Gun blogs and magazines are always reviewing the latest handguns, many of which are carry guns. By carry gun, I mean a gun that is small and light enough to be practical for everyday carry (EDC). Writers extoll the benefits of new models in terms of accuracy, finish, ergonomics, and often just plain cool factor.
Then comes the price tag. Very often, it’s not a gun’s great features that make people decide whether to buy it or not; it is the price. The reality is times are tough. Inflation is the highest it’s been in 40 years. Just getting back and forth to work and putting food on the table can be a challenge.
Unfortunately, crime is everywhere, including violent crime. Robberies, home invasions, carjacking, and assaults happen every day, not to mention the elevated risk of terrorism and mass shootings. If you are reading this article, you probably already know this.
The advice people most often receive is not to skimp on the cost of a carry gun but to buy a ‘good’ one. A good one often equates to an expensive one or at least one well above the inexpensive category. You certainly don’t want to stake your life on a cheap gun that might fail you at a crucial moment. And that’s good advice. But the cost of buying a gun can be a big chunk out of an already stretched budget. That can put folks in a tough spot and maybe even cause them to delay buying one.
Other Gun-Related Costs
There are also additional expenses to consider when deciding to conceal carry for personal defense besides the cost of the gun itself.
Most guns come with one or maybe two magazines. One is not enough, and two is barely adequate. I ensure every handgun I own has at least three magazines, usually more.
Editor’s Note: We recommend having separate dedicated training and duty magazines.
A gun is useless without ammunition. You need a few hundred rounds of FMJ range ammo so you can become proficient with your gun. You also need enough JHP defensive ammo to be able to run some through your gun to ensure it functions well, with enough left over to fill your magazines for defensive use.
SEE ALL AMMO DEALS
Everyone who carries a gun for self-defense should go through some quality tactical training. Just standing on a range and shooting paper isn’t enough. But training courses cost money, not to mention the extra ammunition you need to complete one.
Firearm Owner Identification Card (FOID) Permit to Purchase/Own
Some states require a Firearms Owner Identification Card (FOID) just to purchase a handgun. The cost for a FOID ranges from $5 to $100 or more depending on the state.
CCW Certification Course
Even if you do not take any other training courses, most states require a certification course before they will issue a concealed carry permit—yet another expense.
Concealed Carry Permit
A concealed carry permit in states that require them is another expense. The initial cost to apply can range from $50 to as much as $150 or $200. By the time you are done in New York City, it will be as much as $1000. There are also fees for renewals.
A quality holster is almost as important as a quality gun. Depending on the type you choose, an inside-the-waistband holster (IWB) can run anywhere from $35 to $200.
Shooting skills are perishable. Unless you keep them up with constant practice, they will deteriorate. Practice requires ammunition and a range or other place to shoot.
Adding all these expenses to the initial cost of a handgun can push being responsibly armed out of the price range for some people, especially if the handgun itself is pricy. But is it necessary to spend $700 or $800 for a good handgun?
What Do You Want in a Carry Gun?
The traits of a good carry gun are pretty straightforward:
- Reliability – First and foremost, it must function smoothly every time you pull the trigger. Anything less is a formula for disaster.
- Size and weight – It must be easy to carry and conceal.
- Caliber – 9mm is the most popular handgun caliber for concealed carry. It is powerful enough to do the job but has moderate recoil and good capacity. .380 ACP is good for people who are recoil-averse, but anything smaller is too small to be an effective defensive round.
- Capacity – Years ago, most carry guns had single-stack magazines and only held around 6 or 7 rounds. Now, most modern 9mm compact carry guns hold anywhere from 10 to 13 rounds.
- Shootability – This is the overall feel and accuracy of the gun. How well it fits your hand, how easy the controls are to manipulate, how good the trigger feels. Do you like it, and how well can you shoot it?
Defining Expensive and Inexpensive
As discussed above, the cost of the handgun is just one of the costs of getting set up for concealed carry. If you live in a freedom-loving state that has permitless carry, then the costs of various government-imposed licenses and permits can be avoided, but you still need training and the gear and ammunition that goes with your gun. For this discussion, inexpensive will refer to guns that cost less than $400.
Inexpensive vs. Cheap
Inexpensive is not the same as cheap. Fifty years ago, inexpensive guns were cheap. They largely consisted of Raven and Jennings pocket pistols in .25 and .32 ACP. They were unreliable and sometimes dangerous to shoot.
The last three decades have been a time of incredible innovation and expansion in the firearms industry. The competition to produce good solid guns for the concealed carry market is intense. That’s a good thing because it means that there are plenty of reliable, well-made guns on the market at reasonable prices. Not cheap guns, just inexpensive ones.
That’s not to say that there are not inexpensive guns on the market that I personally don’t consider adequate for a personal defense gun. What I’m going to say next is my personal opinion, and I’m sure there are those who will disagree with me, and that is fine.
I’m talking about guns like the Ruger LCP and the SCCY CPX2 that can be found for well under $300, sometimes under $200. They have rudimentary sights, low capacity, and terrible triggers. They are also so light that they are painful to shoot for many people because of how snappy they are, which makes people hesitant to practice with them.
Another brand of inexpensive gun that is also cheap is Hi-Point. Don’t get me wrong, Hi-Points are fun and have a certain charm all their own. Most models are also priced under $200. But they are not a good choice for concealed carry. They are full-size guns that are clunky and heavy, and their capacity is around nine or ten rounds. Adequate for home defense but no good for carry.
What Do You Get with an Expensive Gun?
When I say an expensive gun, I’m not talking about a $1500 Dan Wesson 1911. I’m talking about guns designed for concealed carry, such as the Sig Sauer 365XCA-9-TACOPS that retails for around $750, the Heckler and Koch VP9SK that goes for $850, and the Kimber Micro 9 Rapide Dawn that runs just under $1000.
Guns like these come with more than a few bells and whistles that make them attractive and raise the price. Some are purely cosmetic:
- Silky smooth finish – These guns are beautifully finished with rich, deep metal finishes and very nice grips.
- No machine marks – One of the things you will always see in reviews of high-end guns is that there are no visible machine marks on the insides of the slides or frame.
Other factors are practical even if they qualify as extras:
- Optics ready – The frames are fitted to mount an optic like a red dot. This used to be exclusive to expensive guns, but many inexpensive guns now come this way. But if you are on a strict budget, buying a compact red dot for anything from $200 to $500 probably isn’t something you will be doing anyway.
- Night sights – Night sights are expensive and not usually included on inexpensive guns.
- Interchangeable grip backstraps – A critical aspect of making a gun fit your hand perfectly, more inexpensive guns are beginning to offer these.
- Threaded barrel – Suppressors are the “in thing” these days, but as with a red dot, if you’re on a budget, you probably don’t have the extra $700 to $1000 to spend on a suppressor and $200 NFA tax stamp.
Inexpensive Carry Guns
There are plenty of inexpensive guns that are not cheaply made and provide solid, reliable EDC options. They are available in numerous actions that include striker fired, DAO, and DA/SA and have been proven by satisfied owners over the years. Here are a few examples that I can vouch for from personal experience.
Smith and Wesson M&P Shield M2.0
Smith & Wesson has been an American standard in firearms since 1852. Their M&P line offers well-respected revolvers, pistols, and rifles for law enforcement and armed citizens. The Shield M2.0 is a 9mm striker-fired polymer framed pistol with a 3.125″ barrel. It has a capacity of 7+1 and manual thumb safety. It’s reliable and easy to shoot and can often be found for around $300.
SEE ALL Smith and Wesson M&P Shield M2.0 DEALS
A few decades ago, Taurus didn’t have the best reputation, but they have worked hard to improve the quality of their handguns. The G2c is an excellent 9mm polymer framed gun that is a perfect size for concealed carry. It has a 3.25″ barrel and a capacity of 12+1. Taurus bills the trigger as SA with restrike capability, but it feels like a DA/SA. The rear sight is adjustable, and it is a very reliable gun. Prices range around the $250 mark.
SEE ALL Taurus G2c DEALS
Sarsilmaz is a Turkish firearms producer that sells firearms all over the world. The SAR B6 is a CZ75 clone, and the B6c is the compact version of that gun. It is an all-steel 9mm DA/SA pistol with a 3.8″ barrel. It has a 13+1 capacity and an external thumb safety. I love to carry this gun because I can carry it with a round in the chamber, hammer down, and the safety off. That way, all I have to do is draw and pull the trigger. It is reliable and accurate. The B6c can easily be found for under $400 and often much less than that.
SEE ALL SAR B6c DEALS
Beretta APX A1
Beretta is the oldest gunmaker in the world and has a reputation for highly crafted and excellent firearms. The APX AI is a polymer framed striker-fired 9mm handgun with a 3″ barrel. It comes optic-ready and has a modular chassis that allows you to switch out the grip frame to fit your hand. Capacity is only 8+1, but it is a very small gun so it is easy to conceal that shoots well. You can find an APX A1 for around $300. They are also available with a red dot already included for around $400 or less.
SEE ALL Beretta APX A1 DEALS
The four inexpensive guns I discussed here are only a few of the quality guns available at a reasonable price. If you don’t like any of them, I’m sure you can find a different one that suits you better.
I have carried guns in my work for much of my life. I served as a Combat Arms officer in the Army and spent 15 years as a high-risk private security contractor, so I have carried and used a lot of different guns. It is my experience that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a fancy gun with all the bells and whistles to have something you can use with confidence.
If you are on a tight budget, don’t be discouraged by the fact that so many reviews and articles tell you that you need to spend a lot of money to have a reliable gun for EDC. Do your homework, try some different guns out, and choose one that you can buy with confidence and still have some money left for all the other expenses that go with getting your concealed carry permit.
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