From a First-time Buyer: Need Ideas for an Affordable Handgun

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Oct 31, 2004
Maryland, U.S.

I began a tangential discussion in this Ruger SR9 thread about potential candidates for a first-time handgun purchase. Of course, the SR9c was among those candidates, but it was brought to my attention that I should consider the alternatives.

In short, I'm hoping to find an affordable and reliable handgun, preferably in a compact frame. Whether the gun is hammer- or striker-fired, steel or polymer frame, I'd like to consider all options, but I want to stay below the $600 price point. Out of all candidates, I've given the Bersa Thunder 380, CZ-83 in .380 ACP, and the Ruger SR9c the most consideration. The ideal gun for me would be one that is pleasant to shoot at the range, simple enough for a new owner to operate, and small enough to be considered for concealed carry. 9mm and .380 ACP are widely available in my area, but in case you're wondering, I do have a hard time locating 9x18 Makarov locally. Do you have any suggestions for a new shooter? Or can you offer some commentary, positive or negative, on the guns that I listed?

.380 ACP is not a fun range shooter. It is actually quite snappier than 9mm. My suggestion is to look at the M&P Shield. I would recommend you find a range that you can rent the gun and try it before you buy. Good luck and let us know how you make out!
380 is most certainly not "snappier" than 9x19. It's a lighter bullet going slower. Skip the 380 ACP. It was a fad that's hopefully dying now. More and more super compact 9x19s are showing up.

Skip the 9x18. Only reason it has any sort of following is because of cheap guns. Makarovs used to be well under $200. Cz82s were cheap too. Both are okay guns, but not fantastic. No reason to even consider the 9x18 really.

9x19 is the answer. Guaranteed to find ammo for it. Widest selection of guns. Cheapest ammo. Pleasant to shoot. Proven performer.

Anyways, tons of 9x19 guns to pick from (can't recommend one over another as they're all very good). $600 gives you many choices.
etc. etc.

If we lowered my spending limit to $500, would I still have some good options? I'm not against spending good money for a good gun. However, if there are less expensive guns that are proven performers, I'd like to look into them. Thanks for your suggestions, guys!
Download the catalog from

There are many guns under $600. Check out a gun show.
Agree with Atblis - the .380 just isn't a great choice mostly because of price-to-power ratio. You pay significantly more for a less powerful round compared to the 9mm Luger/Parabellum (same cartridge; two common names).

I think the SR9c is an outstanding choice. With the longer magazine and sleeve, you have a "commander" style gun (full-size magazine; short barrel) for the range; with the shorter mags, you have a good carry gun. Outstanding trigger and great ergonomics. If you like it and it's comfortable, dont be afraid of it. Should you have a problem, Ruger will make it right.

If you want a lower price gun, the Ruger P-series guns are all good choices. Bulkier and less svelte than the SR9c, they are solid shooters nonetheless.

Glocks, especially police trade ins, are relatively inexpensive and great guns, plenty of after-market support and just flat-out run. I'm not a Glock fan, but respect the gun.

Smith's M&P is a good choice, but might be pushing your $500 budget, unless you find a good used one. Their SD-series is supposed to be a good gun with good features. Their Sigma has a heavy trigger, but if you can master it you have a solid shooter.

Don't know if you can get a Springfield XD in that $500 price point or not. Watch used - you might find a surprise. Again, a solid gun. The XDm will probably be outside your budget but it doesn't hurt to try it!

The CZ lineup deserves a look-see. Lots of models to choose from. I love my CZ85.

Go to a large gun store and try out as many guns as the sales clerk will let you. If you can rent and shoot, that's a great way to make the next cut. With $500, and opening up to the used market, you have lots of choices.

Good luck, and have fun shopping.

I would recommend a full size for a new shooter and better yet a .22LR to get accustomed to shooting and learn the fundamentals and you will be able to shoot a lot more frequently to develop good habits. That said if you want a centerfire caliber to start 9x19 would be my recommendation for that and as I stated at the start I recommend a full size to make it easier to shoot, eliminating some of the recoil that a smaller frame might produce.

Proven performers:
Glock 17 or 19 (Both should around 500 used a little over 500 new)
Smith and Wesson M&P or the Sigma (yes it has a long heavy trigger but that can be fixed and if you can master that trigger then shorter lighter ones you will appreciate even more, under 500 for the Sigma under 600 for the M&P)
Ruger SR9 or P95(under 500 get a newer SR9 with the D shaped mag release though)
Stoeger Cougar (Really good one, under 500)
Sig 2022 (Another good one, under 500)
CZ 75B (Love this one, but you will have trouble locating one, should be under 500)
Beretta PX4 (under 600)

The prices I figured are my area and include taxes and applicable fees so consider them out the door prices.

9x19 will be cheaper than .380, at least it is where I live. Some on that list you will be able to get for under 500, others under 600.
Prices vary by region. Md is higher than other places.

Glock can be had <$500
M&P can be had <$500
SIG isn't going to happen for <$500, unless used
CZ, wow, just looked at prices. When did they become a $500+ gun. Not worth that much.
Ruger SR9C is < $500
Springfield XD should be <$500
Walther PPS or PPQ can be done for <$600, but probably not $500
The Steyrs may be of interest. They should be about $500.
I wouldn't gamble on a Taurus.
I would gamble on a Bersa. The BP9 is worth considering IMO and is easily <$500.
The sig 2022 should be easily had for under 500 new even in MD, it isn't their top tier stuff but it is good none the less. I agree the original XD should be found for close to 500, forgot about that model since the focus is now on the XDm. Also check places like or to see if you can locate a dealer that can do the transfer for you, if that is an option. I am not sure on MD laws.
A few weeks ago, I rented and tested a Bersa Thunder 380 at the range to get a feel for its grip and recoil. Now, I have no experience with differentiating between harsh and light recoil, but I can say that the Bersa was very easy for me to control. It was a joy to hold and shoot. I also fired my brother's gun, a factory-new Sig P2022 in .40 S&W, which was also a very smooth shooter. So, we spent an hour at the range and experienced little to no hand fatigue, though the Bersa may have caused a slight abrasion on the webbing of my shooting hand. Roughly how does the Glock 19, SR9c, and M&P Shield compare to the Bersa Thunder 380 in terms of recoil? Less recoil, or more?


Maryland allows FFL-to-FFL transfers, and I don't know of any restrictions that would impede my ability to receive an online order for most conventional handguns as long as the capacity is below 20 rounds per magazine. There is a gun store about 45 minutes away from my house that will receive an FFL transfer for a $40 charge, which seems to be a consistent rate for my locality. So, online orders are a possibility. Of course, I'll scout the local market first.
Ryan, I carried the Bersa as an EDC for about a year. It's substantially more enjoyable to spend time with at the range than is the Kel-Tec PF9 I'm currently carrying. I still own it. To sum up what I typically say about it: If you're looking for a solid, reliable performer chambered in an acceptable defensive cartridge that any responsible member of your household should be able to handle in a crisis, the Thunder 380, for the money, is hard to beat.
Now, that being said, there is the issue of .380ACP ammo being not only more expensive than is 9x19mm ammo but it also being less readily-available.
Bersa markets two decent 9x19 pistols here in the US: the Thunder 9 and the BP9CC. The former is essentially a bigger version of the 380, and the later is a polymer-framed, striker-fired unit.
If you haven't done so already, try perusing around here: It's some reading material on guns in the sub-$600 range.
Ryan, since you're posting here on THR I sort of assume that you are looking at shooting as a hobby and not only for self defense. As such you can be expected to shoot quite a few hundred rounds a month for fun and practice.

Based on that you will certainly want to look at not only the cost of the gun but also very strongly the cost of the ammo. And last I knew 9mm is the least costly ammo aside from .22 that is out there. So you would do well to consider a gun that uses 9mm as a cost cutting consideration that is far more important than the cost of the gun itself.

As an example my own first handgun was a 9mm gun. A CZ Shadow as it happens. Up here gun stuff costs a lot more than in the US. I paid $850 for my Shadow. And at about $300/1K for ammo I shot the cost of the gun in around the first 8 months of ownership. In the last 4 years since I got into the shooting sports I've likely shot 5 to 6 times the cost of the gun through the barrel despite getting into reloading to hold costs down about a year and a half into the sport.

So all in all if you will shoot for fun or enter competitions then I strongly suggest you consider the cost of ammo as well as the cost of the gun. Or get into reloading. In which case .380 won't cost you any more than 9mm. Well... other than 9mm brass is infinetly easier to get for free. Around here I can get it in bundles just by cleaning the ranges.
I would certainly get a 9mm, not a 380. 9mm ammo is cheaper than 380 and a better defense round.

The Glock 19 is one of the most popular pistols made, and for good reason. Very reliable and durable, compact and light yet easy to shoot accurately, and costs between $499 and $550 for a Generation 3 model, depending on who you buy it from. They are easy to find everywhere. It also retains it's value if you ever want to sell it later. Highly recommended.
These are some very solid recommendations. I'll keep every one of them in mind as I begin the long-awaited search. Needless to say, I'm happy to receive a kind reception at the forum; I've spoken with a few self-described "gun nuts" over the years who were mainly interested in inflating their own egos. But you fellows at THR are forthright and sincere.

BCRider, you're absolutely correct in assuming that this gun will be used primarily as a range gun. I intend to shoot once or twice a month until I'm comfortable enough with my firearm to join a private shooter's club, at which point I'll get better economic mileage out of an annual membership fee than a recurring fee paid for every hour of shooting time at the range. I'd presume that most of you either belong to a private club and reap the benefits of unlimited range use, or own several acres and have set up your own shooting gallery with steel and paper targets. Either arrangement sounds like damn good fun, but I'm not there yet! Nonetheless, your suggestions will bring me closer to making an informed purchase my first time out. Thanks!
Atlbis, my comment about .380 ACP being snappier is the felt recoil in subcompact mouse guns like an LCP vs 9mm. I'm aware it's a smaller and slower round. I own both. This is why a .380 is not a range gun. The triggers are usually horrible and they aren't fun shooters. They are what they are, a small CCW pocket pistol. The M&P Shield 9mm is comfortable to shoot, is ideal for IWB CCW, and is less than $500. The M&P9c is just slightly larger and offers 12+1 or even a full size magazine with adapter. Very versatile.

If you want a full size 9mm, take a look at the Walther PPQ. IMO the best stock polymer 9mm on the market right now for trigger and ergos.

Do not summarily dismiss .380 for carry. Those little 90-95gr slugs have been doing the job for decades.

The key to a defensive handgun is that you, Ryan, the guy shooting it, not anyone else, can put rounds where you mean for them to go. If something chambered in .380 is what helps you do that best, then that is your defensive handgun, and .380 is your round.

That said, modern 9mm guns are smaller and lighter than the guns of even 15 years ago. There are excellent choices in 9mm if that's what you can shoot well. So try a bunch, as many as you can affordably, and see what works for you. There's no way around the fact that 9mm carries more punch than .380, but with that punch comes more recoil given the same size and weight platform. It's simple physics.

Ideal range gun ≠ ideal concealed carry gun.
Out of idle curiosity, if this is primarily going to be a range gun, why the desire for something compact like a Shield?
Out of idle curiosity, if this is primarily going to be a range gun, why the desire for something compact like a Shield?
I agree, and why the desire for the SR9C and the fixation on .380 pistols. Most small pistols are not usually as pleasant to shoot as a "duty" size pistol regardless of the caliber.

There are bunches of good 9MM pistols in the $500 price range. You almost need to make an effort to pick a bad one. I don't own any polymer pistols, but in general, they are hard to beat for price and performance.

You can't go wrong with a Glock 17 or 19, S&W M&P, Springfield XD, Sig P2022, Ruger SR9 or P95, CZ P-07 or 75B Phantom, Beretta PX4, FN (P or X or whatever they are now), etc. Any of these should be within $100 either side of your $500 price point. Go to a store or gun show and handle them, or if you can find a place to shoot them try them out. All should work well and these company's will all stand behind their products if anything goes wrong.
If I even hear affordable and handgun, my thought point straight to Ruger. Please do not think I am calling them cheap, I love Rugers. I compare the functionality of my Rugers to my Sig's or HK...etc. when most think of Rugers they think of value and reliability. So I would say stay with Ruger reguardless. Any choice from that will be a good one. I have yet to find a Ruger that doesn't shoot good. While a .380 is not my first choice it is a good caliber for protection.
I'm a Smith & Wesson fan. For new I'd recommend the M&P9c or Shield either at right around or just a little over $400. If used a "3rd Generation" like a 3913/3953 or 6906/6946 in the $300-$350 range. All of these are 9mm and have the advantage of being small and light enough for carry while still being big and heavy enough for lots of range time.

Lots of good choices mentioned in this thread. Generally speaking most new in the box 9mm autos out there these days will be acceptably reliable and accurate. What someone else likes you might not, what you like they might not...doesn't make either of you right or wrong, just a chocolate and vanilla thing.

Try to handle and shoot as many as possible before you buy. Try to find a range that will let you rent or borrow some different options. You can reach out here or on other forums to other members who may be near you geographically and willing to meet you at a range and let you shoot what they have.

Good luck in your search and be safe.
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