Several of my readers and followers have asked if I would write a 2023 article about my opinion of the top value or budget-priced 9mm compact pistols that are reliable and specifically priced under $400. Given the high inflation rate and the state of the economy now, they want to buy a reliable and accurate compact pistol that is made by a reputable manufacturer for a low price. And several have said they do not want a very small, sub-compact, or micro-compact pocket pistol, recognizing that they are generally more difficult to shoot accurately, although easy to conceal. And there are many excellent ones out there. Another article for another time. The pistols in this article would not necessarily be optimal for concealed carry but could be carried.
Compact 9mm Pistols Only
My definition of “compact” pistols are ones that are smaller than full-size pistols (with their about five-inch barrels), larger than sub-compact and micro-compact pistols (with their 3-inch to 3.5-inch barrels), and large enough to be easily handled and used for self-defense. For me, the slightly longer compact-length barrels help to mitigate felt recoil, have an increased potential of being more accurate and can be comfortably carried. So a compact pistol and its barrel length are delimiting factors, in addition to the value price of under $400. So, sub-compact and micro-compact 9mm pistols were not considered for these value-priced options. These can be the subject of another article later. See my criteria below for my specific dimensions criteria for this article.
My 8 “Value” Criteria
First, I had to specify the criteria for some value pistols. All the criteria had to be met, which helped narrow down the huge possible list. The five value pistols I listed are solid shooters, without “bells and whistles,” and I shot about 50 rounds of fine Fiocchi 115 grain, 1200 fps FMJ ammo through each of them for this second testing, in addition to the rounds I shot through them for their initial testing and evaluation. No malfunctions, stoppages, or problems, but do your own safety checks before you shoot, as always.
Here are my very restrictive eight criteria for my top value-priced 9mm pistols:
- 9mm caliber;
- MSRP or Current Street Price of under $400;
- Compact size with a barrel length of at least 3.70″ to 4.20″ maximum;
- Unloaded weight of between 20 oz. to 28 oz.;
- Capacity of 11 rounds minimum in the magazine (prefer near 15);
- Comfortable grip for my medium-large sized hands with a width of at least 1.05″ and not over 1.45″;
- Height of between 4.4″ to 5.2″ (affects concealability, printing, & carrying);
- Manufactured by one of the top 20 Handgun Manufacturers in the Rankings.
My Top Compact 9mm Pistols Under $400
After much research, investigation, talks with experienced instructors and shooters, and comparisons with my criteria, here are my personal opinions of the top compact 9mm pistols available on the market at this time for under $400.
All five pistols meet all my criteria and are not listed in any priority ranking order. I have shot and field-tested all of these pistols, and I own them all. Not all of these pistols are created equal and, again, are not ranked here in any priority order. Prices vary a lot and daily, but you can shop around and find all of them for under $400, especially if there are sales, manufacturers’ rebates, and newer models out. Used Law enforcement versions are offered at very good prices but carefully inspect them.
Justification for My Criteria
I recognize that your criteria may be different from mine, and that certainly is alright. Yours is just as valuable and useful as my subjective criteria, but I had to have some starting point to whittle down my long list of possibilities.
Consider that a 9mm caliber has lower recoil relative to other larger calibers and is more controllable, especially for new shooters or those with weak hands or physical impairments. According to some recent studies, the 9mm caliber, with improved contemporary ballistics, has comparable stopping power to some larger calibers and surpasses the .380 ACP. There are many available lists of budget .380 ACP pistols, but I prefer the 9mm over them (especially for self-defense.) And 9mm rounds are usually lower priced than .40, .45, and .380 rounds, depending on the bullet and round characteristics, which means more ammo for practice time.
The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of under $400 or a currently available now street price at that level is an important criterion. Obviously, a lower-priced gun less than $400 is helpful to someone forking over the purchase price. It gives you more money diverted from buying a higher-priced gun to spend on ammo for practice, holster, belt, extra mag, accessories, and training. There are very few lower-priced 9mm compact handguns for less than $400 that are reliable and made by reputable manufacturers. Do your own comprehensive research. Remember, a high price does not always guarantee high quality. I found my listed value guns at my target prices at a certain time from a given vendor, but the prices change regularly, and so do the vendors with value prices. So shop for a sale.
Barrel Length and Size
Recognize that a longer barrel length gives you a longer sight radius and the bullet more time to more efficiently spin and gain velocity before exiting the barrel, thus improving accuracy, e.g., 3.0″ versus 4.0″ barrel length. Note there is a tradeoff since some longer barrel lengths are not appropriate for maneuvering inside the home or for concealed carry for some individuals, given body dimensions and/or preferences. And gun size dimensions are important for different purposes. A compact-size handgun is a very good size for many overall purposes and, helps mitigate recoil, muzzle flip, and aids potential accuracy.
Understand that a moderately-weighted gun helps tame recoil, muzzle flip, and is not too heavy for carry or other purposes, nor too lightweight, e.g., 20 oz versus 30 oz. A handgun weight of between 20 to 28 ounces is a sweet spot for meeting several requirements, carrying a self-defense pistol, and various handgun uses.
Capacity and Ammo
Of course, the capacity of your handgun to carry sufficient rounds for your purpose is very critical. More rounds available in your mag gives you more protection against possible multiple attackers and extended gun fights, e.g., 16 rounds versus eight rounds. There is a practical limit to the number of extra mags one can carry. A small-sized 9mm round versus a .45 ACP larger-sized round, for example, naturally allows a larger number of rounds to be carried in any given magazine size for the caliber.
And the quality of the ammo is very key. The testing ammo I used to evaluate and field test these pistols was mostly premium Fiocchi Training Dynamics 9mm 124 grain 1,150 fps FMJ and 115 grain 1,200 fps FMJ ammo. Thanks to Fiocchi USA for these testing rounds. For this final testing, I shot 40 rounds through each pistol, in addition to previous rounds tested with these guns. The ammo met the FBI standard of penetration depth of between 12-18 inches at a distance of about 5 yards and the average expansion diameter of .52 inches in ballistics testing. The average muzzle velocity was between 1,150 fps and 1,200 fps. No reloads or steel-cased ammo was used.
Usually, most major pistol manufacturers, especially those who have successfully existed for a number of years, have learned the needs of their target market of shooters from their experiences, have developed quality reputations over time for their existence, and have the resources to stand behind and support their products and customers. Given the recently improved ballistics and quality of much of the 9mm in the market now, there is usually no concern if premium ammo from a reputable manufacturer is used.
Source for Top Handgun Manufacturers Poll
I went to the website www.Ranker.com, where they conducted a poll on October 5, 2020, and used 78,7000 votes to rank the top 20 handgun manufacturers based on input from gun lovers. The website is a digital media site that claims to have one of the largest opinion databases, with over 250 million votes gathered on over 1 million subjects. (Recognize even this large number of handgun user respondents may not be representative of a statistically valid and reliable sample and size.) So while not totally objective and ranked necessarily the way I would, it does include major quality manufacturers. Understand that this general list is not supported by in-depth scientific research, frequent changes may have omitted some quality manufacturers, may not be statistically valid or reliable, is very subjective, and is just a starting point for this article. It is not meant to be a final, all-inclusive listing or ranking of top handgun manufacturers by myself. It is a snapshot in time of the opinions of a sample of others from just one website poll. I, for one, do not necessarily totally agree with their manufacturer rankings and the list’s inclusiveness.
The Best Handgun Brands, Ranked by 78,700 Gun Lovers
by Werner Brandes, www.Ranker.com, October 5, 2020
- Sig Sauer
- Heckler & Koch
- Smith & Wesson
- Springfield Armory, Inc.
- Walther Arms
- Colt’s Manufacturing Company
- FN Herstal
- Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.
- Browning Arms Company
- Benilli USA – Stoeger is a Subsidiary
- Wilson Combat
- Barrett Firearms Manufacturing – mostly rifles, shotguns, & ammo
- Rock Island Armory
I hope my research, criteria, and opinions have saved you some time and helped you narrow down your list of value-priced compact 9mms under $400. At least it is a start for your own research and list of choices. I don’t have negative diatribes against any of these pistols. Can you think of other available compact 9mm pistols for under $400 that meet my criteria given here or that meet your criteria?
Photos by author.
Springfield, MA 01104
Prescott, AZ 86301
Bainbridge, GA 39817
Canik USA- Century Arms
Delray Beach, FL 33445
Accokeek, MD 20607
Ozark, MO 65721
* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only, and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense, and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.
© 2023 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.