Cheap Handguns

…if by “cheap” you mean something that doesn’t cost more than $500, that is.  CheaperThanDirt’s Shooter’s Blog features one such article examining the choices, and it’s quite informative so go ahead and read it.

Myself, I was struck by something else.  Here are the guns they talk about, stripped of the verbiage:


Is it just me, or do all these little carry guns look depressingly similar?  (We all know that they’re similar mechanically, i.e. striker-fired double-action mostly 9mm pistols.)

And I suppose that given the demands of ergonomics and what have you, these guns are inevitably going to turn out like the depressingly-similar wind-tunnel shaped modern cars — i.e. you need a microscope and micrometer to distinguish one from another — and you all know what I think of them.  (Cliff Notes:  ugh.)

No.  Frankly, my independent spirit rebels against this me-too nonsense, and especially so in the above case.  I don’t care that these guns may be a good bargain and work well, just as I don’t care that a Kia Rio / Hyundai Accent are a good automotive bargain and drive well.  I just don’t want to play simply because it’s cheaper, and I’m probably never going to own any of them, gun or car.

No.  If anything, it makes me want to go to the other extreme and carry something — ha! — iconic instead, even if I have to pay more and if necessary wait a while longer so I can save up for the thing.  To put it another way, I’d rather carry a Walther PPK than a Walther Creed because while both pistols are essentially identical in terms of their output (sends a 9mmx boolet into a Bad Guy efficiently), the PPK looks miles nicer and is worth the premium.  (And no, I don’t need an accessory rail on my carry gun.)


Your mileage may well differ, and as always, I welcome comments / insults on my old-fashioned attitude.


  1. While the PPK is undeniably aesthetically superior to virtually all autoloading pistols, it does have its flaws.
    Mostly in its double action trigger pull which is very heavy and long. It is a blowback design with the snappy recoil and strong slide pull that goes with a blowback pistol. It also is a .380, (9mm Kurtz) not a 9mm para. Finally, just because it is pretty and James Bond used it in not a good reason that I should use it.

    1. It also seems to be made out of razorblades. I had to wear gloves to shoot mine, lest my hand be cut to ribbons.

  2. I bought a “Cz”(note, NOT a CZ) TT 45 years ago for all of $300. It appeared to be identical to an EAA Witness Polymer Compact, except for the large Cz logos imprinted on the grips–remember the big C with small z inside, all in a circle, the logo adorned world champ motocross bikes a long time ago, among other things. It was the first polymer handgun I ever owned, and it was an ugly little spud of a gun. It just ran and ran, though, chugging along, never a hiccup. I wound up selling it for more than I paid for it.

  3. I prefer revolvers, and not merely from an aesthetic point of view, to any of the modern polymer pistols; I especially like DA revolvers with the firing pin on the hammer. When I shoot in an IDPA match with a revolver I usually have the field to myself, and the gun is an object of curiosity for the other shooters. I know, I know, revolvers have limitations (on-board ammo capacity and slower reloading) compared to bottom feeders, but for sheer shooting pleasure (and the aforementioned aesthetics), I’ll take a good revolver. At least they’re not boring, to my mind anyway.

    Now, the above was not meant to take anything away from modern polymer pistols, for they tend to be extremely reliable little marvels of engineering, but they are about as exciting as a toaster oven.

    1. And a bit of knowledge plus patient shopping can land you some pretty cool finds for about $350.
      In my case, a Model 10-5 snub, and a pre-Model 15.

    2. I’m with you Innocent, Out of all my handguns, My S&W model 19 is the one I shoot the best. It just seems to naturally point where I want to shoot.

  4. The Creed versus the PPK?

    One other thing to remember is that those two photos above are very much NOT to scale. The PPK is about 3.8 inches from top to bottom, and the Creed is about 5.6 inches tall. The top sight of the PPK should only come up to the “chin” of the Creed.

    I have a PPX (basically, the Creed before they rounded off the corners), and it’s a great pistol for the price. It’s a big ol’ clunky-looking gun, but comfortable to shoot, with a great trigger, and 16+1 rounds is nice to have. The lack of a positive safety is an issue for a lot of folks, though, and it takes it out of the “daily carry” category for me (that’s what the S&W Shield 9mm is for).

    The S&W Shield should get some notice, too – small pistol, but reliable and accurate, and it’s heavy enough that it doesn’t punish you when you take it to the range. There’s a reason S&W has sold literally a million of them.

    1. The S&W Shield 9 mm gets my endorsement for a inexpensive carry gun. It just seems to work, fairly accurate, and best of all if anything happens to it – I’ll just eat the loss and go buy another. No real sentimental value attached at all.

      My only concern is the extremely stiff mag spring. Makes it real hard to load. I ended up cutting one full round off the springs in my magazines and haven’t seen any effect on reliability.

    2. Another fan of the Shield here. Small, but it also has real sights.
      The grip is kind of slick- but a couple dollars worth of skateboard tape fixes that right up.

  5. Kim,
    I previously owned the SD9VE with the MA-compliant (spit) 12# !!!! double action only trigger. Even after an Apex spring kit, the trigger was still an awful ~8+ pounds. Sold it and put the cash towards the purchase of a Canik TP9SA. I’m quite happy with the Canik. Trigger is single-action only at about 5#. It’s pretty much a range queen, but for under $400 including the transfer fee, I can’t (and won’t) complain. And the Canik is dead to nuts reliable. Canik’s like a honey-badger – wet, dry, clean, dirty – it don’t care. Save ONE round of cheapie aluminum-cased ammo which didn’t eject, it has digested a few thousand rounds without complaint. It seems to really like WWB 124 grain FMJ fodder, which is great for shooting steel, and which I purchase regularly for about $30/150. Once comment I’ve heard about the TP9SA is that it “out-Glocks” a Glock.
    From Canik, which might be of particular interest is their S-120, which is a CZ-75 clone. A shooting buddy of mine has one, and he’s quite pleased with it. I shot it once, and recalled it fitting my hand pretty well. I also recall liking the heft of the all-metal frame.
    Also budget-friendly but not on the list – my recently-acquired Ruger SR9c, which was less than $350, transfer fee included.
    And don’t overlook the offering from Girsan/Zenith. Don’t have first-hand experience but have heard good things.

  6. I guess I get to be “that guy” and point it out:

    The Sig P250 is not striker-fired. It’s a DAO, hammer-fired pistol. The P320 is indeed striker-fired, but it’s hardly DAO; it uses a pre-tensioned striker, so it’s closer to a single-action.

    The lumping of “striker-fired” with “DAO” is because someone couldn’t see a cocked hammer, and because there was indeed a small amount of striker take-up in the pull, just said “eh, that’s basically DAO” because the concept of “partial tension, striker fired” as its own category was too alien.

    Then you get into the S&W striker guns (“M&P” and SD series, especially), and the H&K VP9, the HS2000 (excuse me, XD and XDM), all with fully-tensioned striker actions, and they still get lumped into the same category despite being essentially as single-action as a Mauser 98 or SMLE. I’d argue it’s closer to the latter, since the tension is taken up as the slide goes into battery, basically a pistol version of “cock-on-close”. That’s also why it’s possible to get a half-decent trigger action out of such pistols.

    At any rate, I’m sadly one of those who enjoys a good pre-lock S&W revolver or 1911 (among other things!) for fun, but I chose to carry a Glock 19 when I wasn’t carrying my issued Glock 22 (after a brief dalliance with the 1911 anyway). Practicality of having 15+1 of 147gr Gold Dot and 17 in a spare mag, plus a flashlight, for about the same weight as just my 1911, won out. Then there’s the manual-of-arms commonality between issued sidearm and personal sidearm, which simplifies training significantly.

    For a “cheap handgun” to most people I’d say “look for a police-surplus Glock, Sig, S&W, or similar polymer-people-popper in a common, readily available caliber (i.e. 9×19, ,40 S&W, or .45 if you really must have the bigger bullet) at a decently large distributor and have it shipped to your FFL of choice. That shouldn’t take over maybe $400. Buy a few boxes of good-enough practice ammo, hopefully an extra couple magazines if funds allow, and hunt up an experienced range coach to get you through the basics.”

  7. I have two conflicting tendencies. The first is that “I should have a gun that I appreciate”. The second is plain utility.

    The first tends to come out when I buy rifles. The second is stronger and stronger as I get older, for carry guns. I carry a Ruger LC9s which has a really good trigger, is reasonable to shoot, in a reasonable caliber, and is a reasonable weight and width. I find it ugly as sin, with no soul whatever. But as a carry piece, I don’t care, because utility is much more important there.

  8. I love my Detective Special & it’s my go-to concealed carry. I bought it about 20 years ago for $350. My first pistol purchase was a Makarov in the early 90s – $130 not long after the wall came down (in retrospect I’m disappointed I didn’t buy a couple more); as my only pistol at the time, it saw duty inside the waist. If I was living in sketchier envrions than I do, I’d pack my all-time favorite budget buy, the Ruger P95.

    Wheel gunner that I am, I’d also consider the Rhino snubby (not exactly a budget buy, which is why I don’t have one… yet). Had an opportunity to play with one not long ago, and they perform as advertised. Considerably less recoil & muzzle flip than my Colt DS. A 158 gr Hornady or two sqeezed off into a goblin will sting, lemme tell ya.

    1. I love my EG Makarov, but found it less than comfortable to carry unless I chose the very slim grips, and then it became uncomfortable to shoot. At least there is good carry/SD ammo available for them now.

  9. On a good day one could probably find an S&W M-39 compact(-12, 13, 14, …) for around $400. This gets you a hammer-fired single-stack[7rds for the compact mag, but one can carry and use the standard mag(9rds) as a spare]. Nice guns.

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