Gun Safe vs Gun Cabinet: What Are the Differences?

Both gun safes and gun cabinets are used to store guns. The terms may even be used interchangeably, though there are differences between gun safes and gun cabinets.

In the gun safe vs gun cabinet debate, the real question is which one is right for you given your situation. But what are the differences between gun cabinets and gun safes?

We'll cover the biggest differences between gun safes and gun cabinets as well as address the areas where the two categories may become blurred. And we'll explain why you'll want to buy a gun safe over a gun cabinet or vice versa.

Gun Safe vs Gun Cabinet: 10 Differences

01. Intent

Gun safes are designed to protect the guns. Gun cabinets are designed to show off the guns. It is more a piece of furniture than anything else.

Gun cabinets give you much better access to the guns. It is easy to grab the gun off the rack to shoot a deer in the yard or deal with a home intruder compared to trying to open a gun safe when seconds count.

Cover versus concealment

The difference between gun safes and gun cabinets can be understood as cover versus concealment. A gun safe is almost always concealment. A gun cabinet is “cover”.

A gun safe is typically out of sight, whereas a gun cabinet is generally seen. This is similar to how a safe holding cash and jewelry is hidden in the floor or behind a painting instead of visible to the general public.

A gun cabinet keeps them somewhat safe, but everyone knows where the guns are. Gun safes are never used for display purposes.

02. Visibility

A cabinet is a better choice for displaying older guns, just as your China cabinet may be used to display your fine dishes.

That’s especially true if the guns on display are not working pieces or the ammo for them is securely locked away somewhere else.

Some people consider gun safes an invitation to be robbed, since the guns are always visible through the glass.

03. Construction

Gun cabinets are generally made from wood. A few are made from thin metal like a school locker.

Gun safes have heavy metal housing as well as a heavy metal door. This is why gun safes always weigh more than a comparably sized gun cabinet.

Gun cabinets can be custom made. Gun safes are almost always mass produced.

04. Portability

A gun safe could be located anywhere. But their relatively large size and weight means that they are difficult to move.

A gun safe can be bolted down to the ground, mounted in a wall or lowered into a concrete block. Once this occurs, it is almost impossible to move the gun safe.

In contrast, the gun cabinet is much more portable. It is like carrying off a piece of furniture. And unlike gun safes, they are rarely ever mounted to the wall or floor.

What is the Exception here?

The only exception to this rule is the small pistol-sized gun safes. These lockable cases may require a numeric code or key used before you can access the gun.

These small gun safes are designed to fit on a bedside table or inside a dresser drawer. That makes them portable, since you could pick it up and walk out of the house with it. And so could a criminal.

05. Capacity

Gun cabinets typically have a larger storage capacity than a gun safe. A gun cabinet could hold anywhere from 5 to 32 guns. The average gun safe can only hold 2 to 10 guns. You’ll have to pay a premium for a larger gun safe.

However, someone with a large gun collection may be willing to protect 30 guns in a walk-in gun “closet”. It is like a walk-in vault for art or personal protection except especially for your guns. 

What is the Reason here?

This is one reason why the gun safe vs gun cabinet debate is more of a continuum rather than an either-or situation.

06. Security

Gun safes have multiple locking points. A gun cabinet has just one. And the gun cabinet’s “locking point” is less secure than those on a gun safe. If the gun cabinet is locked, someone can generally open it by using a screwdriver to unscrew the hinges. 

A gun cabinet with a glass front won’t do much to stop would be thieves. They can break the glass and steal the guns. If the cabinet isn’t locked, it won’t deter children or guests from accessing the guns. 

Gun safe isn't a fool-proof

A gun safe is not fool-proof. A determined thief with lots of time and the right power tools can open it. However, if the gun safe is bolted down, the thief cannot take the gun safe and try to open it at their leisure. 

Note that you can use a gun safe as a conventional safe, holding valuables as well as your guns.

07. Locks

Most gun cabinets lock, while all gun safes do. A gun cabinet’s lock is generally unlocked via a key. Most gun safes have a true locking mechanism, such as sending metal bars into the metal casing to secure the door when it is closed.

Some gun safes are unlocked via a key, while a few have a combination lock. Almost no gun cabinets have a combination lock.

08. Appearance

Gun safes usually look like a metal safe. It isn’t attractive, but it is secure. A gun cabinet is best compared to a china cabinet. It is as much decorative as protective.

A gun cabinet is certainly fancier than a gun rack over the mantle. You can even arrange for the gun cabinet to have lighting under the guns to show them off.

Another Difference is about Glass Windows

However, a large number of gun cabinets have glass windows in them to make the guns visible. It is rare for gun safes to have a glass window.

And if the gun safe has lighting in it, that only comes on when you open the door so that it easier to grab the gun in an emergency. 

What if the gun cabinet is made from metal?

The average metal gun cabinet is made from one eighth inch sheet steel. The typical gun safe has half inch heavy duty steel, if it doesn’t have even thicker metal plating.

09. Price

Think of a gun cabinet as a cabinet to hold guns and not much else. Yet this makes gun cabinets cheaper than gun safes. It doesn’t require as much labor to make it, and it uses cheaper materials.

After all, you’re going to have to pay more just to have thicker metal sheeting in a gun safe.

10. Household Environment

You might be able to get away with a gun cabinet when you don’t have kids. A locked cabinet can keep children away from guns, as long as it is always locked. But you may need to upgrade to a gun safe once you have little kids who get into everything.

Depending on where you live, you may be legally required to store the guns in a gun safe once you have children.

Or you could be sued and held liable for any damages caused by a child who got a hold of one of the guns and shot someone.

Why insurers require to use a gun safe?

This is why insurers may require you to use a gun safe to secure the guns if you want low insurance premiums. Or they may make the storage of guns in a gun safe a requirement to have umbrella liability coverage at all. Gun cabinets may be lockable. 

However, they rarely meet the threshold for locking guns securely out of reach of unauthorized individuals. It certainly won’t stop a determined adult with a crowbar from getting to the guns.

Additional Benefits that Come with Gun Safes

Gun safes may protect your gun from water damage, if the house is flooded. A gun cabinet won’t do that, unless the water doesn’t rise as high as the gun cabinet’s shelving height. But the wood in the cabinet is prone to water damage in and of itself.

I. Gun safe protect from fire damage

A gun safe may protect the gun from fire damage. This depends on the fire rating of the gun safe, though most include at least a limited amount of fireboard.

A gun cabinet cannot protect your guns and ammo from fire damage. In fact, the wood gun cabinet may be a fire hazard in and of itself.

Suppose you add a little fireboard to the gun cabinet. It still won’t be as fire-resistant as the purely metal gun safe.

II. Gun safes have a minimum fire protection rate

Most safes have a 30-minute fire protection rating, and that is the minimum requirement for safes. Some do even better.

For example, larger safes typically have a higher fire rating than smaller ones by design.

III. Gun safe is better than gun cabinet for security

A gun safe is more secure in general. Not only does it protect the guns from theft better than a gun cabinet does, but a gun cabinet can protect the guns from humidity.

Some units even come with built-in fans and dehumidifiers to keep the air around the guns dry to prevent the guns from rusting.

IV. Gun safe secure ammo as well

A gun safe can be used to secure ammo as well as guns. If the ammo is sitting on shelves inside the gun safe, it as securely stored as the guns.

In contrast, bullets stored in a small sliding drawer in the gun cabinet are available to anyone who wants to take them.


Gun cabinets are a reasonable choice for those who want to secure guns in your home, if you’re not concerned about malicious parties stealing them. If you need to protect the guns against fire or theft, you must invest in a gun safe.

However, gun cabinets and gun safes do not eliminate your obligation to educate your children about the proper handling of guns. And neither a gun safe nor a gun cabinet will protect your guns if you don’t keep it locked at all times.

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