How to Safely Store Guns and Ammunition

Self-defense is a major topic in the prepper’s handbook: We’ve seen that all it takes is five minutes for a peaceful day to become an active shooter situation, and I don’t need to lecture you on civil unrest in 2020. The safest approach to prepping with guns is figuring out how to best store them while coming up with a self-defense plan.

Getting Started

As a prepper, I approach guns by satisfying three categories: Safety and short- and long-term storage, just like my food storage.

You want to be able to react to a threat quickly and that means having a handgun or long gun readily available. You may also want to put together an ammo cache for the long haul. Most of all, you don’t want children or other people accessing your guns.

What Happens to Guns in Storage?

Nothing! That’s if you store them the right way. Kept dry and protected, your firearms will outlast you. In properly sealed containers, ammunition retains potent for up to one hundred years or more.

When stored poorly or not at all, guns and ammo are affected by all sorts of things:

  • Temperature changes. Hot and cold fluctuations can degrade plastic and rubber bits, like pistol grips, magazines, polymer handgun frames, and plastic rifle stocks or handguards. Temperature changes will corrode and eventually ruin ammo. Sealed primers can separate, exposing gunpowder to moisture.
  • Humidity. Moisture is the greatest enemy to stored guns. Even in dry climates, storage throughout the seasons can result in micro-condensation: Water collects on your guns and it isn’t noticeable. Muzzles and barrels will rust and firing pins and triggers will seize up. I neglected a back-up .380 one winter and it suffered such a demise.
  • Sunlight. Exposed to sunlight, firearms and ammo degrade even more quickly. UV light can bake and ruin plastic, wood, and anodized or painted finishes. Direct exposure will destroy ammo in a matter of weeks.
  • Oxidation. Through simply existing in the open air long enough, guns and ammo will oxidize. This results in rust, corrosion, and pitting of metal alloys and protective finishes.

Best Short-Term Gun Storage

In Your Holster

Nothing can better prepare you for a self-defense situation than simply wearing your gun. If you’re new to guns, you must get training and range time to master firearm safety. In the meantime, get used to wearing your handgun holstered. It’ll help make you a confident shooter.

You’ll be more comfortable with carrying and drawing when your skills are needed most. It’s also safe to say there are no gun storage methods that provide better 24-hour access to, and total control over, your guns.

Holster Setup and Use

This topic demands its own article if we cover it properly, but here’s the gist: Holsters are configured as “IWB”, or inside the waistband, and “OWB”, or outside the waistband. Carrying around the house is a great way to determine which setup is better for you. Many holsters can be converted between OWB/IWB.

Practice placing your holster at the hip, in the small of your back, and at the front of your waistband. Try standing, sitting, and generally moving with these various holster positions. This will help you achieve an easy, repeatable draw while carrying confidently.

Portable Lockbox

The portable lock box is the best short-term storage option for most gun owners. Lockboxes can be easily carried for travel or stored at home. Most importantly, they provide quick access to your guns while deterring theft and preventing children from gaining unauthorized access.

We recommend a lockbox equipped with a biometric fingerprint scanner or a mechanical Simplex punch lock, but any padded handgun storage with locking latches will suffice. Biometric and Simplex locks are best because they provide nearly-instant access without the need to use a key, number lock, or dial combo.

Soft Gun Case

The standard of simple gun transport, the typical ballistic nylon soft gun case is portable, lightweight, and made from rugged and water-resistant material. It affords little in the way of protection against theft or fire, but it’s perfect for daily transport and adding extra protection inside a cabinet or safe.

Many preppers store their guns like this, including me. I prefer the Allen Battalion. It’s my AR-15 case, and it stops my defense rifle from seeing even more abuse when I lock it up or take it to the range. (it looks well-worn, but that $800 red dot stays pristine).

Hard Gun Case

It’s simply not feasible to lug around a portable steel lockbox big enough for a long gun. So, we turn to modern polymer and injection molding. These cases can afford similar levels of protection to that of a steel lockbox, sans the bulk and weight.

Hard gun cases protect against physical attack with shatterproof shells and locking latches. They’re portable and can be found with varying degrees of expense and security. A high-quality polymer transport case, like those made by US defense contractor Pelican, is capable of withstanding extreme environments and, to a degree, sustained physical attack.

Long-Term Gun Storage

Stationary Lockbox, Pistol/Fire Safe

The average document-sized fireproof safe makes a great pistol safe. It can be moved with relative ease once emptied and it can be bolted down in tight spaces (like underneath a bed or inside a closet) to prevent theft. These stationary containers afford more protection against burglary than a portable lockbox while providing a safe space for sensitive items and often some level of fire protection.

I use this Pelican 1550 strongbox to store loaded rifle magazines and spare boxes of rifle ammunition. It traveled with me all the way from overseas, back to the states. It’s indestructible and waterproof.

Locking Security Cabinet

Lightweight steel security cabinets make for a great alternative to expensive, bulky gun safes. Some gun cabinets afford excellent protection against theft. They’re more compact than a safe and make excellent choices for any prepper stockpiling an apartment, basement, small bedroom, or closet.

Some cabinets are insulated to provide fire protection. I’ve used a bolted-down Stack On 10-Gun Cabinet, and it’s been wonderful at protecting my long guns.

(That hard case does not lock so it’s filled with HAM radios, solar chargers, and batteries as part of my emergency comms kit).

Gun Safe

Nothing beats a full-sized safe for long-term gun storage. A properly rated safe provides the best protection for rifles, shotguns, and pistols against theft, physical attack, fire, and the elements.

How to Store Guns for Home Defense

Chambered and locked. No matter where they’re stored in the home, your designated self-defense guns should always have a loaded mag ready. Both should always be locked in a box, cabinet, or safe.

One where you sleep. Rule #1: Keep your self-defense weapon in the bedroom at night. Crime data says the first place a burglar locates is the master bedroom. When not home, lock up your guns elsewhere if not using a stationary box or safe.

Not the office, living room, or dining room. Besides the master bed, these are the three rooms a burglar checks, statistically in that order. A gun can be stored in these locations when you’re home. It should be locked elsewhere when away.

In the pantry, guest room, or near exits. A high-up cupboard kids can’t reach, guest closet, or hutch near the front door: These are the places burglars statistically check the least.

Easy to reach. That’s for you, only. Designate places that are discrete if near a high-traffic area. Lock your guns in quick-access boxes and keep them out of reach of children even still. The best storage option for satisfying all these requirements is that biometric- or Simplex-equipped lockbox.

How to Safely Store Ammunition

Away from heat and sources of ignition. Never store ammo near a furnace, stove, oven, microwave, hot bulb or lamp, fireplace, and even the gas line in the basement. Keep ammo away from appliances, outlets, electrical sources, and wherever fire is most likely to start in the home.

Out of reach of children. Tampering with or mishandling ammo can cause a primer to ignite. A live round ignited without a firing chamber is still lethal. Keep it locked away from children. Many ammo containers don’t have locks. In this case, keep it out of reach of children in a high-up place or locked room.

Separate from guns. Ammo that isn’t kept for a self-defense or daily-carry gun should be separated from firearms. If a burglar or child ever accessed a gun, you would not want them to have immediate access to ammo. I keep mine in good ole’ surplus U.S. Army ammo cans, locked in a larger strongbox. These steel cans have waterproof rubber seals, and they’ll keep your ammo safe for decades.

Gun Storage Supplies Checklist

Gun oil or grease. For long-term storage, grease is best at protecting against moisture and rust. Consistently applied oil is best for daily carry handguns and short-term storage.

Brass wire brush. You’ll need one to clean your guns after shooting. It’s also great for removing surface rust before your guns suffer damage from oxidation and pitting.

Silica gel packets. Always place a silica desiccant in your lockbox or safe. They absorb moisture and can be dried and reused.

Gun sock. Throwing a wool or cloth gun sock over your weapons is a simple way to further insulate against moisture, temperature changes, and physical damage.

Recap: Where’s The Best place to Store Guns?

For long-term storage, keep your guns stored in a cool, dark, dry place free of moisture big temperature swings. A basement is best. Closets and low-traffic rooms suffice. Keep your long guns in a security cabinet or full gun safe. Always bolt the container to wall studs or the floor.

For short-term storage and active self-defense, keep your guns stored where they’re easily accessible but kept away from children and unauthorized people.

Use discrete locations that can be reached quickly: A guestroom, pantry, or hallway cabinet. A worn holster or lockbox with a quick-access lock (biometric or Simplex) is best for handguns. A hard case with locking latches is best for rifles and shotguns. Always keep a gun in your bedroom at night. Lock it away when not home.

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Travis Olander

Travis Olander is a writer, content creator, military veteran, outdoorsman, and single father mostly found hiking the Wasatch front in Utah. He enjoys professional marksmanship, gunsmithing, and making any manner of old things new. He’s a regular contributor to prepper publications, gunsmithing communities, and shooters’ forums.

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