How to find bargain pistols


Here’s what to look for , and what to look out for,  when trying to stretch your firearms dollar.

by Lee Williams

These days everyone is looking for good handguns at low prices – a daunting task.

At the last firearms feeding frenzy I attended, cheap .380s were leaping off the tables.

First-time gun buyers should be aware that often you get what you pay for, or even less. However, reliable handguns can still be found at reasonable prices.

Here’s what to look for – and what to look out for – when searching for defensive pistol bargains:

Calibers to avoid: I believe in the old adage that when it comes to a gunfight, don’t bring a pistol unless the caliber starts with a ‘4.’

Lee’s personal choice for a defensive handgun: Springfield XD .45 ACP ‘Tactical’

The puny .25 acp has been known to get hung up in a thick leather coat. The .7.65 mm/.32 ACP is nearly as bad, and the .22 long rifle is adequate if all you’re worried about are squirrel or rabbit attacks.

The .380 is considered the smallest caliber suitable for defensive pistol work, but only if you purchase good-quality defensive ammunition like Hornady Critical Defense, Corbon DPX or Speer Gold Dot,  not ball ammo.

On the other end of the spectrum are .357 Sig and .45 GAP.  They’re newer calibers specifically designed for personal defense. Secret Service agents carry the .357 Sig when guarding the president. Glock produced the .45 GAP round to mimic the ballistics of the .45 ACP, but in a smaller cartridge created for a more compact pistol.

They are great designs, but given today’s Ammo Apocalypse, when even traditional 9mm or .45 ACP is scarce, try finding a box of .357 Sig or a case of .45 GAP.

One gun shop I visited recently in Tampa had plenty of Glocks, as long as you wanted one in .357 Sig or .45 GAP.


There’s a reason few want them.

Manufacturers to avoid: I lump Lorcin, Jennings, Raven, Jimenez, Hi-Point, Davis, RG and a few other brands into one category – junk. Steer clear. They’re notorious for FTFs and FTEs. The price is the only thing good about these pistols. You can find better bargains that won’t get you injured or killed. Besides constant malfunctions, some of these firearms are not safe to operate. They’ll slamfire when the slide is released.

Hi-Point 9mm

Actions to avoid: Handgun design has evolved very well over the centuries. It’s Darwinism at its finest. There is a reason the Harmonica Gun and two-shot Derringers have declined in popularity. Unless you’re a riverboat gambler, two rounds are not enough for defensive applications, even at a low price. Besides, anyone who has ever touched-off a small Derringer chambered for .357 Magnum or even .38 won’t be anxious to repeat their mistake.

Check the used market: I suppose it’s possible to shoot-out a Glock or an XD, although with today’s ammo prices you’d have to be independently wealthy.

Most polymer handguns sold by major manufacturers are built like tanks. Unfortunately, used guns are getting more difficult to find. If you can find one, buy it.

Also watch for police department trade ins. Some police firearms will have very little use.


Surplus handguns: You can strike gold on the military surplus market. I consider the CZ-82 one of the most underrated and underpriced surplus pistols available today. The Polish P64 is not far behind, despite its horrible DA trigger pull. Their 9mm Makarov round is more than adequate for defensive applications.

Military surplus handguns tend to wash up on our shores in waves – depending upon what a foreign country releases into the surplus market.

A few years ago, there was a flood of Russian Nagant revolvers, priced at around $100. They were worth the money as collectibles, but not as serious fight-stoppers. The 7.62x38mmR round is underpowered, hard to find and extremely expensive. The seven-shot revolver is somewhat finicky, when compared to an American revolver, and loading is accomplished one round at a time through a gate similar to a Colt SAA.

Nagant Revolver

Years ago a small wave of Star 9mm Largos washed ashore. These too should be avoided, since 9x23mm ammunition is nearly impossible to find.

Before the Nagants landed, surplus dealers had foot lockers full of CZ-52s, chambered in 7.62x25mm. While they suffer from ergonomic issues, they should not be used for home defense unless their firing pins are replaced by modern steel versions. The original firing pins are very brittle and will break. They all break. If yours hasn’t, replace it soon.

Nowadays, Romanian and Yugoslavian Tokarevs are showing up for around $200. When paired with Wolf Gold 7.62x25mm JHPs, they’re a fearsome combination – 1,600 fps at the muzzle – if you can find the ammo. While they are not as reliable as American made semi-automatics, they’re a bargain at the price, especially for a John Moses Browning design.

Yugo M57

Tok’s are one of the few surplus handguns you can still afford to feed. There is still inexpensive surplus 7.62x25mm ammunition on the market, but be warned, much of it is corrosive and requires Windex, hot water and a lengthy cleaning process, or your barrel will become coated with green fur.

Major models to avoid: Even a reputable firearms manufacturer can produce a bad design.

When Reed Knight, Jr. (of Knight’s Armament Co.) and Eugene Stoner (Of the AR/M-16) teamed up to design a handgun, you would expect that their collaboration would produce a pistol of legendary status. You wouldn’t expect the pair to come up with the Colt All American – a steel and polymer monster that was inaccurate, unreliable, unbalanced and equipped with perhaps the worst trigger of any American pistol made in the last 50 years.

Other firms have made similar mistakes. The LCP and LC9 reinvigorated Ruger. However, we tend to forget that before the firm produced these high-quality autos, which sent its stock soaring, they also made the P-85 and P-89 – not bad pistols but certainly not great ones either. You can find them on the used market – cheap. They’re fun to shoot, but not reliable enough for a defensive handgun.

Smith & Wesson had FTF problems with early Model 59s, corrected the problems and then introduced the Sigma, their first venture into the polymer, striker-fired market. It suffered from serious design flaws, even though Glock sued them over patent infringement. The suit was later settled out of court.

Smith & Wesson’s M&P series are some of the best handguns available today. Like the Glock or the XD, if you can find them on the used market, they’re a great buy.









About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


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