Places to Mount a Pistol Safe in Your House Wed, 24 Aug 2011 01:11:02 +0000 What kind of psycho keeps a gun in every room?

What’s the best pistol safe for the job?

Mounting this sucker

The 15 places…

Wrap up

Fifteen places?  That’s at least one in every room!

What kind of psycho keeps a gun in every room?

Not me, unfortunately; I’d have to be a psycho with a much higher paying job to pull that off.  Until I reach such a pinnacle in home defense, I’m just your everyday, run-of-the-mill freak, forced to wear a pistol when I walk from room-to-room.  Believe me, if I had the money to safely scatter two dozen pieces around the house, I would.  I realize it’s totally overkill and far from necessary, but so is putting potpourri plug-ins in every room, and with all the headaches and nausea they cause, they’re arguably just as dangerous…

The objective of this article isn’t to brag about how many firearms I have hidden around my house, it’s to demonstrate that with the right pistol safe, and maybe a few surplus Makarovs, I could secure them just about anywhere with very little logistical trouble.

What’s the best pistol safe for the job?

I had to choose a unit that could be tucked away in the corner, and mounted virtually anywhere.  After a healthy dose of research, I settled on the V-Line Desk Mate for the project.  I chose the Desk Mate for a number of reasons:

The Simplex lock

Attaching a pistol safe to the bottom of a love seat, or underneath the stairs can be very tricky when you’re tethered to an AC adapter.  Due to the hidden and general freestyle requirements of the project, I decided I was best suited with a powerless unit…green, if you will.  One of the primary reasons I chose to use a V-line product is because everything they make operates using the Simplex locking mechanism.

V-line simplex lock mechanism

Simplex locking mechanism


In addition to the unit’s leash-less lifestyle, it also has a better reputation for reliability than the majority of its electronic keypad and biometric counterparts, and it beats the inconvenience of fumbling around looking for a key.  I decided that this time around, I wanted to stray away from electronics, particularly after a recent, rather nasty breakup with my previous bedside pistol safe.

Remember the post I wrote a couple months ago, bragging that my Winchester Evault was “still ticking” (of course you don’t)?  Well, regardless, it’s no longer ticking.  After a decent run of four years, I’ve joined the ranks of other Evault owners who know first-hand why Winchester stopped making them.

The Simplex lock is a workhouse.  It’s nothing fancy; no lockout threshold, multiple user profiles, or one million possible combinations (I believe it has 1,081 to be exact); it’s just a five-button box that I know is going to open up the same 10 years from now as it does today.  For a quick access pistol safe under the coffee table, it has pretty much all I’m looking for.

Mounting options

For this project, almost as important as the locking mechanism, was mounting versatility.  Included with the Desk Mate was a “quick release” mounting bracket.  The bracket can be installed just about anywhere that will support 10-12 lbs (more on mounting details in a moment), and once it’s on the surface, the Desk Mate can be securely fastened in about 30 seconds.  I only have one bracket, but others can be purchased separately.  With multiples, say one at the office and one at home, you could transport the safe back and forth without any effort, other than the initial set up.

pistol safe mounted under a plywood table

Desk Mate mounted under a plywood "table".

By employing some super strong neodymium magnets (more on that in a second) and the said quick release bracket, I was able to mount this pistol safe with more up-down, and left-right configurations than the Contra code.  I haven’t tried it yet, but V-line also produces an optional “Universal” mounting accessory, which offers a little more support and flexibility.


I wanted a pistol safe small enough to mount in tight spaces, but large enough to house a full-framed handgun, and possibly a spare magazine or flashlight.  At 7.5” x 10.5” x 2.5”, the Desk Mate fits the bill.  I was able to fit it between the driver’s seat and my center console, and after removing the optional sliding steel tray, I didn’t have any issues locking up a standard Glock 17.  With the tray, my compact M&P 40 fit, along with a 15 round magazine with no problems.

Compact pistol and magazine in tray

Compact S&W M&P 40 with magazine in V-line sliding tray.


The Desk Mate’s dimensions worked out well for me, but if you want a little more room, and want to stick with a V-Line product, you might consider their Hide-Away.  It’s virtually the same pistol safe, but roughly 150% larger.  You could fill it with more ammo, tactical gear, a bigger hand cannon, or possibly a backup gun.  Definitely something to consider, depending on the contents of your arsenal.

V-line Hide Away

The V-line Hide Away

Other features

As implied, short of reliability, the V-line doesn’t have a lot of fancy features, but there are a few more selling points worth noting:

The glossy black finish with the gold trim not only looks sharp, but it holds up very well.  While I’m not generally concerned with aesthetics, during the length of this project, industrial adhesive, self-tapping screws, and rare earth magnets didn’t leave a mark on this thing.

The recessed door is a nice addition, acting as a sound pry deterrent.  As demonstrated in the image below, I couldn’t even begin to fit a quarter in between the door and the frame.  Your common knucklehead snatch-n-grabber is going to need more than a flat head screwdriver to get this open in a hurry.

Sorry George, you're not welcome!

The piano hinges are also a nice touch.  They certainly don’t make the unit bullet proof, but a continuous hinge adds additional reliability in both security and everyday function.

piano hinges

I finally quit taking pictures on my phone. Looks pretty sharp, eh?

To open, you pull the door outward, so it hangs down below the hinges.  This adds a little more than an inch to the overall length; not generally a problem, but it’s a factor you’ll want to consider if you’re mounting the safe in any snug locations.  You’ll also want to consider the extra space you’ll need to remove the gun in a hurry.  While it’s technically possible to mount this model in a drawer, you’d probably be better off with their Top Draw unit (shown below), if you plan to keep a burner in your desk or nightstand.

V-line top draw

The Top Draw opens--you guessed it--from the top.

Mounting this sucker

If you’re mounting the Desk Mate as originally intended–right-side up, and directly underneath a sturdy surface–there’s nothing to it:

Drive four screws into the mounting surface to fasten the quick release bracket, slide the pistol safe into the two tabs in the rear, and tighten the thumb screws inside.

driving screws into the quick release bracket

Mounting the quick release bracket to a plywood tabletop

The method mentioned above is probably going to be perfect for 95% of the customers who purchase this product, but for the sake of the project, I made a couple simple modifications.

I didn’t want to drill 200 holes in my house just to take a few pictures–CORRECTION–my wife didn’t want me to drill 200 holes in the house…

I drove screws for a few shots, but I primarily relied on heavy duty mounting magnets to hold the pistol safe in place for most of the pictures.  These aren’t the toy magnets you use to put a beard on Wooly Willy; this is a rare earth monster, capable of holding almost 60 lbs (only 1.5″ long).  It’s very strong for its size…ants have nothing on this thing.  I got it from K&J Magnetics.  They have some crazy stuff for sale on their site…for $1000, you can get a magnet strong enough to hold a 1200 lbs steel safe to the wall.

mounting magnet holding 25 pound barbell

This 25 lbs barbell is held up by three pieces of duct tape and a 1.5" mounting magnet.

Anyway, I used a combination of Gorilla brand duct tape and mounting magnets to secure the safe in places where I wasn’t allowed to drill.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this method for the long term, as the duct tape will almost certainly lose its grip (100 MPH tape might work, but I didn’t have any to test with).  Doing so, you’ll also negate the added security provided by the quick release bracket when it’s screwed down.  If, however, you’re not terribly concerned with someone walking away with the pistol safe, you can screw down the mounting magnet, leaving only two holes in a small pattern.

neodymium mounting magnet

This 1.5" neodymium mounting magnet has a pull force of 60 lbs.

As you’ll see in a moment, I mounted the pistol safe in quite a few unorthodox positions (vertically, sideways, reverse cow…).  The obvious concern here is that the gun could fall out when you open the door.  For the safety of the gun, and ourselves, we don’t want that to happen.  I implemented a low-tech solution for this issue, again employing the help from my dear friends, magnets and duct tape.

The objective of this modification is to keep the handgun fixed until it’s ready to be removed.  Again, it’s only necessary if the safe is mounted non-traditionally.  For this, I purchased a $2.00 square, flat magnet from K&J (13 lbs pull force), and stuck it to a small piece of duct tape, sticky-side up.  Next, I placed the non-sticky side of tape on the pistol slide, removed the tray from the pistol safe, and pressed the duct tape securely to the bottom of the interior.

square magnet on duct tape

Place the magnet on the sticky side of the tape.

attach the magnet to the pistol slide

Stick the magnet to the pistol slide.

the pistol won't fall out when I hold it upside down

I'm holding the pistol safe completely upside-down. Fortunately for my beautiful face, the modification is a success.

The 15 places…

The Bedroom

I’ll begin by showing you where I put it in the bedroom (giggity!).  Looking at it through a home defense lens, the room in your house or apartment where you’re the most vulnerable is the place where you sleep…ok, maybe the shower.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m usually wearing a gun on me, even in the house.  If an armed lunatic kicks down my front door while I’m eating dinner, I’ll likely have time to draw from my holster and defend my family effectively.  However, being unarmed, in the dark, and woken up from a dead sleep is an entirely different story.  For this reason, I’m starting with the bedroom; it’s perhaps the most important place to have a quick access pistol safe in your home.

pistol safe mounted under the nighstand

V-line mounted under the nightstand drawer.

Whether it’s a V-Line Desk Mate or otherwise, mounting under the nightstand drawer is always a crowd favorite.   No tricks here–just the quick removal mounting bracket set up as it was originally intended.  This position allows for the sliding tray to stay in the unit, and it leaves ample room for any other crap that you want to store underneath.

pistol safe upside down in the nightstand

Pistol + Flashlight + Slippers + Zombie Killing Wrench = Sweet Dreams

Not much going on here.  It’s very similar to the above configuration, only the bracket is mounted to the bottom of the nightstand, and the Desk Mate is fastened upside-down.  Due to the setup here, you’ll probably want to employ the magnet method discussed above to keep the gun from wearing down its finish on the steel interior.

When it’s upside down, twisting the knob to open it will also take a little bit of practice, as you’ll be turning it in the opposite direction; if you turn it the wrong way, it will reset the combination, and you’ll have to punch it in again…not fun when there are threatening footsteps approaching.

pistol safe under the bed

Hanging from the bed frame.

Personally, I prefer the nightstand method to hanging the safe underneath my bed, mainly because I don’t have to fish around in the dark to find it.  That said, mounting it under your bed is a perfectly reasonable option.  If it’s tough to find an even surface, consider securing a small piece of plywood to the bed slats, and installing the bracket to the proxy surface.  That’s the quick and dirty way–if you have a better suggestion, please share.

The Kitchen

The kitchen may not be the first place you think of for gun storage, but with all the cabinet, drawer and pantry space, it’s a prime location for a hidden pistol safe.  In addition to concealment, the kitchen, in most houses, is centrally located and often accessible from two, if not three entrances.  If I’m unarmed, hanging out on my first floor, and butt mud hits the fan, I’m running to my kitchen cabinet to set the heating arrangements.

vline pistol safe mounted in the kitchen cabinet

V-line Desk Mate mounted in the kitchen cabinet

I’ll admit, a gun safe on the refrigerator isn’t wildly practical, but help myself I could not.  In addition to showing off the versatility of the V-Line, I wanted to showcase the power of the neodymium magnets.

This is about the only way guns and beer go together safely

The Family Room

I found quite a few ways to stay strapped in the family room.  To begin with, the entertainment center provides a nice little cutout under the TV to install the unit–right in the midst of perhaps the most awfully awesome movie collection of all time.

pistol safe under tv

I gave Dolemite the combination, just in case things get out of hand when I'm not around.

The surface underneath the coffee table also provides a subtle, however, accessible mounting location.  My coffee table sits centrally between a couch and two chairs, so even from a vegging position, I can get to it in a hurry…as long as I’m able to bend over my ever-growing gut.

pistol safe under the coffee table

Fastened to the bottom tier of the table.

Again, one great advantage this safe offers in concealment is its compact dimensions.   I can dress it up just about anyway I want in order to keep it in relative plain site.  While it would be nearly as easy to drive screws under one of the bookshelf shelves, I took a different approach…

v line on bookshelf

Take a look, it's in a book...

The Office

You can play like Dwight Schrute and keep your desk drawers full of nunchakus and pepper spray, but when you’re done screwing around, pack some proper protection in the office, and mount this pistol safe the way its namesake suggests.  Of course, Dwight, I’m only kidding around–I would never mess with a guy who possesses the strength of a grown man, and a little baby.

pistol safe mounted under the desk

Obviously, don't take a gun into your office if it's prohibited. I hate that I have to say that.

The Living Room/Dining Room

I don’t spend nearly as much time in the dining room as I do in the kitchen, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of decent places to keep a gun in the room that I’m not allowed to play in.  One place, also applicable in other rooms, is under the couch.  The couch that I used as an example has wooden slats, and I was able to drive screws into them through the fabric.  Without the slats, however, you may have to get creative.

Pistol safe under the couch

It's completely hidden when the couch flap is down.

My wife about shut this whole project down when she caught me mounting the safe to her piano.  I’m not allowed near it anymore, which is a shame because I think the Desk Mate would fit perfectly inside the bench next to the sheet music.

safe under the piano

Properly arming yourself is "key" to home defense. Hahahahaha! Yeh!

 The Hallway

The coat closet is probably the ideal location to store a pistol in the hallway, however, I noticed that the picture frame in our entrance matched the V-line’s dimensions perfectly…I couldn’t help myself.  This was very easy; I simply removed the back of the picture frame, placed the safe in between, and duct taped everything together.  Between bastardizing our wedding photo, and defacing the piano, I’m not sure which one my wife loved more!

pistol safe mounted on picture frame

The perfect fit.


Aren't we a handsome couple?

The Bathroom

In the bathroom, the unit can be mounted easily under the sink, or even behind the toilet, depending on the model.  I also came up with the awesome idea of placing the safe inside the medicine cabinet.  The result; well, it worked, however, it wasn’t nearly as rad as I thought it would be.  Nevertheless, I went through the trouble of arranging it, so here it is:

gun in the medicine cabinet

Another mounting magnet in action.

The Garage

The garage has 100 places to keep a handgun stowed away, but for the picture, I decided to install it underneath a landscaping junk shelf (all I have is junk shelves).  Here’s another example of how the Desk Mate is designed to be installed–secured to the shelf with the quick release mounting bracket.

desk mate under the garage shelving

Don't underestimate the effectiveness of a kukri machete as a landscaping tool.

The Basement

Finally, we arrive in the basement.  Like the garage, an unfinished basement offers a plethora of pistol safe mounting opportunities.  That said, the crap in my basement is at critical mass, and if I put one more thing out on the floor, I would have trapped myself in.  Having said that, I opted to hide the unit under the staircase, keeping it plenty accessible, but out-of-sight.

desk mate under the basement stairs

If you really wanted to do this right, you could supplement with a piece of plywood, or the universal mounting bracket. I, however, used duct tape and magnets.

Wrap up

This was a fun project.  I learned a lot, and fell in madly in love with my black and beautiful Desk Mate.  Seriously though, the 15 locations I covered only scratched the surface.  With a decent pistol safe, the only limitation on where you can mount it is your imagination :mrgreen: .

Oh, and if you’ve found a reasonable way install a pistol box in the shower (eg – not having to rip out tile), please let me know.


Stay safe!






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Found a Place for the Extra Outdoor Motion Sensor Light Wed, 03 Aug 2011 02:03:43 +0000 outdoor motion sensor light on swingset with machine gun turret

During my home defense project, I purchased several Fulcrum wireless outdoor motion sensor lights.  I installed a couple underneath eaves in the back, one over the garage, and another around the front corner of the house.  My objective was to cover the perimeter of the house, and I completed it successfully.  I had purchased an extra light for the project, thinking that I would need five to cover all the sides, but since four did the trick, it just sat in a box for a month.

A few weeks ago, for my daughter’s birthday, I picked up one of those Home Depot swing set kits…the ones that only cost $300, until you find out you need to buy an additional 200 lbs of lumber, an extra swing and a slide.  Anyways, I dropped some cash, put it together, she loves it, and I, of course love that she loves it.

Well, a couple days ago, I was in the backyard, pushing her on the swing, when it dawned on me; I can mount that extra light to the top of the swing set!  I bought the playground–there’s no reason I can’t have fun with it too, right?

light mounting kit

As I mentioned, the motion sensor lights are simple to install, and since they can be mounted on virtually any surface, driving two screw into the 4×4 crossbeam was cake.

Now when someone steps into the center of my yard at night, they get caught in an LED crossfire.  There’s a 25 ft2 sweet spot in my backyard that triggers three lights at once, lighting up darn near the entire lawn.  It looks like a night game at Wrigley field…my neighbors just think it’s terrific.

Not a whole lot more to the story here–just an example of the fun you can have when you get creative with spare security resources.


Stay safe!

Fulcrum 20031-101 Motion Sensor LED Porch Light, Silver

Provide instant security to your front portion with the ultra bright Fulcrum Motion Sensor Light.
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DIY Side Saddle Mod for the Shotlock Tue, 02 Aug 2011 02:20:31 +0000 mossberg 500 in shotlock

As I’ve made it very clear in previous posts, I’m a huge fan of the Shotlock, and I’m happy to call it a part of my personal home defense solution.  With it, I’m able to keep my Mossberg 500 loaded, secure, and accessible, should I have an unwelcome visitor rapping, rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

That said, where the Shotlock comes up a little short is in the accessories accommodation department.  Ghost rings, pistol grips, and anything receiver-mounted typically need to be removed before the firearm will fit.  A stripped gun is still fun, but I’ve really grown accustomed to having a side saddle on the receiver for quick reloads  This was pretty much impossible, until I threw together this zany home brew modification a couple weeks ago.

Using the power of industrial strength Velcro (duct tape’s ugly sister), I’m able to open the Shotlock, remove the gun, and mount the side saddle on the receiver within seconds.  Here’s the run down:

– First, you need a Velcro mounting system for your gun and your shell carrier.  This guy from SoCal Webshooters made a great set of instructions you can use to do it: DIY Shotgun Side Saddle Conversion.  I know I say this a lot, but if I can do it, you can do it.
**Important note: put the loop side (fuzzy) on the gun’s receiver, and the hooks (prickly) on the back of the saddle.  The Shotlock has felt on the inside of the door, and you’ll shoot this whole operation to hell if you mix this up.

fuzzy velcro on shotgun receiver

Velcro side saddle on receiver
– At this point, you should have fuzzy Velcro stuck to your gun, and prickly Velcro stuck to the carrier.
Cut off an additional strip of fuzzy-sided Velcro, roughly the same length as the shell carrier (it doesn’t have to be perfect).  Now peel off the adhesive backing, and stick it vertically to the face of the Shotlock, forming a lovely landing strip ( 😉 ).

velcro on shotlock

– Hang the shottie in the Shotlock, close her up, and slap the side saddle on the front.  You’re done, my friend.

side saddle on the shotlock
Questions you may have:

How much does this all cost?

The Shotlock lists at $169, the Tacstar side saddle was $24, and four feet of industrial strength Velcro was $10.

How long did the modification take?

Twenty minutes, tops.

Does a Velcro-backed side saddle actually stay fastened during recoil?

I’ve never had any trouble.  In fact, some folks who need to change up different loads in hurry (competition shooters, namely), actually prefer the Velcro method.  Give the adhesive 24 hours to fully adhere before you start using it.

Am I going to have sticky crap all over my gun if I decide to remove the Velcro down the road?

Doubtful.  If you do, just use a little solvent to get it off.

You know, they make 7-shell holders for the Mossberg 500 – why only four on yours?

The gun pictured is a 20 gauge Mossberg 500c, and the only receiver mount accessory I could find was the four round Tacstar side saddle.  All things considered, it does the job.  Besides, I have another five on the stock.

Why use a 20 gauge for home defense?

We’re digressing, but I’ve shared my thoughts on this before…20 gauge shotgun for home defense.

You know you need to quit taking these pictures with your phone, right?

I lost my camera charger, I’m too cheap to replace it, and I can’t figure out how to make one out of all this extra Velcro…seriously though, sorry for the crappy quality.

I’m done – if you have any questions, feel free to drop a comment or send me an email.

Stay safe!

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A Summer Blockbuster Biometric Deadbolt Lock! Sun, 31 Jul 2011 03:06:41 +0000 I watched Red, starring Bruce Willis and a huge cast of other oldies but goodies, last weekend.  It was a pretty solid, entertaining action flick that didn’t try to be more than it was, and all-in-all, I enjoyed it.  Having said all that, a further review of the movie is not what you’ll find in this post.

There was a scene (SORTA SPOILER) when Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker are busting into the CIA underbelly, and they run into a door with a lock on it that Bruce Willis’ character deems “impossible”.  He subsequently gains access to the room behind the door by busting through the good-enough-for-government-work drywall (the movie is that kind of fantastic).

About 10 seconds after that scene, I said to my wife, “I wonder what kind of lock that was”…she didn’t care.  I remained curious.

I thought I’d have a huge task on my hands, but when I Googled “red movie lock”, right there at the top was a link to this Actuator Systems page.

It turns out the company is quite proud of the cameo…they even throw in a Mr. Skin-style time stamp citing when the lock makes an appearance (51:33…incidentally, Mary-Louise Parker never takes her shirt off).

lc200 biometric deadbolt lockAnyways, the unit featured is the Actuator LC-200 PIN-entry/biometric deadbolt lock.  Now, as you may or may not know, I’m a relative proponent of biometric technology when it’s employed on quick-access pistol boxes.  However, I still can’t make the jump to trusting a fingerprint reader as the sole means of protecting access to anything worth more than a few hundred bucks.  I welcome disagreement here, but I just don’t think biometric technology is quite there (it will be).  That said, from what I’ve read, Actuator Systems is one of the best in the biz at developing fingerprint scanning devices.

What I love about the LC-200, other than the fact that it’s a movie star, is that you have the option of requiring both a successful fingerprint read and a PIN entry.  This is very similar to the S&G Z03 safe lock, offering a supreme layer of hi-tech redundancy to your door’s security needs.

The number of CIA employees is classified, and I have no idea how many have access to the locked room in Red, but by employing the LC-200 biometric deadbolt locking system, it could be up to a thousand…that’s a really long, not-as-clever-in-writing-as-it-was-in-my-head way of saying, the LC-200 can store up to 1000 unique fingerprints, making it ideal for use in high traffic areas like apartment complexes and office buildings.  Because tracking 1000 people would be a logistical cluster funk, the LC-200 also captures audit trails, which can be retrieved on a USB stick and viewed on your PC.

So far, from what I’ve seen, this black-ops door knob is pretty tight.  I’m going to dig around and see if I can come up with some more information on it.  When I do (assuming they don’t kill me for digging too deep), I’ll let you know.

Stay safe!

Biometric Access Control Door Lock LC200 with 1000 Users and Audit Trail Capable.

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An Amish-Made Monster: The Esquire Sat, 30 Jul 2011 02:43:41 +0000 Esquire Amish Gun Caibnet

Hey, what’s 11′, over 1000 lbs and made of wood?  If your answer was, “a cherry tree stuffed with 32 guns”, you’re correct!  You’d also be correct if you said, “the Esquire by Amish Woodworking”.

As I’ve mentioned before, I know very little about woodworking.  Due to this fact, I probably don’t give traditional gun cabinets the respect they deserve, but if I had this Amish gun cabinet in my living room, I’d bow and beg for mercy.

A while back, Tom from Handmade Traditions schooled me on what to look for in a quality custom gun cabinet; I’m pretty sure this thing meets the qualifications.  Of course, for the $10,000 price tag, if I bought it, I’d have to live in it.

I’m keeping this post short, but I just came across a picture of this beast last night, and had to share.  Here’s a link to their site, where you can see the rest of their handiwork, and drool all over their windows.

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