8 Quality Carry Guns for Under $400…Or Not

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles, Firearm Reviews

  • SumoMe

Written by Greg Ellifritz



Guns and Ammo’s online magazine ran an article touting the 8 best “quality” handguns available for under $400.  I like the premise of the article, but I can’t say that I agree with the author’s choices.  Check out the article HERE.


The author chooses the following guns as “affordable, reliable carry guns“.  I don’t think he’s ever shot any of these monstrosities.  Let’s take a look at his list:


1) Bersa Thunder .380– This gun is a better weapon than its price would lead you to believe.  Despite its amazing popularity in South America, the Bersa is a second (or maybe third) tier weapon in terms of reliability here.  Some work OK.  I’ve never seen one that was reliable enough to bet my life on.


Not terrible, but certainly not your best choice


2) Charter Arms Undercover .38- Another second tier option.  Revolvers are generally more reliable than semi-auto pistols, but the Charter Arms revolvers I’ve shot have quickly developed some serious issues.  Triggers are generally terrible as well.  I’m not a fan of Taurus revolvers, but they are a step above the Charters and at a similar price point.  I would only buy this one if I couldn’t afford anything else and I didn’t plan on shooting it a lot.


3). FMK 9C1 9mm– Don’t have much to say (good or bad) about this one.  I’ve never fired one or even seen one in all the classes I’ve taught.


Patriotic devotion is great, but I’d rather have a long-term track record of reliability


4) Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm– Not a big fan of this one.  I’ve owned a couple Kel-Tecs and they have all felt “cheap” to me.  I’ve seen a couple of these at the shooting school and they don’t tend to last very long.



Reliable? Not in my experience…


5) Ruger LCP .380– I have mixed feelings on this one.  I own one and mine has functioned flawlessly for the 700 or so rounds I’ve put through it.  Some of my officers have needed to send theirs back to the factory for repairs.  They haven’t performed very well at the shooting school.  It seems that some work well and others don’t.


6) Ruger P-95 9mm– This gun is certainly reliable, but it’s big, clunky, and it feels like you are shooting a 2 x 4 when you pull the trigger.  It’s fairly large for concealed carry, but may serve as an adequate home defense weapon.


The clunky 2×4


7) Smith and Wesson SD-40 .40–  I hate this gun.  It looks like Smith’s attempt to copy a Glock, but they screwed everything up.  The gun isn’t as reliable as the Glock, recoils more and has one of the worst triggers available in a modern day autopistol.  As bad as it may sound, I’d rather carry the clunky Ruger P-95 than this thing.


8) Taurus Polymer Public Defender .410– Really?  This gun is considered a joke by all knowledgeable instructors.  Making it out of plastic doesn’t improve anything.


Does anyone actually CARRY one of these?


Please don’t write in and tell me that you have one of the guns listed above and that it has been 100% reliable.  If that is true, you either got exceptionally lucky or you haven’t shot your gun very much.  I’ve had extensive experience with all of the guns listed (except the FMK).  I shoot about 15,000 rounds a year myself and see several hundred thousand rounds fired by my students each year.  My experience in this area is a little more than N = 1.  I know you want your choice of defensive pistol to be reliable, but you may have to face the painful news that you chose a weapon that isn’t the best performer in the long run.  Better get the truth now than have your weapon fail when lives are at stake.


I’m not one to bash someone’s ideas without offering some viable alternatives.  There are some good guns out there under $400, but many of them are used.  Buying a used gun will save you quite a bit of money.  They generally don’t look as good cosmetically as newer weapons, but they function well.  Here are my picks…


1) Used Glock 19 0r 23 in 9mm or .40 S&W– I prefer the model 19, but they are a little harder to find than the abundant numbers of .40 police trade ins.  In my area, police trade-in Glock 23s in good condition run in the $350-$375 range.


Smith 6906


2) Used 3rd Generation Smith and Wesson 9mm autopistol.  Guns like the 3913 (along with its double- action only counterpart the 3943), and the 6906 are reliable 9mm autos that are easy to carry and accurate.  You’ll find quite a few police trade-ins still available in the $300-$400 range.


Smith 442


3) New Smith and Wesson 442 .38spl- This is a hammerless airweight J-frame .38.  It’s a great gun and costs around $375 new.


Any of these three weapons will be better choices than the eight listed by the author of the G&A article.  Better yet, save an extra $100 and buy a new Glock 19 or Smith and Wesson M&P Compact.  How much is your life worth?




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6 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Brian Young says:

    The author may not have shot any of these monstrosities, but would it be safe to assume his magazine has accepted advertising from their makers?

  2. mobiaxis says:

    I agree 100% with your conclusion. Police trades are consistently some of the best deals out there. To begin with, if it is a police service pistol you can be fairly certain that someone in a police department somewherehas done the legwork for you with respect to manufacturer and model reliability. Not referring to any of the LEOs here of course, but believe it or not, a lot of policemen don’t like to shoot and the only times the gun comes out is for periodic qualification. It makes for exactly what you want in a used gun – enough (cosmetic) holster wear to knock the price down, but almost new barrel and internal parts. Speaking strictly for in-home defense, you can easily pick up a 12ga Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 for about $250, leaving you $150 for a nice barrel mounted light.

  3. ferndale says:

    i own a p95. you are correct that it is reliable, and also correct that it’s pretty tough to conceal, even though i’m 6’3″ and 250#. the frame is wide and the slide release is even wider. if you must wear a heavy sweatshirt to conceal a gun, you might as well carry a 12 gauge. also, it has this nasty habit of the slide failing to go completely into battery unless you really let the slide slam forward.

    i opted for a springfield xd9 subcompact for daily carry and am trying to trade the p95 for a .38 snub. maybe i should just take it to a gun shop and try to trade it in for that j-frame you mentioned.

  4. Michael says:

    I, literally, laughed out loud when ready several statements you’ve made, Greg! The Ruger IS a shooting 2X4! Great gun… But bulky, to say the least. I am still trying to get my students to understand that the Judge and the Governor are niche guns. Poor choice. These revolvers take “bulky” to a whole new level. I actually have a friend that has a Judge in a SERPA for his EDC. CRAZY.
    Thanks again for a fun article!

  5. ExurbanKevin says:

    Hmmn, I wonder how much that article was influenced by ad dollars, because they missed a whole bunch of decent guns.

    Sccy CPX-2. I owned the Gen 1 version of this gun and intensely hated it, but the Gen 2 version is quite good. Not a world-beater, but a good second-tier gun.
    S&W SD9 VE. I also dislike the Sigma, but S&W cured a lot the problems with this version. Again, not as good as an M&P, but not bad.
    Kahr CW9. Going for under $350 all over Gunbroker.
    Ruger LC9s. Easily under $400, and a nice little gun to boot.

    And I’ve found that the Walther PPX retails for just a shade over $400 as well. You’re going to make some compromises when it comes to holsters and accessories with these guns, but other than that, there’s some decent guns to be had out there cheaply.

  6. Lance says:

    We have had just 2 FMK pistols come through our store and both had magazine issues in under 50 rounds. I would not personally recommend them for defense. I do agree with the police trade in 19s and 23s. If you do a little searching they are out there and are still reliable.