Cheap pistols

A gun — any gun — is better than a big rock!

Gun writers collectively tend to forget something — we all want to carry a $5,000 custom defensive pistol but sometimes a large soft drink at the local Dairy Fairy is far beyond our personal net worth at the moment.

I’ve been fortunate to climb to the top of the smoldering slag heap of national gun scribes but I try to always remember my rather humble beginnings as a rookie cop, with a wife, babies and creditors who unreasonably expected on-time payment. Back then, working for local government pay rates, my gun collection was pitiful, usually bordering on non-existent.

The Truth

As someone with a bit of experience in real-world gun play, I’m a firm believer in the idea you should buy the best equipment you can afford when it comes to self-defense. However, let’s be honest: If the choice literally comes down to buying little Timmy’s insulin versus purchasing a firearm, most of us will legitimately choose — reluctantly — to pay the bills rather than buy a hunk of metal you hope you’ll never use.

I think of such tough decisions whenever I hearken back to my first days as a freshly minted, wet-behind-the-ears baby cop. In those days, with a newborn and a massive debt-to-income ratio, the only backup gun I could afford was a classic “man-stopper,” the Jennings J-22 .22 LR semi-auto!

I’m sure a few readers spewed cheese puffs all over the magazine upon reading the previous sentence. After all, what self-respecting human, let alone a gun guy, would carry this little semi-auto in such a deadly serious role?

Based upon my non-existent bank balance at the time, such a person would have been me.

Bigger And Better

It was three years before I could justify spending some of our growing but still meager financial resources on a “real” gun. However, during this period I resigned myself to the idea of at least having a back-up weapon if things got really ugly, unlike many of my cohorts (this was long before most cops were issued back-up/off-duty guns). My gun selection didn’t inspire a lot of confidence but it was comforting just the same.

While we agree quality is important in a self-defense firearm, what if the best gun you can afford wouldn’t even rate as a doorstop at NRA Headquarters? If you find yourself in such a position, as I have, here are a few thoughts.

First, just buy the gun. While some experts, usually gun writers, suggest you save your pennies and buy a “real” the opposite tack and suggest you go ahead and buy something, anything, and then start scrimping to upgrade. In the meantime, you won’t find yourself dying in the street wondering if the custom .45 you still can’t afford would have saved your life.

If you have only pocket change to spend, reliability or lack thereof will be the critical factor. Cheap or used guns are notorious for having intermittent bouts of firearms constipation so it’s vital to put the gun through its paces, prior to purchase if you can. If not, make sure you understand all its little shooting quirks by spending ample range time before carrying.

The key to reliability is making sure the weapon is scrupulously clean and properly lubricated. On my backup .22, I found a little dirt, too much oil or lack of same would cause a misfeed every second or third shot. If cleaned and properly lubed, I could trust it (just barely) to work if needed.

Here’s the good news: There are more and better “price point” guns on the market than ever before! As CNC technology is cheaper than ever, the manufacturing tolerances in even inexpensive guns are better than some of the bigger names of 20 years ago. Therefore, before buying a used gun of dubious parentage, I’d suggest picking up one of the new lower-cost 9mm pistols offered by various manufacturers. My current budget recommendation is the Taurus G3, around $250 “on the street.” I’ll wager it’ll perform on par with a “name-your-favorite-$500-pistol,” provided you regularly perform basic maintenance — defined as “don’t let 3 lbs. of lint accumulate inside the dust cover.”

To summarize and hopefully prevent one or two breathless letters to the editor, I’m not suggesting a used, pawn shop, no-name .25 caliber pistol made from the finest cast zinc, balsa wood and yak spit in Upper Filthistan is ideal for a self-defense weapon. However, if the choice comes down to such a “distinctive example of firearms technology” or a big rock, I’d say go ahead and buy the gun.

Besides, it’s nearly impossible to put a Picatinny rail and flashlight on a chunk of sandstone.

I know — I tried.

News And Notes

We’ve just come back from the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas. Many considered this year’s show as a critical barometer to the health of the firearms industry but I’m happy to report nearly everyone left “Lost Wages” upbeat, even if they lost at the craps table. In fact, more than one person, when quizzed about the effects of the upcoming presidential election, responded by saying, “We’ll deal with it when it happens. Right now, we’re too busy selling guns!”

Such things make my little heart pitter-patter with joy!

Also noteworthy was the explosion in new products, both accessories and guns themselves. There were clues to this general upward trajectory as our email overflowed with press releases more than usual in the run-up to the show. A few items of note:

SIG SAUER is expanding into the hunting market with their CROSS bolt-action rifle, a hybrid hunting/target rifle aimed at folks who will use the rifle both for paper-punching and elk-pestering. Meanwhile the re-issued Colt Python is getting rave reviews and has inspired a whole new class of “Fanboy,” which I completely understand. Check out our website for a GUNS Exclusive — gorgeous pictures of the first engraved Python, from Tyler Gun Works!

A collaborative effort of Traditions Firearms, Federal ammo and Hodgdon powder is bringing factory cartridges into the muzzleloader world, promising simplicity and consistency along with ease of loading and unloading. Also, the Mossberg MC2c is a great “blue collar” striker-fired 9mm which will give a similar plastic German gun a run for its money.

Our friends over at Springfield had a busy week, introducing their new XD-M Elite series, .308 SAINT Pistol and the Ronin 1911 9mm and .45 ACP following on the heels of their hot Hellcat micro-compact. We didn’t personally handle the Ronin but many friends and acquaintances did and say the piece, with an MSRP of $849, might be one of the best values in the 1911 space.

Speaking of handguns, every tactical pistol at the show featured — either as standard equipment or an available option — a red-dot sight. No surprises here but the widespread availability of the optics makes it clear they are the hot new trend for pistols. Holster and accessory makers are likewise taking heed. While our aging eyes agree red dots make hits easier, we’re still not convinced they are faster than our express-sight-equipped pistols. Call me a crusty curmudgeon, but don’t call me late for dinner!

Finally, in a low-key but important product launch, Trijcon introduced its “Ventus” range-finding wind meter, a true leap into the next generation of environmental measurement devices for long-distance shooters. Not only does the handheld optic measure non-reflective targets out to 5,000 yards, it measures wind (both horizontally and vertically) in several locations out to 500 yards using Doppler Lidar (look it up). We played with a prototype late last year and it promises to truly be the next big evolution for shooters. When we asked Trijicon reps if the military is interested, we only got an inscrutable smile in return.

The only downside — (as with a very expensive restaurant) if you have to ask the cost, it might be out of your price range! However, technology constantly gets cheaper and smaller over time so in 10 years we’ll all have something similar in our range bags, along with a small radar chronograph the size of a cigarette box!

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