When Is a Gun Safe Not a Gun Safe? A Basic Introduction to Protecting Your Firearms From Thieves

To start, don't expect your gun safe to be Fort Knox. Image source: commons.wikimedia.com, public domain

Regardless of whether you own firearms for recreation, sport, or defense, it is a fact of life that any gun is an attractive target for theft. For the most part, gun enthusiasts would rather keep discussions within a comfortable zone of topics about technical and aesthetic characteristics of the guns themselves, but from time to time it is necessary to sober up and talk about theft prevention and mitigation. No, it’s not always fun to talk about the possibility of someone else entering your home or domicile and taking that which is not rightfully theirs, but that is what we will be tackling today.

Before we begin, a note: This subject is too technical and too far outside my area of expertise for me to cover in detail; therefore I will give just a basic introduction to the subject and leave it at that. However, fortunately there are some excellent sources out there which readers can use as a follow up for more information. On the Internet, I would recommend the absolutely stand-out website GunSafeReviewsGuys.com, an virtually peerless (so far as I know) resource that gives readers straight answers regarding security and protection of guns and other valuables. Locally, readers can also find more information as well as in-person assistance from your local reputable locksmith or safe dealer. Look around for smiths who regularly deal with recovered or burgled safes; they will have a keen understanding of what security measures will best protect your home and your valuables from theft. In my case, I contacted the excellent Loksafe Services, Inc, in Shreveport, Louisiana for information on this subject. They not only deal in safes and provide locksmith services, but also recover and repair safes for customers. At their location, I received first-hand insight into home and safe security. I would definitely recommend contacting similar locksmith services in your area, as their services can be invaluable for selecting the right amount of protection for your firearms and valuables.

The first thing I would consider when planning to augment your home security with a safe is a simple question: What do I plan to protect against? It is an unfortunate fact that it will be impossible for anyone reading this to prevent absolutely all potential methods of attack. Even fortified central banks protected by concrete several feet thick have been successfully breached and burgled, proving that if thieves are intelligent and determined enough, and have enough time to plan and execute their attack, virtually no degree protection is enough to stop them. As a homeowner, then, you might ask yourself just who it is you think might want access to your weapons and valuables without your permission? To help in answering this, here are some plausible examples:

  • “Smash and grab” burglars armed with simple hand tools
  • Neighborhood kids with access to the home
  • Untrustworthy home repair workers and technicians
  • Professional thieves armed with power tools
  • Persons with mental illness
  • Curious children

Some of these are more practical to protect against than others. If you are primarily concerned with preventing access to your firearms to curious children and neighborhood kids, a simple set of lockers might be sufficient for this. A hidden or concealed reinforced locker or low level safe might also be enough to protect against smash and grab burglars or untrustworthy home repairmen looking for an easy score, but this would not be enough to stop professional thieves with power saws and other tools for hardly any time at all. To prevent theft of that kind, the firearms would have to either be exceptionally well concealed, or stored in a high quality hardened (and therefore expensive) safe fixed to the structure of the building. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which level of protection you think you need for your firearms and valuables, and plan accordingly.

This then raises the question: What levels of protection are the most cost effective at a given budget? There’s no simple answer, but I would outline a handful of “tiers” of protection (based on cost) that reflect some of the most promising suggestions I’ve seen:

Free: Simple security measures that don’t cost anything. Examples: Keeping your guns a secret from neighbors by not showing them off and concealing them to and from the range, unlisting your home address and phone number, using anonymity on Internet gun forums, hiding firearms in unlikely places etc. These methods typically center around keeping the fact that you own guns a secret from the public.

DIY: Sometimes the best solution may be to secure the guns with your own elbow grease. This approach can vary in cost, of course. Simply hardening a closet against attack will cost a lot less than building an exacting replica of Fort Knox to protect your priceless gun collection, but this is nevertheless an option that seems to often go unrecognized.

$50-$200: In this range, you’d be buying a basic locker or Stack-On type unit to store your guns in. Calling these “gun safes” is a bit misleading, as they can be easily defeated by a burglar with a crowbar in seconds. They are generally sufficient for protecting against curiosity, however, and may also be sufficient for protection against thieves if hidden and/or secured with other reinforcements (e.g., as part of a DIY in-wall safe).

$300-$1,000: By all accounts, this is where one has to be careful. There are some good gun security solutions at this tier, but there are many others that are closer to overpriced, attractive looking lockers than real gun safes. Many “gun brand” safes fall into this category, and unfortunately provide very little protection against very basic levels of attack, despite costing hundreds of dollars. The two videos below (less than 12 minutes combined) illustrate the shortcomings of this type of safe:

At this price range, there are a few options that make sense. A well-made security cabinet can offer some additional protection and features versus lower priced lockers while omitting some of the less necessary features (such as the questionable fire protection that comes with many mid-tier safes). For a less conventional solution, a long lockable job site box can provide better protection than some “gun safes” which cost hundreds of dollars more. Although these units are not very attractive looking, they are easy to camouflage for added protection. Of course, the more usual “gun safe” is also a potential option, as long as the buyer understands what they are getting.

$1,500-$3,500: This tier is where you’ll find home safes like Sturdy, the American Security FV series, Hollon’s Blackhawk, and others. At the lower end of the price scale, these safes are not typically RSC rated. RSC rated safes provide the following protection:

 

Signifies a combination-locked safe designed to offer a limited degree of protection against attack by common mechanical and electrical hand tools and any combination of these means.

Construction Requirements

* U.L. listed Group II combination lock or Type 1 electronic lock.

* Door material equivalent to at least 3/16″ open hearth steel.

* Body walls of material equivalent to at least  12 gauge open hearth steel.

Performance Requirements

The door successfully resist entry for a net working time of 5 minutes when attacked against rigorous prying, drilling, punching, chiseling, and tampering attacks by UL technicians.

Note that this is a very, very modest amount of security, and not at all “complete protection” against prepared burglars with inexpensive hand tools. However, it is considerably more protection against direct attack than any of the less expensive options offer.

$4,000+: This is less a “tier” than the threshold where true safes begin. At this level, we see Sage ratings B and C, and Underwriter Laboratories ratings of TL-15 (equivalent to Sage rating E) and TL-30 (equivalent to Sage rating F). Keep in mind that safes at this tier will uniformly be extremely heavy (over 1,000lbs) and may be difficult or impossible to transport if you need to move. It should also be noted that for handguns and smaller valuables, safes with the same ratings as the gun safes in this tier are available at a lower cost (and lower weight).

Which of these options is best for you? That will of course depend on your situation, but in all likelihood the best approach would be a combination of improved security practices, better home security (e.g., better door locks and a home alarm system), and some additional security measure for the guns and valuables themselves, like a jobsite box or true safe.

For further reading, I highly recommend GunSafeReviewsGuy and your local locksmith/safe repairman as previously mentioned. Also, there is a lot of material on YouTube about home security and gun safes, and many channels are well worth your time and effort to watch. One of my favorites for more general security tips is Mr. Locksmith, but it’s also worth checking out the channels of gun safe companies themselves, as they often test other brands’ safe models.

As a parting note, I urge my readers not to just read this article and think they have the whole picture. I could not do the subject justice even if I made it into a multi-part series that was thousands of words long. Instead, my hope is that this article gives you a better starting place than I had when I first began looking into this subject, and saves you a lot of time and perhaps even money by directing you towards what I believe are the best resources on the Internet and in the real world regarding gun safes. A tremendous amount of nonsense has been written about this subject, and when I first tackled it I quickly became bogged down in fact-free “reviews” that concluded little more than “[name brand] safe is heavy and looks nice”. Sifting through (literally) hundreds of articles, I became frustrated with the subject as a whole, which put me off doing the research that I really needed to do. With luck, I’ve spared you the experience!



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • datimes

    This video had me taking a closer look, digging out the sales information brochure, and other information on the construction of my ‘safe’. Looks like the salesman didn’t lie and sold me a good product.

  • BravoSeven

    Don’t forget to keep your serial numbers in a separate, safe place. Some paranoid conspiracy theory nuts may disagree with my method but I take pictures of all my firearms and serial numbers. Then save those to the cloud. I then also save them to a CD which I give to a trusted friend in case of a structure fire.

    • Paul White

      I do a nice spreadsheet saved to the cloud; has my firearms (type, model, serial, any notes), as well as my power tools w/ their serials, my cars VIN, and my pricier electronics (my TV, my monitors, my PC, all that jazz). Basically if it’s worth more than a couple hundred bucks it’s on there. Figure it might help with recovery if I’m robbed.

      • BravoSeven

        Very few people have their TV, PC, etc serial numbers on file. People are burglarized, property taken, and they want the police to immediately find the suspect and their property but…. Without those serial numbers it’s almost impossible. For future reference, if you have an item without a serial number you can create an owner applied number or OAN. The number would need to be etched or somehow permanently attached to the item. The OAN can then be placed on NCIC just like a regular serial number.

        • Sulaco5

          Even if the police recover the property it is almost impossible to give it back without positive ID like the serial number.

      • flyingburgers

        Beyond recovery, your insurance company will require either a photograph of the item, the instruction manual or box, or the receipt for a claim. So it’s good practice to scan the receipt of anything you buy (also for warranty purposes).

  • James

    As someone who works on safes for a living I’ll tell you all what I tell my customers… a safe buys you time. That’s it. The more you’re willing to invest, the more time you’ve bought yourself but NO SAFE is impossible to break into and thus must only be considered as a layer in a larger security plan.

    Ideally you’d want a plan that would stop or deter an attack before a bad guy can even get to the safe.

    It’s all about layered and redundant security.

    • Tim

      Solid advice. I’d add that for anything really & truly valuable, don’t make it a target by putting it in a safe at all. Store in a difficult-to-access, dry, inflammable, structural area of your house.

      • Lyman Hall

        Non-flammable.

        • Tim

          Re-dis-unflammable?

      • Swarf

        “Inflammable means flammable?! What a country!”

        –Dr. Nick

    • flyingburgers

      Exactly. A TL-5 or TL-15 only buys you 5 or 15 minutes of attack resistance. The most practical way to “use” that 15 minutes is with a monitored alarm system. A motion detector, connected smoke alarm and door contacts can be added to the room for much less than the cost of any high-end safe.

      • iksnilol

        Or high explosives… directional of course.

        • Sunshine_Shooter

          Of course directional. Anything else would be irresponsible.

    • John

      What about filling the safe with hundreds of bees.

      • Paul White

        rabid honeybadgers

        • James

          I’ve had to remove more than one container of badger gas from older safes…

          I have also seen people remove hinge pins from vault doors as a trap. That’s particularly dangerous but I assume it would be effective.

      • Qoquaq En Transic

        LOL!

      • kbroughton77

        I simply wrote “contains rabid, AIDS-infected chiwawa” on the front of my safe. No one’s broken in so far

        • John

          How did your Chihuahua contract AIDS?!?!?!

      • jerry young

        or marbles

    • iksnilol

      If you’re on a budget, get a cheap safe that’s easy to open and put a claymore in it.

    • Sulaco5

      And putting your alarm companies sensors on the access to the safe or on the safe door itself…

    • nova3930

      Ding. Hard to get to the house, hard to get in the house, alarm triggers when they get in the house to give a time limit, hard to find the safe and hard to get into the safe. That’s about the best you can do

  • Don’t forget to insure your firearms, either. Policies are relatively inexpensive compared to what they protect. Any safe, tax, locker, etc can be defeated given enough time. Short of some catastrophic societal breakdown, your policy will be stronger.

    • BravoSeven

      I was surprised to learn my renter’s insurance did not cover the theft of firearms from my home. Everyone should check with their insurance agent just to be safe.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Almost all home Ins plans cover a standard $2500 guns per incident. Most people have no idea you need a rider or separate plan on top of that.

        • BravoSeven

          This particular policy was for the rental of an apartment and didn’t cover a single firearm. I was pissed when I found out.

          • Swarf

            Were you pissed in time, or too late?

          • BravoSeven

            In time thankfully. Was able to up my coverage for a “small fee”.

          • Swarf

            Glad to hear it.

            I think I’d better take a closer look at my homeowners policy.

        • Sulaco5

          Which means giving the company all your serial numbers and lists I suppose….

          • Sunshine_Shooter

            Considering they are agreeing to pay you if they get stolen (and is 100% voluntary), your fears are unfounded.

  • Lyman Hall

    The free, keep it to yourself advice is the most valuable. An NRA sticker on your car tells a car burglar in the parking lot of the Post Office that you are a target.

    • Qoquaq En Transic

      BINGO!

      This is why, despite my desire to “display gun stickers” on my vehicle, I _NEVER_ do.

    • Paul Rain

      Of vandalism by subhuman anti-gun dogs, if not theft.

    • punished inspector

      why would you have a gun in the post office parking lot? Having a firearm on Post Office property period is a felony

  • RicoSuave

    If one can afford it, get two safes… one kept in relatively plain sight and filled with non gun stuff. Hide the actual safe in a concealed spot. Let the thieves waste their time on the honeypot safe.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      This is ridiculous internet advice.

    • Holdfast_II

      Meh, throw in a couple of Mosins and and old Glock, so the thief can feel good and move on.

      • iksnilol

        No, those will be used against people if stolen. Either throw in some airsofts or some sabotaged guns. (IE drill a hole in the chamber, but so it isn’t seen. If stolen and used it will kaboom).

        • Sunshine_Shooter

          Fill it with R51s and PSA AR-15s in .223 andinclude .300 BLK ammo in there as well.

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, htat could work. Some cheap ARs in 5.56 and some 300 blk ammo that can be loaded into them (of course, overload the load).

            R51s, no, just no. You just want to sabotage, not cause undue suffering.

          • Sunshine_Shooter

            Don’t tell me what I may or may not want to cause!

  • Alex Agius

    This is why you should store your firearms in the past as I do, I used a time machine to go back and store them in 1,000,000 BC, no one will ever steal them there as there are no people.

    • Flounder

      Nice that they are there for when you go out on the occasional T rex hunt

    • Major Tom

      So that’s why rusty AK’s keep popping up everywhere.

    • Don Ward

      Dang it. This is how we get time paradoxes.

      And cavemen riding dinosaurs toting automatic weapons.

      https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3443/3872212983_2caee9bc54_b.jpg

    • Swarf

      Is this why a 40 watt phased plasma rifle keeps appearing and disappearing in my refrigerator?

      • Lyman Hall

        40 is good, the FBI proved it. But 45 watts will kill your soul.

    • Independent George

      The problem is that my insurance company doesn’t cover things like ‘meteor strikes’. And have you tried cleaning tar out of a bolt? Not fun, brother. Not fun.

  • Scott Tuttle

    safe makers say your safe is inadequate and you need a more expensive one, details at 11!

    • JumpIf NotZero

      Yea, clearly a lot of CGI going on in that video where they show a Liberty safe falling apart when looked at wrong.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    Browning vs Liberty in that video by the way.

  • Mystick

    The “security through concealment” point: This becomes harder in some places where unscrupulous governments release data to “journalists” with even more malignant political agendas that publish the names and addresses of gun owners with a passive-aggressive intent to intimidate and coerce those of us which choose to exercise our Second Amendment Freedoms.

    This has happened in New York, California, and Maryland to my knowledge; probably elsewhere, too. In New York, there have even been reports of thieves using these published lists to target gun owners for larceny.

    Excellent article – thank you!

    • Has anyone filed a civil suit over that bulsht? Seems like pretty solid grounds for a lawsuit if any link can be established between some scumbag publishing a list and the people on that list being targeted.

  • Calavera

    Security should be multi-layered, and each layer should be engineered to provide forced entry delay, with a view towards summoning emergency responders. Think concentric circles of defense: Outer Perimeter delay: good lock sets on windows/doors. Detection: home alarm system with local annunciator, and notification to local cops. Delay: A “strong room” to hide/protect the safe. Delay: A safe with hidden/protected hinges, bolted to the floor. Info Sec: No one outside the immediate family should know there’s a safe in the residence. Any safe, out in the open, all by its lonesome, not bolted to the floor doesn’t stand a chance.

    • .45

      I dunno. If you can drag the 500+ pound safe up the basement stairs without any equipment, I’d be impressed.

      • Calavera

        True. I’d be impressed if they carried it down those steps during its installation. A gun collector in our area had his entire collection taken by simply wrapping chains around the safe in his home, and pulling out through the sidewall of the house with a truck. Messy, but quick and effective.

  • John

    A $100 pistol safe is fine if hidden in a wall or piece of furniture. I keep a cheap full size safe full of airsofts in the bedroom to keep them occupied while the police arrive. And they’ll never find the .38 inside the frozen turkey in the freezer!

  • JumpIf NotZero

    Please stop.

    That’s called Security Through Obscurity, it’s known to be a fallacy, stupid, wrong, take your pick.

    I hope you’re just trolling.

    • RicoSuave

      OK, so what exactly is your issue with a suggestion of creating a diversion, a bait to mislead criminals. Please.. I’m curious as to what your concern is… obscurity/camouflage/hiding in plain sight or some combination of those techniques are all used by various entities. The idea is to delay or impede and it definitely works. A simple example of slowing down shoplifters who steal lots of clothes by grabbing them off the rack is to turn every other hanger in opposite directions. So , again what is your issue ?

    • IN Dave

      What he is describing is NOT Security Through Obscurity. Security Through Obscurity is dependent on making something look inconspicuous or unimportant as a line of defense (like a key under a rock or doormat). He is not talking about that at all, in fact the opposite, he is allowing something to be seen so the search ends or time runs out. What he is talking about is the Honeypot theory. It is being utilized at an increased rate today by large corporations, military, and hackers. HAMAS just succefully used this method in Jan 2017 against IDF soldiers. And Security Through Obscurity is only a fallacy, stupid, or wrong if used as the ONLY defense. Take the key under the mat example, move the key from the mat and place inside the dog house of two Rottweilers. Or just dressing in plain clothes is Security Through Obscurity but dressing in plain clothes but carrying a sidearm changes things…but that is probably just a fallacy, stupid, or wrong-take your pick.

      • Lyman Hall

        Put the key under the mat, but it’s the wrong key. Put an entire ring of keys in the flowerpot – only one is correct.

        • Sunshine_Shooter

          Put a whole ring of wrong keys in the flowerpot, and the right key somewhere else.

  • Get a gun safe that has a hidden opening to the outside, and use it to keep bees in. That way anyone who tries to break into it will get a lovely surprise!

  • USMC03Vet

    I just bury my guns in 50 gallon repurposed oil drums in strategic locations on the compound. Who am I hiding them from? Why are you asking, Fed?

    • oldman

      Old 120mm ammo cans are great a well. A friend keep his guns in fiber moving drums and on top he has china wrapped in old news papers or other such items.

  • missourisam

    Several years ago I remodeled the house we were living in, and built a false wall inside a closet. The door looked like the back of the closet and seemed to be immovable. I ask several trusted people to find my guns. All of them, given all the time they wanted claimed I was lying to them about guns being in the house. It was no protection from fire, but was theft proof.

    • Nothing’s really theft proof, but that is definitely one of the best ways of keeping valuables from being stolen.

  • 3 of 11

    Other ideas:
    – delete the NRA sticker. In fact, how about a “every town for gun safety” sign in your yard.
    – I’ve heard of people keeping a tampon box and storing their cc piece in it.
    – dirty laundry hamper. Preferably white underwear with skid marks.
    – if you can’t afford a safe. Keep guns disassembled. Take the bolts out of your AR15s and keep the bolts with you or in a different location. Keep a spare bolt in the car in case you get your AR to the range and forget the bolts.
    – DIY: also get bike/security chain/cable and store your guns that way with pad locks thru the trigger guards or mag wells. Then connect pad lock to some sort of wall anchor in the stud. Do this in a closet with a lock on the door. Switch the closet door from swing in to swing out. Yes it would only take 5- 10 minutes for a half serious thief to get them. But same for those $800 “safes” that take the same 5 minutes. Kid and curious proof too.

  • IN Dave

    The thing I love about all these safe videos is even the expensive companies don’t show a true attack. Does anybody really carry around crowbars anymore.
    The weakest part of these safes is any area not the door. My friends father passed away. Nobody new where the key or the combo to the safe was. They were holding up the sale of the house because of not being able to get the guns out. My friend and I scheduled to take a long weekend to be able to come up with a way in. Decided to take my dad with us because he is a machinist and thought he would have some super expensive tool they could breach the lugs. He looked at it for 2 minutes and told us to go buy a metal cutting blade for a circular saw. The safe was anchored in the corner of the room. We made a cut around the top on both the the sides we could get to and then a cut on the top right up against each wall. Peeled it back like a lid on a soup can. Best thing about it was the “fire protection” drywall prevented sparks from reaching the guns and was easily removed with a claw hammer. Without rushing we we’re pulling guns out of his $2400 safe in 33 minutes including the 12 minute trip to the hardware store.
    The secret to protection is layers, both getting to the safe and at the safe. If they have to spend more time getting through an exterior door they are more likely to just give up. As far as layers on the safe just try to make them add more tools. A metal blade is useless on wood. A wood blade is useless on metal. If we had to cut through multiple types of material it would have significantly increased the time and chance of us not having the tools we needed.

    • iksnilol

      So you spent 20 minutes? Hacking with a circular saw and claw hammer?

      Yeah, I really hope you don’t become a burglar.

      • IN Dave

        Iksnilol That’s the point. 20 minutes, two tools, two guys that had never broke into anything in their lives, were able to breech a “safe” that cost more than double the price that most people pay for a safe. Imagine a burglar who had done it before, knew what tools to take, and had a motivation to get out before they were discovered (we had no concern about getting caught, we were legal). Safes bought in the store are worthless, at least by themselves.

        • iksnilol

          Even if you’re a professional and it takes you half the time, it’s still 10 minutes where everybody in the house will hear you. You really need to break into safes when nobody is home.

    • ironked

      I started thinking about this last year after seeing a video. It was a little ridiculous as it was made by a guy who builds Stack-On type sheet metal cabinets. In his defense he was showing that many of the mass market safes are not much better security than his, while being 3-5x the price. The one he broke into had a heavy door and multiple locking bolts Just about as you did, he bought a $19 Harbor Freight angle grinder and metal disk, went through the much thinner side, busted out the drywall fire protection and was inside in about 5 minutes. All the other faces, except the door, were just as vulnerable.

  • jerry young

    Don’t store your loaded guns in your oven, it always turns out bad in the movies.

    • DIR911911 .

      the oven is for books and important papers , so if there’s a fire they’ll be SAFE

      • jerry young

        Why not a good oven costs more than a thousand dollars so don’t forget to keep your cash in there too

  • .45

    I keep kicking this subject around in my head. Right now my guns are in a safe, but the most important security measure is that I have a family and there is almost always someone home and the odd times there is not are not particularly predictable. However, there is discussion of certain parties moving out in the next few years and that will change, making me think more seriously on the subject.

  • Dan

    “Before we begin, a note: This subject is too technical and too far outside my area of expertise for me to cover in detail”

    So in other words, you were really bored and are just gonna wing it on this blogpost? Come on Nathaniel not you too!

  • El Dude

    “Persons with Mental Illness” WTF? You’re an idiot Nathan

  • Dan543

    Bolt the safe to the floor or wall, and position it in the corner of a room so the bad guys can’t get leverage on the door. Duh.

  • bruce Cambell

    A few more pointers..Always bolt your safe to the floor, preferably in a confined space like a corner. As some folks said before, The safe only buys time.. If the thieves have enough time they will eventually get into your safe. So layered securely is key, either monitored alarm or a simple $300 video surveillance system that will email you a picture when motion is detected in a area. This can be used either inside or outside your home. Example: Someone enters the room where your gun safe is stored, The system sends a screenshot of the movement to your phone to alert you. These surveillance systems are cheap compared to the cost of most guns and done require monthly monitoring fees – You just need internet connectivity.

  • Tim B

    I own a “race to the bottom safe”. Here is my reasoning, I have only one concern when it comes to securing firearms in my home and that is that it denies access to children and adults with a mental health history.
    As for a unoccupied home invasion robbery, have at it, it is all insured through a separate rider on my homeowners policy.
    As for a occupied home invasion robbery (a situation I have already had to endure once, successfully thanks to training and Glock) my advice to the invader/s, come heavy and come fast or your unfortunate options will be a ambulance ride or a body bag.