Chapter 4

Quick-Access Firearm Staging

Home Defense firearms must be secured from unauthorized persons and be quickly accessible during an emergency.

Securing a firearm for quick access during an emergency is called “staging.” This is a different process than “storing.” For example, a hunting rifle that is used once per year is being stored during the off-season. A concealed carry pistol secured and kept ready for Home Defense is being staged.

A staged firearm is:

  1. Secured from unauthorized access
  2. Secured to allow quick access by an authorized individual
  3. Secured in a consistent location as part of a Home Defense plan
  4. Secured in a well-maintained state
  5. Secured in a pre-determined ready condition
  6. Secured separately from any firearms being stored rather than staged

Let’s consider each of the staging criteria individually:

Secured from unauthorized access

Staged firearms must be secured from unauthorized access at all times. Simply because a firearm is part of a defensive strategy does not mean it’s permissible for the gun to be left unsecured.

Secured to allow quick access by an authorized individual

The most practical way to allow quick access in the event of an emergency is to stage firearms in a quick-access safe. Safes are designed to be opened using a push-button combination, a biometric fingerprint, or a key.

Push-button safes are simple and reliable. They typically have four buttons on the top of the safe that can be programmed to open the safe by pushing them in a unique order. Multiple safes used throughout a home can be programmed with the same push-button combination for convenience.

Biometric safes are generally reliable and quick to open, but they have some negative characteristics as compared to push-button safes. Biometric safes are about twice as expensive as push-button safes. Programming a biometric safe is a more complicated procedure than programming a push-button safe. Each authorized person must program their fingerprints into each safe, while a push-button safe only needs to be programmed once. All things considered, there isn’t a compelling reason to recommend a biometric safe over the push-button variety.

The third (and most basic) option is a key-operated safe or trigger lock. While a key-operated device can be opened nearly as quickly as an electronic safe, it raises the question of where to secure the key. The key location must be quick to access and must be secured from unauthorized persons.

It might be tempting to keep a key in another safe. And believe it or not, that can be practical. Consider the circumstance of staging both a handgun and a shotgun for defense. The shotgun could be secured using a key-operated trigger lock, while both the key and the handgun are staged in a quick-access pistol safe. This creative solution is an example of how to stage both a pistol and a shotgun using only one quick-access pistol safe.

Practical Tip: Rather than purchasing one large safe, consider staging firearms in multiple locations using several push-button safes. Set them all to the same combination for convenience.

Secured in a consistent location as part of a home defense plan

To have ready access to your firearm when you need it, the gun must be staged where you need it.

When a home invasion is unfolding, you’ll either seek cover nearby or move to a pre-determined location in your home. Either way, you’ll need ready access to a firearm.

Practical Tip: You may need to stage guns in multiple locations to ensure ready access in an emergency.

Choose staging locations carefully. You should never be cut-off from access to a firearm and you should never be more than a few seconds from a staged firearm. Here are locations to consider staging firearms in your home:

  • Each primary area of your home, at least one per floor.
  • Rooms where you spend most of your time.
  • Near the front entryway for access when opening the door.
  • In your Safe Room (Chapter 6)

Practical Tip: Periodically check safes to ensure they contain the items that your plan dictates should be staged in there.

Secured in a well-maintained state

A gun isn’t ready to be used in an emergency if it can’t be guaranteed to function reliably. After practicing at the range, it’s tempting to immediately return a gun to its staged location, fully intending to clean the gun at some point. Resist this bad habit. If a gun needs maintenance, treat it with priority. This is your life-saving device. Don’t neglect it.

Practical Tip: Make sure each staging location is well-maintained. Ensure each safe has fresh batteries and the safe isn’t buried under clutter.

Secured in a pre-determined ready condition

Staged guns are secured in a ready condition. This means each gun is either loaded or can be loaded quickly. The condition of the gun (loaded or unloaded) and any action required to complete the loading process should be visually apparent.

Staging a Semi-Automatic Pistol

A semi-automatic pistol can be staged in your choice of two conditions, and should never be staged in a third ambiguous condition:

Pistol Staging Condition A

  • Loaded with a cartridge in the chamber
  • The gun is holstered.
  • A spare magazine may be staged next to the holstered firearm.
  • The holstered condition and the inserted magazine indicate that the gun is ready to fire.

Pistol Staging Condition B

  • Unloaded and not in a holster.
  • No magazine is in the firearm.
  • One or two loaded magazines are staged next to the firearm in the safe.
  • The procedure to load the firearm is obvious – insert a magazine and chamber the first cartridge.

Under no circumstances should a semi-automatic handgun be staged with a magazine inserted into the firearm without a cartridge chambered. This is an ambiguous condition that requires the user to manipulate the pistol to determine its condition and then follow a loading procedure.

Practical Tip: If a staged semi-auto pistol is loaded, it should be in a holster. If the pistol is unloaded, it should be unholstered with a loaded magazine nearby. 

Staging a Revolver

Due to revolvers’ tedious loading procedure, revolvers should be staged loaded. When accessing a staged revolver in an emergency, it is prudent to unlatch the cylinder and visually confirm that the revolver is loaded. This only takes a few seconds and is worth the effort. A holster is optional for a staged double-action revolver due to the heavy trigger pull. Be sure to follow the NRA Rules for Safe Gun Handling with any staged firearm.

Staging a Shotgun

Regardless of whether the shotgun is pump-action or semi-automatic, secure it with a full magazine tube of shotgun shells, with the manual safety off and the action open. When the gun is accessed for defensive use, insert an additional staged shotgun shell into the breech and chamber the shell. The firearm is then loaded and ready to use. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot. Activate the manual safety if you set the gun down.

Staging a Tactical Rifle

A tactical rifle, such as an AR-15, should be staged with the firearm completely unloaded and one or several loaded magazines nearby. To make the firearm ready to use, insert a loaded magazine, chamber a cartridge, and put the firearm on “safe.” This loading procedure takes only a few seconds and gives tactile assurance that the firearm is loaded and ready to use.

Secured separately from any firearms being stored rather than staged

The staging location (e.g. quick-access safe) should only contain items related to the home defense plan. Keep the staging area free of extraneous items. A staging location for defensive tools isn’t the place to store items like a passport or a collection of rare coins.

Similarly, the storage location of a collection of firearms isn’t suitable for staging firearms for defense. Mixing staged and stored firearms can create confusion about which firearms are loaded and doesn’t foster the level of care necessary to keep staged firearms in ready condition for an emergency.