Fingerprint safe, biometric safe, fingerprint reader…whatever you want to call it, what I’m referring to when I use anyone of these monikers is a gun safe that can be opened when the rightful owner of the unit swipes their finger across the safe’s scanner. High tech, I know, but with every year that goes by, biometrics technology gets better and better, and of course, cheaper and cheaper. You still pay a pretty penny for a gun safe that you can open with your pinky, but it’s a lot better than it was a couple years ago.
I’m not going to go into the details of fingerprint reading technology and how it works, so if you want to know a little more, I have a few articles on the site…hey, here’s one – Understanding fingerprint gun safe scanners. What I’d like to discuss in this post are some things that you may want to consider when shopping around for one of these little marvels. Just to clarify, in this article, I’m primarily speaking to bedside style safes, built for pistols. If you’d like to know my feelings on biometric locks on full sized rifle safes read this post – Biometric Gun Safe Basics.
In a couple of my other articles, I mentioned that fingerprint gun safes aren’t entirely reliable. The technology is very close to 100%, but there’s still a slight possibility of a misread. Typically, a misread is harmless, and can swiftly be remedied by swiping your finger over the scanner again. In some unfortunate cases, however, the consequences can be a bit more grave. For one, a false acceptance can allow a burglar who either forged your prints, cut off your hand, or just got lucky to gain access to your safe. On the flip side, a false rejection may deny you entry in a situation where literally every second matters.
As I said, most safes do an excellent job of getting it right the first time. If you can, however, try to get the equal error rate (EER) on the safe you’re considering buying. Most brands don’t advertise this spec, but if you’re able to get it, the lower the number, the better. More practically, you can check out gun talk forums and online store reviews to find out the experience others have been having with the product you’re eyeing. I wasn’t trying to scare you with the whole “hand getting cut off” thing, but before you buy, just make sure you aren’t buying a piece of junk.
When I say capacity, I’m referring to the size of the interior of the safe. Don’t just buy a safe because it looks cool and got decent reviews on Amazon. Learn the dimensions first, and make sure that what you’re planning on stowing away for a rainy day will fit in the fingerprint safe you’re checking out. For instance, let’s say you have a big bore fetish, and you’re packing a full frame Smith and Wesson 500 magnum in case of an emergency. First of all, unless you’re anticipating being the victim of a grizzly bear invasion, poor tactical choice. If, however, you still have the need to watch things explode, make certain that the safe will hold a foot long hand cannon.
Even if you aren’t packing the John Holmes of handguns, you still want to plan to have additional room in your safe for things other than your primary weapon. In my Cannon GunVault, for example, I keep additional magazines, ammunition, a tactical flashlight, my concealed carry holster, a knife, and a hand grenade. I’m, of course, kidding about the hand grenade, but if I had one, I’d probably want to make sure there was room for it in my safe. You may also want to have room for an additional pistol, just in case your wife wants in on the action. These are just things to consider…measure twice, buy once.
There are a million and one different features out there offered in biometric gun safes, and though many should be taken seriously, some of them, as far as I’m concerned are nothing more than a bonus. One of these, in my opinion anyway, is security, as in the overall toughness of the safe’s constitution. I know it sounds odd, that is why I’d rank a handgun safe’s security performance as a second tier priority, but again, we’re talking about small, bedside, quick access gun safes. Not steel fortresses where you’re storing your life savings and precious family heirlooms. I don’t care if you can anchor the unit, or if it has “thick steel walls”, or “pry-resistant doors”, there’s no way to practically install a unit of this breed where a thief can’t rip it, pry it, or simply pick it up and run off with it. As far as I’m concerned, if it will keep my kid out, it’s good enough for my needs.
There are, however, a couple of features that you’ll want to strongly consider. For one, find a safe with a decent back up solution. Make sure that there is an easy way to open the safe in case there’s a technical failure, preferably a key. For Pete’s sake though, please don’t keep the key in the safe. Secondly, I’d suggest looking for a safe that gives you the option of storing multiple fingerprints. Some of the best fingerprint safes, like the Biometrx BioVault 2.0 are very accurate, and will keep up to 50 fingerprints in the system. Why would you ever want a safe that could hold 50 prints? I don’t have a BioVault, but for my GunVault, I have all of my fingers scanned in on both hands, just in case my right index finger isn’t readily available. My wife also has her finger marked for entry so that she can gain access if I’m not around. Finally, and this may sound kind of stupid, but you want to make sure that the safe has adequate lighting, and equally as important, that you can replace the bulb should it burn out. I’m an advocate of practicing dry runs for emergency situations so that you can grab what you need to without thinking about it, but since many home invasions occur during the evening hours, you want to make sure you spend less time fumbling around, and more time killing bad guys.
You may also want to consider a fingerprint wall safe as an alternative. Personally, I get just about everything that I need from my GunVault, but a stand alone safe isn’t your only option. A fingerprint wall safe is also a possibility. This is a model, built very similarly to your typical biometric gun safe, only it sits directly in your wall. These are very cool, I must admit, especially since they’re often built with an opening action where the door drops down into the wall (very Bond like). That said though, they aren’t very practical for my purposes. For one, they tend to be a little more expensive – not only for the price of the safe, but for the time and money spent on the installation…you have to cut a hole in your wall. Also, if there are any problems with the safe, and you need to send it back, you’re going to be staring into your adjacent room until the repairs are complete. More importantly though, the way my bedroom is set up, I’d have to get out of bed, run across the room, and find the thing in the dark…yeh, this may only take me two or three seconds, but again, time is a huge factor. Lastly, if the crooks want the safe, they’re likely going to rip it out off the wall and run off with it, as opposed to “cracking it”, and a hole in the wall just adds insult to injury…kind of a common theme. I biometric wall safe isn’t for me, but if none of these factors bother you, please don’t let me stop you!