Recently, I wrote an article about my best 9mm pistols and almost all of them were priced at least $500 and up. The same applies to most of my top carry guns analyzed in the second edition of my handguns book. No pistols in either list cost less than $400. Well, several folks, including several new shooters, commented that my list is a helpful list. But added that they are looking for a very good reliable 9mm budget pistol made by a reputable manufacturer that is value-priced less than $300.
The Challenge: Finding the Top Compact 9mm Pistols Under $300
“Can you give me your list of those reliable, value-priced 9mm compact pistols with a decent capacity, which are not too heavy in weight, with decent accuracy, which I can buy for less than $300 from a reputable manufacturer?”
Well, there are hundreds if not thousands of 9mm pistols on the market and I researched and put my thinking cap on for this challenge. These value-priced handguns were not necessarily only for concealed carry. And we do not want to consider “cheap” and marginal-quality guns with less desirable attributes when we are protecting our lives or the lives of our loved ones. There are several budget websites where you can buy these value handguns, including some auction sites that sometimes have them very reasonably priced. So shop around.
My “Value Prices 9mm Pistol” Criteria
First, I had to specify the criteria for some value pistols. All the criteria had to be met, so to help narrow down the huge possible list. My criteria are very subjective, and I decided upon them to primarily save time and narrow the focus. And, all of the handguns listed had to be reliable, safe without any doubt, and they must go “bang” only when you want them to. Of course, you or I could add or subtract from these criteria and have a completely different and justifiable list of possibilities. Those five pistols listed are solid shooters, without “bells and whistles,” and I shot at least 100 rounds through each of them. Remember, I suggest you “try before you buy” any gun yourself before you purchase it. Here are my very restrictive seven criteria for this particular study and article of Value Pistols:
- Budget Street Price of less than $300
- 9mm Caliber
- Compact Size with Barrel Length of at least 3.50″ to 4.25″ Maximum
- Unloaded Weight of between 22 oz. to 27 oz.
- Capacity of 8 rounds minimum in the Magazine (prefer near 15); ammo type
- Comfortable Grip for my medium-large sized hands with Width at least 1″ and not over 1.35″
- Manufactured by one of the “Top” Pistol Manufacturers
Justification for 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. There can always be another study and list of value guns, with a different set of criteria, by you or me.
Obviously, a lower-priced gun less than $300 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 a very few lower-priced 9mm handguns less than $300 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.
TIP: Don’t cut corners and settle on a “cheap” low-priced budget handgun that does not have the basic functioning operational characteristics and features to help save your life possibly. Seek both function and “value.”
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 the 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. 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.
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., 3.1″ versus 4.0″ barrel length. Note there is a tradeoff since some longer barrel lengths are not appropriate for maneuvering inside the home or concealed carry for some individuals, given body dimensions or preferences. And gun dimensions are important for different purposes.
TIP: A longer handgun barrel length improves the potential for more accuracy. Theoretical accuracy is driven by the barrel’s length and its internal rifling, lands, and grooves, and bullet mass. So, a longer barrel increases the exit velocity of the bullet and the effective range of the bullet, while friction limits the allowable barrel length.
Also, understand that a moderate-weighted gun helps tame recoil, muzzle flip, and is not too heavy for concealed carry or other purposes, nor too lightweight, e.g., 22 oz versus 30 oz.
TIP: Recognize that the weight of a gun affects the felt recoil since a heavier gun absorbs more of the recoil forces than a lighter weight gun will. A heavier handgun will have less recoil than a lighter handgun.
Capacity and Ammo
Of course, the capacity of the ammo available in your handgun is critical. More rounds available in your magazine gives you more protection against possible multiple attackers and extended gunfights, e.g., 17 rounds versus seven rounds. There is a practical limit to the number of extra magazines 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 crucial. Sig Sauer 124 grain V-Crown JHP premium 9mm ammo was used in all pistols. This 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. Its average muzzle velocity was 1,072 fps.
Usually, most major pistol manufacturers, especially those who have successfully existed for several 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.
NOTE: Walther Creed has been discontinued, and the CCP M2 is substituted for this early 2019 study.
TIP: Ensure your value gun selected is quality built by a reputable manufacturer and has the necessary basic functions, features, and characteristics for your personal protection, and that you can operate it comfortably, effectively, and safely. Appearance is a minor factor, while “customer support and service” is a significant factor.
Top Pistol Manufacturers and My Purpose
It is challenging to find an acceptable, objective, unbiased list of pistol manufacturers ranked by their reliability and even to find consensus agreement among a simple 51% majority of shooters ranking their “Top Pistol Manufacturers.” I didn’t want to use one or even 20 subjectively-picked by me, experienced shooters, trainers, instructors, or military or law enforcement folks and their opinions of the most reliable manufacturers. From my fellow instructors and military friends, I know there is already considerable disagreement and bias about this subject.
There probably could not be an agreement by the majority of shooters on the top three pistol manufacturers. So this is very subjective and not objective! But, for this article my purpose was to have a general starting point to identify (as objective as possible from random shooters) several quality pistol manufacturers, not to rank them by specifics or be influenced by folks I know or myself.
Finding a Proper Ranked List of Top Pistol Manufacturers
I learned about the website www.Ranker.com where they sought the most reliable pistol brands made by major pistol manufacturers, based on 17,700 votes from randomly-selected pistol users. 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 pistol 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.
This general list is not supported by in-depth scientific research, frequently 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 pistol manufacturers by myself. It is a snapshot in time of the opinions of others from just one website. I for one do not necessarily agree with their manufacturer rankings. And I discovered that H&K was omitted; how so? I like their fine-quality reliable pistols and own some.
Top Pistol Manufacturers from Voters at One Website
So with these caveats in mind, here are the top pistol manufacturers as voted by some pistol users identified by this one website at a given point in time. Interestingly, most on this list make high-quality pistols and do not have a model or pistol version that is priced at less than $300. All of the pistols I selected for my Top Value-Priced 9mm Pistols are made by those listed in the top 21 manufacturers. I would strongly consider buying a gun from any on this list. This list is not meant to reflect negatively on any manufacturer or those omitted, is not all-inclusive, and all listed are quality manufacturers, some more so than others. Here’s the website’s subjective list of reliable pistol brands that I used in this article:
- Sig Sauer
- Springfield Armory
- FN Herstal
- Wilson Combat
- Dan Wesson
- Rock Island Armory
- Thompson Center Arms
- STI International
- Kahr Arms
NOTE: The M&P9-2.0 replaces version 1.0, so values may be found for 1.0.
Sub-Compacts and Micro Compacts Not Included
I did not include sub-compact or micro compact pistols in my study, because these pistols with their short barrels are harder to shoot accurately, have more recoil and muzzle flip, and are difficult for new shooters to handle and safely manipulate. And I wanted to include only compact pistols primarily for home defense and personal protection and secondarily for concealed carry. But, there are many excellent sub-compact and micro-compact pistols, for pocket carry, concealed carry, and other uses.
One of the most common mistakes I see some inexperienced students make when selecting their first primary handgun is to purchase a subcompact or micro compact pistol or snubbie revolvers such as a 5-shot lightweight .357 or .38 Special snubbie. Assuming small guns can be easier to shoot, new shooters are often attracted to them or led to them by inexperienced salespeople.
Compact pistols with longer barrels (and sight radiuses) between 3.50″ and 4.25″ achieve higher velocities and more energy than a smaller pistol in the same caliber due to the longer barrel, which will burn the powder more efficiently and allow less muzzle flash and movement. Thus, this positively affects accuracies. The weight and hand-filling grip frame of a compact pistol will reduce the felt recoil. It also will improve control of the gun, allowing more accurate follow-up shots more quickly. So, I included compact, mid-size pistols with barrels between 3.50 and 4.25 inches in length and longer sight radiuses.
My Top Value-Priced 9mm Compact Pistols Under $300
After much research, investigation, and talks with experienced instructors and shooters, here are my personal opinions of the top value 9mm pistols available on the market now for under $300.
All five meet all my criteria and are not in any priority ranking order. I recommend all of them as value 9mms. I have shot, and field tested all of these value pistols. Prices vary a lot and daily. But you can shop around and find all of them for under $300. Especially if there are sales, manufacturers’ rebates, and newer versions out. You can find excellent prices on used law enforcement versions.
|Pistol||Barrel Length||Capacity||Width||Height||Weight Unloaded||Street Price|
|Ruger Security-9||4 in.||15||1.02 in.||5.0 in.||23.7 oz.||$290|
|S&W SD9VE||4 in.||16||1.29 in.||5.2 in.||22.7 in.||$280|
|Canik TP9 SAO||4.09 in.||18||1.35 in.||5.7 in.||24 in.||$299|
|Walther CCP M2||3.54 in.||8||1.18 in.||5.1 in.||22.3 in.||$299|
|S&W M&P9 Version 1||4.25 in.||17||1.20 in.||5.1 in.||27 in.||$299|
Honorable Mentions – Value 9mm Pistols
Here are nine nice Honorable Mention 9mms which come close. But they do not quite meet one or more of my subjective and restrictive criteria. Or there are other factors such as having an undesirable trigger press. I own some of these and use them for various purposes. I use them for concealed carry, home defense, range plinking, pocket, or belt carry.
|Pistol||Barrel Length||Capacity||Width||Height||Weight Unloaded||Street Price|
|Taurus PT111 Millenium G2||3.20 in.||12||1.20 in.||5.1 in.||22 oz.||$240|
|Springfield-Armory XD Defender||4.00 in.||16||1.20 in.||5.5 in.||28 oz.||$299|
|Stoeger STR-9 (new for 2019||4.17 in.||15||1.40 in.||5.5 in.||28.8 oz.||$299|
|Ruger EC9S||3.12 in.||7||0.90 in.||4.5 in.||17.2 oz.||$250|
|Bersa BP9 CC||3.30 in.||8||0.94 in.||4.8 in.||21.5 oz.||$270|
|Kahr CT9||3.96 in.||8||0.90 in.||5.1 in.||20.6 oz.||$299|
|EAA Tanfoglio Witness||4.50 in.||15||1.40 in.||5.5 in.||31 oz.||$295|
|Sarsilmaz USA Sar 9||4.40 in.||15||1.40 in.||5.5 in.||27.1 oz.||$295|
I hope my research and opinions have saved you some time and helped you narrow down your list of value-priced compact 9mms under $300. At least it is a start for your own research and list. Can you think of others that meet my Criteria given here?
Photos by author.
Sig Sauer Ammo
Elite V-Crown 9mm JHP-FMJ ammo
Newington, NH 03801
Springfield, MA 01104
Fort Smith, AR 72916
Canik / Century Arms
Delray Beach, FL 33445
* 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.
© 2019 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 [email protected].