The key to buying a gun on a budget is knowing where you can cut corners and where you can’t. Fortunately, the list of functions where you can’t cut corners is short:


Since we’re talking concealed carry, the most important attribute of a defensive firearm is that it works when you most need it. There are plenty of other desirable features that can help make you more effective, increase comfort or maybe shave some tenths of seconds from your time to draw and place an accurate shot on target. But if push comes to shove, you can do without them.

Here’s a list of features that you might move lower on the priority list if cost is a major issue for your defensive gun purchase. All of these things are legitimate and useful features, but each adds a bit of extra manufacturing time, material and cost … and that drives up your price.

Legitimate and Useful Features in a Defensive Gun:

  • Customizable grip size. Many modern pistols come with a few extra grip backstraps that allow you to “size” the grip to your hand and finger reach.
  • Night sights that include Tritium inserts are great to have, but they’ll add about a hundred bucks, give or take, to the sticker price.
  • Match barrel and components. It seems that most everything is “match-grade” these days. What that boils down to is premium metals, treatments, and extra time and machining so parts have little shake or wobble between them. For a budget-conscious defensive gun, you can get the job done with a pistol that shoots 4-inch groups at 25 yards rather than an inch and a half.
  • Reversible or ambidextrous magazine releases. If you’re left-handed, this can be a big deal. If not, you might lower this feature on your “must-have” priority list.
  • Number of magazines. Yes, it’s important to have and ideally use spare magazines. In a pinch though, you can always acquire them later.

The list could go on, but you get the idea. With that said, let’s explore a couple of ideas for budget-friendly defensive handguns.

Ruger Security-9

Available in both full-sized and compact versions, the Security-9 is a no-frills pistol that works. It’s a hammer-fired pistol with an internal system, so you can’t cock it manually. However, you can see the hammer status through a notch in the rear of the slide. The design borrows from that of the LCP II pistol, so you’ll notice the Security-9 is easy to rack and manipulate. The Security-9 does have a manual safety on the left side only that blocks the trigger and locks the slide.

The polymer-frame pistol is a one-size-fits-all model and has no capability of grip size adjustment. That shaves some dollars from the manufacturing cost and MSRP. Another cost-reducing design element is the aluminum chassis. Easier to mill than steel, it’s not only lighter but also faster and easier to manufacture — representing cost savings to you. The Security-9 has basic three-dot sights. They’re plenty visible in conditions where you have enough light to clearly see the target. One surprise in the package is that you get two 15-round magazines in the box. If you live in a restrictive state, you’ll get two 10-rounders instead.

Isolated shot of a Ruger Security 9 self-defense pistol

The standard Ruger Security-9 carries an MSRP of $379.

Service Pistol Trade-Ins

When big companies such as Glock, Smith & Wesson and SIG Sauer want to sell a law enforcement agency a pile of new pistols, they’ll frequently offer buybacks of pistols already in service. That lessens the budget dent on the agency and provides a potential benefit to you. Often these pistols are inspected, refurbished and sold on the used market at substantially lower prices than comparable new models.

Here’s what’s particularly compelling. While exceptions exist, most service pistols are carried a lot but fired little. While some officers are “gun people” and shoot frequently on their own time, many view the pistol as a tool of the job that’s only used when necessary for qualification and duty. Some of these pistols may have cosmetic issues or holster wear, but the internals have plenty of life remaining. The other benefit to buying an LEO trade-in is that you’re not sacrificing features. You’ll likely get a pistol with all the normal bells and whistles (such as night sights). Often, it will look new as well.

For example, search for SIG Sauer Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) pistols. (With the mass shift to 9mm from .40 S&W, there are also tons of Glock 22 and Smith & Wesson M&P pistols on the market from trade-in programs.) With a bit of shopping, you can find one of these pistols in the $300 range (give or take).

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield

The Smith & Wesson M&P is a classic carry gun. Well-proportioned and reliable, this pistol ships with two magazines, the flush magazine holding seven rounds of 9mm and the extended packing eight. The base model ships with standard white-dot sights and carries an MSRP of just $479. The better news is that this model is often heavily promoted, so you can find it at retailers for significantly less.

Ruger EC9s

You can think of the Ruger EC9s as a more budget-friendly version of the Ruger LC9s. With most changes made in the EC9s series intended to lower production costs and the retail price, the EC9s provides basically the same functionality.

A sideview of a Ruger EC-9 compact pistol

MSRP of a Ruger EC9s is a low $299.

It’s a striker-fired pistol that’s about an inch longer and an inch taller than the company’s popular LCP pistol. That makes it easier to shoot, while bumping caliber to 9mm — a respectable concealed carry option. The EC9s offers 7+1 capacity and even includes a second magazine for backup.

Charter Arms Undercover

In terms of self-defense popularity, it’s hard to argue with the utility of a classic snub-nosed revolver. Compact and portable, this handgun offers simple operation and reliable performance. The only real drawback is that it’s not as easy to shoot well under stress as a larger handgun.

A black Charter Arms 5-shot snub-nosed .38 Special revolver

The Charter Arms Undercover is a classic snubby that retails for $364 or less.

You can certainly go with a name-brand solution such as a Smith & Wesson or Colt, but if budget pressure is severe, consider something like the Charter Arms Undercover line. The company offers approximately 10 different configurations, with the base models having an MSRP of just $364.00. That means retailer prices will be less — often in the $300 range. Weighing in at exactly 1 pound, this classic snub-nosed packs five rounds of .38 Special.

There are literally dozens of options for affordable carry guns, so we can’t cover them all here. Check out the user reviews on models from Taurus, SCCY, Diamondback and Bersa … just to name a few. Do keep in mind that when choosing a budget solution, the most important feature criteria is reliability. You can cut back on the “nice to have” features, but your pistol has to work. When considering what others have to say about specific pistols, be sure to focus on reviews that speak to reliability over time and thousands of rounds. It’s your life at stake.


Smith & Wesson:
Charter Arms:

About Tom McHale

Tom McHale, Certified NRA Instructor for pistol and shotgun, is passionate about home and self-defense and the rights of all to protect themselves and their loved ones. He has completed dozens of training programs and will be completing the USCCA Certified Instructor program in the near future. Tom has published seven books on guns, shooting, reloading, concealed carry and holsters, including two for the USCCA: Armed and Ready: Your Comprehensive Blueprint to Concealed Carry Confidence and 30 Days to Concealed Carry Confidence. He has published around 1,700 articles for a dozen gun and shooting publications. Between writing projects, you can find Tom on the range.