Are Budget Pistols Worth It?
Budget pistols seem to bring about strong reactions when folks start comparing pistol A against pistol B. Is it because the guy who bought the cheap one doesn't know any better or because the guy with the higher-end gun doesn't like the risk of having over paid?
We've highlighted a lot of "affordable options" (link is to our playlist of guns in that category) over the years and experienced some of the pros and cons of going with the cheaper option. This article is meant to be a discussion starter as we'd like to hear from you: Have you owned a budget pistol? Why or why not? What was your experience with the choice you made?
For those still on the fence about a purchase, let's break down what makes a gun "budget" and the possible pros and cons. For 2022 prices we'll declare a budget handgun to be anything under $400. We recently made a list of the top 16 affordable options and included our reviews, current pricing, and where to find them. That article can be seen HERE.
Why so Inexpensive? You'll notice we didn't use the word, "cheap", as that implies low quality. Typically inexpensive pistols are imported from places where they can be made for considerably less cost than here in the US. Think about it. Not only is the pistol made, but then has to go through export processing, shipped across the globe, import processing, distribution and marketing, give the importer financial motivation to deal with it all (profit) and still be below the cost of something made in the US.
So how can they do that? Are Americans factories just that expensive to run? In part yes, but other factors come into play such as the cost of raw materials. Another way inexpensive pistols come about is through the expiration of patents. Once a patent is gone it doesn't take much to reverse engineer a mechanical device, clone it with some tweaks, and same thousands on research and development costs.
Less commonly there are US companies that, with enabling Americans to be armed in mind, set out to make affordable guns here in the US such as SCCY, FMK, and of course the famous High Point. Accomplishing this usually requires shaving expenses off of features, finishes, or re-using someone else's expired design. Quality is not as predictable with affordable American-made guns, but the warranty service generally compensates.
What Does it Really Cost the Shooter? So you save a couple hundred dollars on a pistol, what is the real cost? Typically these are imported guns, which means parts availability might not be certain, nor is much warranty support. That's not always the case though as more and more manufacturers start taking their brand seriously and make efforts to have a _______ USA presence such as Bersa USA and Taurus USA, with trained gunsmiths, parts, spare magazines, and accessories on hand here in the US.
It used to be that if your strayed too far off the big-name path you weren't going to be able to find a holster. A saturated holster market has fixed that some, and many of the manufacturers have realized that for a miniscule cost they can include a holster of their own making. It won't be the best thing out there, but it's better than nothing.
Will it last? Is a question I see a lot floating around the internet. The only gun lifespan factor that we can really measure by is round count. How many rounds will the gun run before parts start needing replacing? Will there be parts available? More importantly, how much do you intend to shoot the gun? Grabbing at random numbers, let's suppose a budget model may last 10,000 rounds while the big-brand lasts 30,000 rounds (several duty-grade pistols have been tested beyond 50,000 rounds).
Budget pistol lifespan of 10,000 rounds = $3,300 of ammo (2022 9mm case price)
Big-Brand pistol lifespan of 30,000 rounds = $9,900 of ammo.
Difference of $6,600
Do you plan to spend the $6,600 difference in ammo to warrant the more expensive pistol? If so I bet you can also afford to repair or replace the gun.
Here's another way to look at it: A $350 pistol + case of 9mm ammo ($330) = $680. That's only $80 more than the average "nice pistol" and 0 rounds of ammunition. It's safe to assume that a pistol and the experience of a case-worth of ammunition will make for a better shooter than the guy with a fancy gun and no ammo. The person who bought the budget option and a case of ammo will also know more about what they like and don't like in a pistol and if other features or modifications are worth doing.
GBGuns' Answer: Considering I got my start with affordable options, and am only able to know what I do about pistols because I could afford to try several pistols, I think budget-friendly guns are great. For the most part those we have reviewed have proven reliable enough to count your life on, and at least enough of an experience to learn more about shooting and develop preferences. If you're willing to take care of your firearm, and, especially if you're looking to learn, budget options are a great way to get into firearms.
Another factor rarely discussed it what's the cost to replace your gun? In many defensive use cases the firearm is confiscated as evidence and rarely given back, if so not in a timely manner. This is why although I won some "fancy guns" I won't carry them.