Cut-Price Popguns

Yeah, I’m exaggerating a little, but still.  Shooting Illustrated just published a list of cheap handguns, and the contents thereof are about what you’d expect.  I want to beat this drum just one more time.

Small-caliber handguns are useless as self-defense tools. 

There;  I’ve said it.  And yes, I know, I know:  having any gun is better than having no gun.  Sort of.  And yes I know too that women and older men sometimes have controllability issues with the larger-caliber handguns — my own Daughter carries a .380 ACP pistol — and let’s be honest:  as a backup, the .380 gun will do simply because you can cram it in your pocket.  But will  that .380 Beretta Pico do anything for you in a life-and-death situation?  Not as much as the 9mm Para Diamondback (also a cheap gun) can provide, and less still than (say) the .38 Spec/.357 Mag EAA Windicator or Taurus .357 Mag revolvers.  (How long that Taurus snubbie will last when shooting the magnum loads is a topic for another time;  my experience has not been good, although YMMV.)

So yeah, if you absolutely cannot afford to spend more than $300 on a handgun, then go ahead and get something from SI’s list of pistols.  I just hope you’ll never regret your decision.

Remember that I’ve recently been agonizing over using a 9mm Browning High Power as a carry piece, and I’m still  not convinced that I should use it as a substitute for my .45 ACP 1911 (especially as the lighter 185gr bullets seem to be doing the job)… but if I’m grudgingly going to concede that the 9mm (out of the BHP’s 4.5″ barrel) is just barely acceptable, it’s going to take a lot more convincing for me to accept the same ammo coming out of a shorty 2″ tube.  Hell, I consider my .38+P Spec S&W 637 to be my backup piece, and that’s way more powerful than anything delivered by the little budget pistols listed in the article.

So to sum up:  if you want a cheap, effective self-defense piece, then get a revolver — or alternatively, ignore the .380 ACP pistols for anything other than backup pieces.  But we all knew that anyway.

Oh, and one last thing.  The SI  article opens with this line:

“In the past couple of years, soft demand for firearms in general has led to great deals for anyone looking to buy a gun.”

Perhaps it has.  Just not on my planet.

Update:  If you are looking for a new/different carry gun, see what sold the best (both new and secondhand) in 2018.  (Note the positions of the BHP and 1911…)


  1. My $300 gun story–I bought a ‘Cz’ TT45 years ago. Not a CZ, but from the “other” Czech company, the logo is a large “C” with small “z” in the center, all inside a circle. You might remember them as a world champ motocross motorcycle manufacturer back in the day. They also make washing machines and such. The gun appeared to be identical to the EAA Witness Polymer Compact, with that ‘Cz’ logo impressed on the grips. It was an ugly spud of a gun, but dang if it didn’t just run and run. It used 10 round mags, which appeared to be identical to those used in the CZ 97B. Much smaller gun, though. I wound up selling the gun long ago, often wish I’d kept it, though.

  2. If you are young and broke buy the cheap gun. Get into the sport, protect yourself and family, and upgrade when you can. Always be respectful and courteous with new shooters and support them if you can. Loan them your good guns to try, and share your ammo with them. Never brow beat them or mock their choices of equipment. I don’t do 9mm either, but let us dispense with snobbery that impresses on one: the world’s constabularies and militaries have been using it for over a century because it does indeed do the job. Ammo is cheaper and the gun is easier to control and use. Cheap guns are the entry point for the noobs. They are the future of the sport and our rights, and anything that gets them started is to be welcomed and accepted.

  3. Other people’s choices in guns has marginal influence in what guns I own.
    A gun must work, otherwise it is just an art piece, and that is where the rubber meets the road so to speak. I have owned a fair amount of guns but less now, than the total, because along the way some did not work the way I required.

    I have been licensed to carry for the past 20+ years in multiple states but rarely do because I practice the Remus Rule: “Avoid Crowds”, and the ghostsniper rule: avoid people.

    I know, I know.
    Some folks claim they cannot avoid people or crowds because of __________. Fill in the blanks. Therefore they choose to balance that fault with carrying a gun. And there are those that claim nothing less than a Desert Eagle will do. sigh

    What’s the point? In the end, you may possibly get to live with or die from your choices so I’ll suggest it only prudent to spend some serious quality time with yourself in sorting this all out. No one else gets to live or die for you, you have to do it yourself.

    At any rate, I will never suggest that anyone with little or no experience should go out and get a gun. I will suggest that they get educated any way they can and find a place that will let them use (rent?) their guns to gain experience. Then they will be in a better position to determine what sort of gun to get. A better position would be if they have a trustworthy friend that is highly experienced, has multiple types of guns, and is willing to show them the ropes. Back in the day that person was your dad and you were very young. In my case I was 6 years old the first time my dad put a Remington .22 semi rifle in my hands and with his giant hands on top of mine aimed that gun at a large log slice on a tree in rural Gettysburg and pulled the trigger. This was after 2 years of elementary learning with a Daisy. That same Daisy was given to our son when he was 6 and a year later he shot that same Remington with my not so giant hands on top of his. The cycle continues, as it should.

  4. I’m going to disagree–a bit.

    I was thinking about this yesterday. I think it entirely depends on your lifestyle, threat model and intended response to danger. I live in a VERY peaceful neighborhood. The biggest threat here is the coyotes that play in the “green space” across the way. But then I have a 70 pound dog that is more than happy to fight and a .380 is adequate at that range.

    But coyotes (that kind) aren’t people.

    What you need to carry depends on your threat model and your intended response. If your model includes running TOWARDS the sound of automatic rifle fire, or dealing with a home invasion of 5 or 6 people then yeah a full sized “full caliber” firearm is the right choice.

    But if you really intend to run away from danger whenever possible, and live in the sort of place where home invasions either don’t happen, or are 1 or 2 people, then a sub caliber firearm–provided you intend to use it properly–will be enough.

    NOTHING likes getting shot in the face. If a rapist threatens your little girl 2-3 rounds of .380 to the face will put paid to THAT problem. A burglar would be even less likely to stick around once a firearm is presented with INTENT. I wouldn’t go into an active shooter situation with my LCP *OR* my G43. But dealing with a problem or two at “you had meth and budwesier for lunch” distances?

    I remember reading of one case where a middle aged lady with ZERO training had a .25–almost the worst possible option–and was attacked by a convict fresh out of prison (can’t remember if he escaped or was released on parole) in her home. She had been given the .25 by a “friend” for self protection. She didn’t manage to get to it until the fight was underway. She dumped the magazine (5 rounds) and pt 2 or 3 into him at close range (while getting cut on with a box cutter). The problem was (1) he was ENRAGED by that point and (2) she didn’t hit fight ending spots (blew his testicles off though, IIRC he bleed out at the scene). If you don’t hit fight ending spots NO pistol will stop an attack in short order. Heck, some people have continued the fight with thoracic shots from *rifles*.

    So I wouldn’t *recommend* a .22 or .32 for self defense, especially a 2 shot derringer. But if its’ all you got SHOOT THEM IN THE FACE REPEATEDLY. In these situations you’re not shooting at 3 to 5 yards, you’re shooting them at arms length. Punch them in the face with it and then pull the trigger.

    Which these days is proper training anyway. Badguys are starting to wear body armor.

  5. My wife carries a .380 because she has arthritis and has difficulty racking the slide on anything more substantial. The Walther CCP would work, but she didn’t like the feel of it when test-firing it. A 1911 is now painful to shoot while it wasn’t when she was younger. Small .38 Special revolvers are nasty enough to her that she’d never actually shoot it enough to maintain any proficiency.
    If a gun isn’t small and light enough for her to comfortably carry under work clothes, it’s not going to be carried (she thinks purse carry is awfully damned close to effectively not carrying, since she’s not always close to her purse at work, and purses can be snatched). Bullet placement is far more important than caliber until you get down to mouse gun rounds, anyway.

  6. Greg Ellifritz

    Actual math may be involved.

    I respect and revere John Browning, Elmer Keith, and Jeff Cooper, but in real life shootings, the differences between .380, .38SP, .357, 9mm, and .45 are minimal. Marginal, you might say. And IMHO proper bullet selection closes the gap even more. Ellifritz collected real-world data, and a lot of that was FMJ bullets.

    I would hate for your advice make someone decide “I can’t carry a .45, and Kim says nothing else is good enough, so I won’t carry anything.”

    My personal choice is a CZ82 in 9mm Makarov (9×18). Sort of .380++, or 9mm Lite.

    1. I agree, that’s my daily carry also. 12+1 and probably the best and most advanced 9 x 18 out there. Ambidextrous and well-made. If only it had a decocker…
      There are a lot of these and other milsurp out there that will serve if you’re at the bottom of the economic scale.

  7. The M&P Shield is a pretty good smaller “cheap” pistol. The 9mm version is just $329, and is very tame to shoot. Accurate for such a short barrel, too. With an extended mag, you’re looking at 8+1.

    I’ve seen the .45 Shield for as little as $349 (although it seems to be running about $400 now). Not as easy on the hands, but hey, .45.

  8. I own a gun on that list, or rather, an earlier version of one of those guns – a Ruger LC9s Pro (the current version is the EC9). It’s quite possibly the most natural shooting gun I own. You just point and shoot, and the trigger on it is better than the trigger on my 1911. It’s 9mm, and I use Hornady Critical Defense hollowpoints. It’s my “Southern States” carry gun, because quite frankly it’s so damn hot and humid where I live that anything larger will show through my clothing. 7+1 in the gun, and 7 more in a spare mag, and I don’t feel under-gunned at all. As someone else pointed, I’m not charging into combat with it, I’m trying to get the hell away from some crackhead, or some situation like that. I have larger guns that I like as much or more, but the LC9 is a damn good gun. The current version, the EC9, has crappy molded sights, but you can still find some LC9s in inventory around the country.

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