Firearms owners — new and old — simply need a handgun that is reliable and suits our lifestyles. And many of us are on a budget. But there is a difference between inexpensive or budget handguns and cheap guns.

There are plenty of poor choices out there, so do your research before you buy. Here’s a list of some good options to get you started. The following handguns cost less than $500. And all will serve well for those that practice.

Taurus 856 .38 Special

My favorite variation on this theme is the 3-inch barrel stainless revolver. Taurus also offers a 2-inch barrel version and a lightweight frame. The Defender, as the 3-inch is called, features a tritium front sight. That’s unheard of on a handgun at this price.

The Taurus 856 sits atop a wooden workbench.

The Taurus .38 Special 856 has proven reliable and accurate as well as smooth handling.

This revolver is on a frame similar to the five-shot Model 85 .38. However, the 856 is a six-shot revolver. The hand-filling grip is well suited to most hand sizes. The action is smooth; just as smooth as higher priced firearms. And combat accuracy is good. The sights, trigger action and grips are among the best in the small revolver class.

Caliber            .38 Special
Barrel length  3 inches
Overall length 7.5 inches
Height             4.8 inches
Weight            17.36 ounces
Capacity          6 rounds
Sights              Rear — fixed, Front — night sight with orange outline
MSRP              $446
Source: Taurus.com

Taurus GX4 9mm

The Taurus GX4 rests on a target with several bullet holes.

The Taurus GX4 9mm is quite accurate in fast-paced drills.

This lightweight 9mm is among the best buys in the pistol world. I have fired this piece extensively and often pack it in a Crossbreed inside-the-waistband holster. The GX4 isn’t a slimline 9 but is pretty slim. It is a high-capacity pistol at 11 rounds with standard magazines. The GX4 is reliable and highly accurate. It is the best buy in the subcompact 9mm world, in my opinion. This is a fresh and useful design with much to recommend.

Caliber            9mm
Barrel length  3.06 inches
Overall length 5.8 inches with small backstrap and 6.05 with large
Height             4.4 inches
Weight            18.5 ounces
Capacity          11 rounds
Sights              Rear — serrated drift adjustable, Front — fixed steel white dot
MSRP              $392
Source: Taurus.com

Beretta APX

This handgun is a result of the U.S. Armed Services competition for a service pistol. This modular design features Beretta reliability, good ergonomics and unusual but well-designed slide serrations. It is surprisingly priced around $390, which may give the impression the Beretta APX is a “cheap” gun. It isn’t.

Beretta APX being fired

The author fires the Beretta APX Carry, the lightest version.

It is affordable and among the most proven of polymer-framed, striker-fired pistols. To get better performance, you will have to spend a deal more money. But you probably will not get any better reliability. The APX is a favorite and a handgun I recommend without reservation. The sights are good, the trigger is crisp, and reliability is excellent.

Caliber            9mm
Barrel length  4.25 inches
Overall length 7.55 inches
Height             5.6 inches
Weight            17.36 ounces
Capacity          10 rounds
MSRP              $399
Source: Beretta.com

Tisas Fatih

The Tisas Fatih is a double-action first-shot, high-capacity .380 ACP pistol. This is a popular handgun design in some circles. A double-action first shot offers a degree of safety many are more comfortable with than a single-action or striker-fired handgun. The size, weight and balance are attractive.

The Fatih is a clone of the Beretta 84. The fit and finish are good, and the pistol has been reliable within the framework of my testing. Accuracy is good, as is often the case with a blowback-type firearm this size. The sights are small but work well for most uses. Tisas supplies owners with two 13-round magazines. And a magazine full of Hornady Critical Defense up the ante for .380 ACP wound ballistics.

Tisas Fatih (right) next to a smaller .380 ACP pistol.

The Tisas Fatih (right) is larger than most .380 ACP pistols. As a result, it kicks less and is easier to handle.

The Fatih would make a solid choice for a beginner who needs something affordable and of good quality.

Caliber            .380 ACP
Barrel length  3.98 inches
Overall length 6.93 inches
Weight            21 ounces
Capacity          13 rounds
Sights              Fixed
MSRP              $389.95
Source: Trabzonsilah.com

EAA Windicator

European revolvers are quite different in many ways from our homegrown wheelguns and not always as ergonomic. The EAA Windicator .357 Magnum double-action revolver is well suited to personal defense. While a different type of revolver than what many of us are used to, it is a viable defensive handgun.

The EAA Windicator atop a wooden table

EAA’s Windicator is a proven designed with much to recommend.

The sights are fixed but not a simple trough in the front strap. These are high-visibility fixed sights and offer a good combat sight. The action is smooth enough for good combat shooting at modest range. The grip fits most hands well. And this swing-out cylinder double-action revolver is as easy to handle well as any American-made product.

The Windicator has held up to repeated practice sessions with full-power Magnum ammunition. For the price, this revolver offers simplicity and Magnum power.

Caliber            .357 Magnum
Barrel length  2 inches
Overall length 7 inches
Weight            28.8 ounces
Capacity          6 rounds
MSRP              $376
Source: EAACorp.com

These handguns give good service for many shooters and at a reasonable cost. Consider them when you’re looking to spend wisely.