Looking for a quality EDC pistol that won’t break the bank? Here are our top carry handgun picks for below $500.
There’s a line of thought in the everyday carry field that you should not be carrying an expensive, custom pistol. Some object because it might give the DA another stick with which to beat you in the legal proceedings. Others claim that your custom 1911 (it always seems to be a 1911, in this argument) will spend years in evidence lockup, and you might not ever see it again.
Well, color me unimpressed.
To throw cold water on those, consider instead the incident itself. If it was in the parlance “a good shoot,” then the DA will do what he or she can or will do, but that’s all. And if it was a good shoot, you’ll be getting your property back. (Well, maybe not, in some jurisdictions, but that’s a life choice and real estate decision, not a pistol selection one.) And if your custom pistol has suffered somewhat in evidence, then the custom ’smith who worked on it will be glad to refresh it now that it has served you well.
EDC Pistols Get Gross
No, I encourage the use of inexpensive pistols for daily carry for an entirely different reason: sweat.
I once had a customer who could rust anything, and quickly. Bart’s perspiration was so corrosive that you could see it on his carry gun. We ended up giving his carry gun a double hard-chrome plating, because we learned he could rust through the hard chrome with just one layer of plating. As I write this, it’s 82 degrees outside, with 88 percent relative humidity. You practically have to push yourself through the air, it’s so thick. A walk around the block has one dripping in sweat. That’s sweat that will drench your carry pistol.
Yes, modern coatings and finishes are much better than the high-gloss blue of the old days, but rusting a $5,000 custom pistol in a weekend of carry isn’t fun. Luckily, you can get a carry gun entirely suitable for daily use for a tenth of that, and you won’t care much if it does suffer some.
Less Can Be More
Let’s start right off the bat with Taurus and the G series. If you want a subcompact pistol, then the GX4 can be yours for under five bills—under four bills if you don’t need or want the option for mounting a red-dot sight. So, a 10- or 11-round magazine, compact size and a list price of $399? It’s hard to beat that, but Taurus does it. If you’re looking for something a little larger or that costs a bit less, then the full-sized G3 can be yours with a list price of $340.
Now, if your tastes run more toward the traditional, you’ll be looking for a 1911 pistol. OK, Armscor has you covered here, with a selection of sizes, finishes, capacities and even calibers, starting at $499. You can bling yours up by opting for a nickel finish, if you like flashy or want the corrosion-resistance it offers. If you’re a fan of the hi-cap striker approach, but not too keen on polymer, then the Armscor STK100 fits the need. Its aluminum frame won’t rust, and the STK100 takes Glock magazines, an item so common I expect to see them on the counter of the convenience store at my local gas station soon.
If you’re looking to stick with steel magazines, then the Springfield Armory XD series is your choice. The new XDm series are the hot products from Springfield, but the XD line has been offered long enough that Springfield Armory has some real deals to offer. The current Defend Your Legacy XD series, in several sizes, offers you a 9mm pistol of 13- or 16-round magazine capacity, and the XD pistols are hell for tough. At a listed $440, you get steel magazines, grip safety, ambi mag release, striker cocking indicator and loaded chamber indicator, ultra-reliability and the option of using extended magazines to increase your XD's capacity.
One of the sources of solid, dependable and inexpensive handguns of late has been Turkey. Century Arms offers the Canik line, and there you have an embarrassment of choices. If you want a full-sized pistol, then the TP9SF at a listed $399, offering 18- or 20-round extended magazines, is amazing. They have all the features you’d want in a pistol, with replaceable backstraps, an accessory rail, hi-vis sights and coming complete with a holster, spare magazine and cleaning tools, so you won’t have to buy extras just to get started. (Well, ammo, of course.) You do have to like a pistol done up in FDE, because that’s how the TP9SF rolls. Other Canik models offer basic black as a finish color. If you want something smaller than a full-sized duty pistol, then the TP9 Elite SC, a subcompact pistol and also set up for red-dot optics, will probably be in the display case next to the TP9SF and listed at $440.
Now, not all pistols have to be offered in a wide range of options in order to be a great deal. The BRG9 Elite is one such. Made by the Burgu Metal Company in Turkey, and imported by BRG-USA, it’s a duty-sized 9mm pistol. Coming in a lockable hard case with replaceable backstraps, two 16-round magazines, a mag loader and cleaning tools, the BRG9 Elite has a list price of $399.
The selection of 9mm hi-cap pistols that retail for under four Benjamins is eye-opening to those of us who grew up with higher, relative to inflationary changes, prices in the old days. To give you a scale, if we backward calculate $400 in modern Biden dollars to when I bought my first 1911 (USGI surplus), the value then of $400 comes to $97 in 1979. I paid $189 for my 1911 back then. New pistols and revolvers cost even more than that. So, the bargain pistols of today really are bargains.
A Fistfight With Rust
One of the things that got me out of gunsmithing and into gun writing was rust. I was doing a survey of the work I had done and realized just how much of my income came from neglect. Hunting guns, rifles and shotguns that had malfunctioned during the previous hunting season, only now, weeks before Opening Day, were being brought in to be cleaned and checked. Carry guns needed the rust buffed off and the hardened oil inside chipped away. Then, there were the hunting guns that were forgotten until they had been pulled out as “pre-hunt planning” and the carry guns not discovered until they had failed to work at an all-too-rare practice session or required departmental qualification day.
I’ll grant that the modern finishes are better than blue, and even the hard chrome Bart rusted. But since you’re paying so little, and treating your pistol so harshly, you can take an extra step and not shed a tear over it. The aluminum or polymer frame isn’t going to rust. If you want to give the slide extra protection, you can be careful and coat it with car wax. That’ll help it shed the moisture and sweat it experiences.
You could even (and this is really getting hard core) field-strip your pistol, degrease the slide and give it an application of spray paint. Now, I’d suggest this only if you lived in someplace even more humid than the Midwest, where I Iive, or if your body is as hostile to metal as Bart’s is, and need the extra rust protection. Be sure to use bits of masking tape to keep the paint out of or off of things that need to move, or need to be not covered, like your tritium night sights. And, once it has dried, be sure that you reassemble and give your carry pistol a thorough range session, just to make sure that the paint hasn’t gotten someplace it ought not to have, and your pistol still works.
Now, some might object. “Paint? You’re asking me to paint my firearm?” Well, what do you think a lot of the non-black finishes are, essentially, that you can have on your carry pistol? And, if you live in a truly awful environment, you can have paint on your pistol or you can have rust on your pistol. This is America, after all—you get to decide.
Last, and this applies to all daily carry firearms, not just the inexpensive ones, you should stop by your local computer store, or hit up Amazon, for canned air. The really big problem with daily carry isn’t the sweat, although that is a problem. It’s the lint. Lint accumulates, and once it builds up enough, it stops the small parts from working. Even expensive pistols stop working if there’s enough lint, and it doesn’t take as long as you might think for “enough” to build up. Blow the lint out before it builds up to “too much.”
Be Smart, Not Cheap
It’d be smart to take some of the savings you scored from going with an inexpensive carry gun and invest it in cleaning supplies and canned air. If not, it’d be most embarrassing to be standing and waiting at the pearly gates, where the bouncer is looking at you in scorn. “Lint? Really?”
Looking for inexpensive, given the harsh environment, is prudent, but taking care of your investment so it can take care of you is also prudent.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2022 EDC special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.