Gun Safe or Gun Cabinet – Which One is for You?

If you own one or more guns, then it’s time to start looking for a container to store them securely. Strong, sturdy gun storage is a smart investment for the protection and safekeeping of your firearms. 

Once you’ve made the decision to securely store your guns, you’ll need to figure out whether you want a gun cabinet or a gun safe.

There are a few different things to consider when choosing between the two, such as size, weight, security, and fire protection. We’ll discuss these things below.


When it comes to security, the gun safe flat out wins. Gun safes are made of metal, while gun cabinets are made of wood and glass. Simply put, almost any gun safe is going to be more secure than a gun cabinet. 

First, you need to check your local laws regarding gun storage. If you live in a state that has gun storage laws, then you may be required to store your guns in a safe that meets the legal requirements.

A proper gun safe will have a security rating from UL:

UL Standard 1037 applies to Residential Security Containers (RSC). RSCs are the most common type of gun safe. This rating is given to a safe that can withstand at least 5 minutes of attack.

UL Standard 687 governs burglary-resistant safes. It is based on two different factors:

  1. How long the safe can resist attack
  2. The construction materials of the safe

Gun safes also come with a multitude of locking options such as combination locks, electronic locks, or biometric locks. Gun cabinets usually only come with a small key lock that won’t stop a determined individual from gaining access.

But don’t let its security shortfalls deter you from buying a gun cabinet. Gun cabinets are a classy place to display your firearm collection.

Even though its lock isn’t very substantial, it is still much better than nothing. If you just need a place to keep your nosey family members out of your gun collection, then a gun cabinet will work for you.

Size & Weight

Figuring out the size of your next gun safe or cabinet is a tricky decision. A good rule of thumb is to get a much bigger one than you think you need. This is for two reasons:

  1. The advertised capacity of the gun safe or gun cabinet is usually much more than what it can actually hold.
  2. You will probably get more guns in the future and will need a place to put them.

Most gun safes and cabinets can only hold about half the amount of guns they advertise. So a 10-gun safe can actually only hold about 5 guns. This is because the manufacturer doesn’t include extra space that is occupied by a weapon with a scope, pistol grip, or magazine. 

If you don’t have multiple firearms, or just need a single case to carry a specific gun, there are also small and compact safes available. For instance, a handgun safe is built specifically to hold a single handgun. 

Weight is also a factor, particularly for gun safes. Gun safe weight increases exponentially with size, so make sure that you can put it where it needs to go.

But it’s heavy weight also works in the gun safe’s favor. If a thief can’t break into or carry away the safe, then they have no option but to walk away empty-handed.

If you need something lightweight, then a gun cabinet is the way to go. Gun cabinets are made of wood and glass, so they don’t weigh nearly as much as a similarly sized safe.

Fire Protection

Gun cabinets do not offer any fire protection at all. Gun safes have drywall lining in their walls, which protects their contents from fire to a certain degree. 

Fire-resistant gun safes should have a UL 72 Class 350 fire safety rating. The UL rating tells you how long the gun safe will protect its contents from heat during a fire.

For instance, a gun safe with a 1-hour rating means that during a typical house fire, the inside of the safe will not exceed 350 °F for at least one hour. Any gun safe that is advertised as fire-resistant but does not have a UL Class 350 rating should be looked at with suspicion.


Typically, a gun cabinet will cost much less than a gun safe. However, like most products, there are boutique versions which offer many extra features.

Some gun cabinets are custom built and are more akin to fine furniture. These custom pieces go for prices that range in the thousands of dollars.

It is easy to find a cheap gun cabinet that gets the job done. There are also cheap gun safes, but the quality of a low-priced safe or cabinet is going to be sub-par.

Gun Safes Offer More Protection

Gun safes are typically very sturdy and are meant to protect from forced entry. Large gun safes are extremely heavy, which makes it nearly impossible for a thief to move. The steel walls on a gun safe can withstand a short assault. 

Some safes can protect your guns from water as well. If flooding occurs, the right gun safe will keep its contents dry, up to a certain extent.

The Disadvantages of a Gun Safe

While they offer the most protection, gun safes also have drawbacks to them, which may cause you to look elsewhere. 

First and foremost, gun safes are expensive. And the more protection that a gun safe provides, the more expensive it gets. The best gun safes can be as robust as bank vaults, but they come with a steep price tag.

Another drawback of gun safes is that they are heavy. Like, really heavy. And the more protection that a gun safe provides, the heavier it gets. You can imagine that a box of thick steel will be quite hefty.

When it comes time to move the safe, you might need some serious muscle to get it where it needs to go.

How to Pick a Gun Safe

When choosing a gun safe, you need to consider the value of the items that you’re protecting, and what you’re protecting it from.

If burglars are your primary concern, then you should get a gun safe with an appropriate UL security rating. If a fire is your main concern, then consider getting a gun safe with a high fire rating.

Unfortunately, fire-resistant and burglar-resistant are somewhat exclusive from each other. A fire-resistant safe doesn’t hold up as well to thieves due to its drywall lining. And the steel walls of a burglar-resistant safe don’t protect as well against high temperatures from a house fire.

You also need to consider the size of your gun safe. You want it to be able to hold all your weapons, but don’t get something that can’t fit in your house. You also don’t want a safe that weighs so much that it breaks your floor (yes, this does happen, especially in older homes).

Choosing the type of lock on your gun safe is an important decision as well. If you need quick, easy access, then an electronic or biometric lock works best. But if you need a solid, dependable lock, nothing beats a combination lock.

Gun Cabinets are the More Affordable Choice

Gun cabinets are an excellent choice for holding your firearms. Most gun cabinets look like a piece of furniture and are pleasant to look at. They sometimes also have a glass window so you can see your collection from the outside.

Where gun cabinets fall short is in security and fire protection. Most gun cabinets do not have any kind of security rating. A thief armed with a few hand tools will have no trouble breaking into a gun cabinet.

However, if you don’t need top-notch security for your guns, then a cabinet will make a great choice. While the locks on gun cabinets are often simple, it is better than nothing, and it will keep nosy family members and children out of your gun collection.

Some gun cabinets also have extra storage space in them for storing ammo and accessories, such as cleaning supplies.

How to Pick a Gun Cabinet

When choosing a gun cabinet, you need to consider where you’ll be putting it and how it will look. Since gun cabinets are used to display guns, be sure that your firearms sit nicely in the cabinet. 

Some gun cabinets come with built-in lighting to illuminate the interior of the case. Interior lighting is fantastic for showing off your collection to your friends and houseguests.

When shopping for a gun cabinet, there are a few things to look out for. 

  • Foam Inserts. Some gun cabinets come equipped with foam inserts. While these foam inserts provide a soft surface to lean your guns against, they often contribute to rust on your gun. This is because the foam material absorbs moisture. 
  • Wood type. The best choice is to get a solid wood gun cabinet if you can afford it. Look out for the term “veneer”. Veneer means that the surface of the wood is solid, but the inside is not. Some gun cabinets are made of a “composite material”, which is slang for sawdust and glue. Beware of terms such as “all wood” and “real wood” – sawdust is still technically wood.
  • Moving parts. Make sure that the gun cabinet that you select is sturdy and has a smooth locking mechanism. If it has drawers, make sure that they open and close smoothly and don’t get stuck.

Gun Safe versus Gun Cabinet – Bottom Line

When choosing a gun safe or a gun cabinet, the decision ultimately comes down to the features that you need and how much you can afford.

If burglary is prevalent in your area or local laws require you to keep your guns in a secure container, then a gun safe is the only option.

If you need a place to display your weapons, or don’t have an issue with burglars in your area, then a gun cabinet will suffice. If you decide on a gun cabinet, make sure that it is secure enough to prevent children from getting access.

Keep in mind that no gun safe is completely secure. With enough persistence, access can be gained to any safe no matter how big and strong it is. 

If you choose a gun safe, it is a good idea to put it in a place that is out of sight. If a burglar doesn’t know that the safe is there, then they won’t be able to steal from it.



Trey is an avid outdoorsman and curator of Code:Outdoors. He enjoys discovering new places and learning new skills. He is an Eagle Scout and can be found both car camping and on rugged extended adventures.