Gun owners, especially those with small children, are wise to keep their firearms in a safe under lock and key. But in a blog post Friday, Marc Tobias, a physical security specialist, posted videos showing that toddlers could crack safes simply by dropping them on the floor a couple times.
In Forbes, Tobias writes "You should know how unsafe these gun safes are." He writes that Security Labs was asked to review the designs of three leading brands of gun safes made by Stack-on, GunVault and Bulldog, after the death of a 3-year-old in Vancouver, Wash., a couple years ago:
We agreed to provide expert analysis and testimony as a public service to the victim’s family; the parents were a police officer and student nurse. They have allowed us to tell the story and release videos of different containers and how easily they can be compromised because they do not want anyone else to suffer the same nightmare.
We are providing a detailed report and analysis of eleven different popular gun safes produced by Stack-On, GunVault, and Bulldog to warn the public of the dangers inherent in some of these products because the manufacturers nor their major retailers will do so. In that report you can view eight different Stack-On models, one produced by Bulldog, and one manufactured by GunVault. A similar design defect is demonstrated in an inexpensive safe for storing valuables that is sold by AMSEC, a very reputable safe manufacturer in the United States. Unfortunately, their digital safe with their claim of a “state-of-the-art electronic lock” can also be opened (literally) by a three year old because of a common mechanism used in the industry that is subject to circumvention.
Tobias and his team put together a video showing how a 3-year-old can open three different Stack-On safes and one by AMSEC. With the first two, the toddler just lifts up the safes a couple times and lets them drop with a thud. Then he grabs onto the knob and easily opens the safe, which contains screwdrivers for these purposes. With other safes, the boy is able to insert a thin metal strip to open it up.
In short, the incident leading to this extensive gun safe analysis happened in 2010 when 3-year-old Eddie Ryan Owens -- who went by Ryan --somehow opened Stack-On safe within the family's home. Ryan's father, Ed, was a detective with the Vancouver, Wash., sheriff's office. The department-owned safes were for officers to protect the firearms within their homes. Tobias reports Ed alleging the department knew of defects in the safes. He spoke publicly about this and was fired, which he has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit for.
Tobias writes an "unknown number of safes" are still being used by the department. Although, since it has been shown bouncing the safe could allow the latch to open, they are required to be mounted on a hard surface:
We first figured out what was wrong with the suspect safe by using a high-speed video camera mounted inside the container as the mechanism was bounced. What we discovered caused us enough concern to expand our inquiry to virtually all of the Stack-On models of similar safes, and those produced by other manufacturers as well.
What we found in all of these designs was typical: all of the safes that are detailed in our report can be opened with a variety of simple implements and techniques. These included bouncing and rapping, paperclips, wires, drinking straws, screwdrivers, and brass strips that can be purchased from a hardware store.
Overall, Tobias and his team believe their investigation found "manufacturers and consumers are deceived and misled into a false sense of security by electronic credentials, codes, and biometrics."
Tobias' full post details retailers selling the safes and their responses, what he considers "woefully inadequate" standards, and things gun safe owners should be aware. Read the more detailed account of what happened in 2010 to Ryan and the subsequent investigation here.
Read the whole of Security Lab's review of the safes here.