April 07, 2020
By Brad Fitzpatrick
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be prepared to protect ourselves in the event of a disaster. The coronavirus pandemic and resulting panic that left supermarket shelves bare has prompted people to consider how they would defend themselves and their loved ones during a national crisis. But even after the coronavirus spread slows and life returns to normal, rest assured this pandemic is not the last tragedy we’ll face. Whether that’s political turmoil, natural disasters, or another (and perhaps more dangerous) worldwide epidemic, bad times will come knocking again.
Background checks for March 2020 were up 300% when compared to March 2019, and ammo reserves have quickly depleted. People who imagined that they would never need a gun to defend themselves were awakened to the reality that personal protection is a personal responsibility.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans in the market for a defensive handgun, then I have some good news. Today you can purchase a reliable, functional personal defense handgun for as little as a couple hundred dollars. But for many shooters—new shooters in particular—finding the right defensive pistol can be a challenge. To help with that, we’ve compiled a list of the eleven best defensive pistols under $500. Regardless of your needs or budget, there’s a gun on this list for you.
Springfield XD Defend Your Legacy
Caliber: 9mm Luger
The Springfield Armory line of XD pistols are extremely popular because they’re easy-to-carry, reliable and affordable. The XD family of firearms is extensive, but even entry-level XD pistols are well-suited for personal defense. They all feature polymer frames and Melonite metal finishes, so corrosion isn’t an issue even if you carry these guns every day. The new XD Defend Your Legacy edition with a 3-inch barrel is available in 9mm, and since it measures just 1.2 inches wide at the grip and weighs 26 ounces, it’s easy to carry concealed. The Springfield XD Defend Your Legacy pistol doesn’t have a manual safety, but it does feature a passive grip safety: when the shooter’s hand wraps around the handle of the gun, the grip safety is pressed down and that allows the gun to be fired. With an MSRP of $339, the reliable XD Defend Your Legacy is a real bargain and a great personal defense firearm.
SCCY CPX RD
Caliber: .380 ACP, 9mm Luger
First, let’s have a tutorial on the nomenclature of SCCY’s four CPX RD series pistols: the SCCY CPX-1 and CPX-2 are chambered in 9mm, the difference being that the CPX-1 has a manual thumb safety while the CPX-2 does not. The CPX-3 and CPX-4 are both chambered in .380 ACP; the CPX-4 comes with a manual safety and the CPX-3 doesn’t. The RD in the name means that these guns come equipped with a red dot optic.
All SCCY CPX pistols are built with polymer grips and aluminum alloy receivers, and they have a double action-only trigger design, resulting in a long, but smooth, trigger pull. Because each pull of the trigger drops the hammer, the DAO design offers an added level of security in the event you encounter a cartridge with a hard primer that doesn’t ignite on the first strike. SCCY CPX pistols are equipped with 3.1-inch barrels and weigh just 17.5 ounces unloaded, yet offer an impressive 10 round magazine capacity. Easy to carry and easy to operate, SCCY pistols offer a reliable gun for the money. What’s more, the addition of the Crimson Trace red dot sight offers easy sighting in any light conditions and makes shooting this gun easy, even for those with minimal firearm experience or poor vision. $339 is an unbelievable bargain for an American-made defense pistol that comes with an optic attached, so the SCCY CPX RD pistols should be on your short list when shopping for a new defense pistol.
Caliber: 9mm Luger
The Kel-Tec PF9 is a 9mm compact pistol that was Introduced back in 2006 and is a solid choice for personal protection. These pistols are reliable and easy to operate, and their hardened machined steel slides and barrels stand up well to years of carry. The sights are basic but functional for shooting at close range and the lightweight polymer grips have square texturing that offers plenty of control without being overly aggressive. There’s no manual safety on this gun, but the controls are well laid-out and easy to use. It’s also simple to take down for cleaning.
The light, compact PF9 is easy to carry. With its 3.1-inch barrel, the Kel-Tec PF9 measures less than six inches long and about four inches high. It fits easily in a pocket or IWB holster, and since it measures just .88-inches wide, the Kel-Tec PF9 is concealable even under light clothing.
Ruger Security-9 Compact
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Ruger’s new American-made Security-9 Compact boasts a magazine capacity of 10 rounds, yet weighs only 21 ounces and measures just over an inch wide. That makes it an ideal carry pistol with more firepower on tap than most competing single stack models. Takedown is fast and easy, the iron sights are the best in this price range, and these pistols come with both a manual and trigger safety.
Even though the Ruger Security-9 Compact is light and compact, it’s a very easy gun to shoot. The glass-filled nylon grip frame allows for a comfortable but secure hold on the gun, and the hammer-fired design makes this gun reliable and easy to rack. If you’re in the market for a personal defense pistol, the superb new Ruger Security-9 Compact needs to be near the top of your list.
Rock Island Armory GI Standard 1911
Caliber: 9mm Luger, .38 super, .45 ACP
For decades, the John Browning-design Colt 1911 semiautomatic pistol was the sidearm of the United States military. American Soldiers carried these guns in World War I, Vietnam and just about every armed conflict in between. The 1911’s reputation as a combat arm is, shall we say, bulletproof.
Over the years, many companies have built clones of the original 1911, and the Rock Island Armory GI Standard is one of the best in its price range. It’s also a very different firearm than some of the others listed here. For starters, it’s a full-size, all-steel pistol with a 5-inch barrel. That means overall length is about 8.5 inches and weight is roughly 40 ounces, so this isn’t a light carry gun (although many people do carry full-sized 1911s). It’s also a single-action gun, which means the trigger must be cocked for the gun to fire. The 1911’s grip design and balance are superb, and these guns come with both a grip safety and manual safety. With its Parkerized finish and wood grips, the G1 Standard looks very much like the original 1911s carried by soldiers, and its trigger breaks cleanly at 4 to 6 pounds. The sights are compact but functional, and the magazine holds nine rounds of 9mm ammo. Even though MSRP on this gun is $522, you’ll likely be able to find it in stores for less than $500, which is a great deal for a solidly-built 1911.
Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ Range Kit
Caliber: .380 ACP
The Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ pistols have been quite popular because they’re reliable and easy to operate. The force required to rack the slide is far less than most other semiautos, and like a 1911, these guns feature both a grip safety and a manual safety (manual safety optional). 380 Shield EZ guns are light (18.5 ounces), durable and easy to maintain. Field stripping this gun is simple and the provided 8-round magazines offer thumb tabs for easier loading.
Whether or not you’re actively looking for a defense pistol, the Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ Range Kit might be too good a deal to pass. For less than $400 you get a new M&P 380 Shield EZ pistol along with a range bag, shooting glasses, hearing protection and a cleaning kit, so all that’s left to find is a box of ammo and a place to shoot.
Caliber: 9mm Luger
When Stoeger introduced the STR-9 , it was clear that a lot of careful planning went into the design of this gun. The grip is perfectly contoured for a comfortable, secure hold,. the front and rear slide serrations are deep and wide for a firm hold, and the polymer frame and black nitride finish make the STR-9 almost impervious to the elements. Stoeger offers several package versions of the STR-9 which include additional magazines, backstrap inserts and upgraded sights, but even the premium package costs only $449. There’s even an optics-ready version if you want to mount a red dot sight. The base model comes with a single 15-round magazine and costs just $329.
With its 4.17-inch barrel, the 24-ounce STR-9 is considered a compact pistol. As such, it offers a longer sight radius and more recoil-reducing heft than most subcompact 9mms, yet it’s small enough to carry concealed. It’s a simple gun to disassemble and it comes with both a trigger safety and a loaded chamber indicator. The Stoeger STR-9 is a lot of gun for the money, and it’s a great option for personal defense.
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Hi-Point firearms are basic but functional, and they offer a tremendous amount of bang for the buck. The Hi-Point 916 9mm semiauto has a magazine capacity of 8 rounds, adjustable sights and durable polymer frames that stand up well to abuse. Hi-Point also offers a wide array pistol upgrades at minimal cost. An extra $10 will get you a hard storage case or a nylon holster, and there are additional upgrades including locking cases, gun/knife combinations, and even a laser sight. Additionally, you can select from a number of exterior finish options that include pink and digital camo patterns.
Hi-Point 916 pistols come with a manual thumb safety and are backed by a lifetime warranty. Though these guns don’t offer all the bells and whistles that you’ll find on some of the other guns here, they’re serviceable and affordable.
Caliber: 9mm Luger
Last year, Mossberg unveiled their first striker-fired semiauto 9mm pistol, the Mc1sc, and it quickly gained a reputation for excellent durability. I’ve put more than 1,500 rounds through an MC1sc without a single function issue, which is more than I can say for many higher-priced pistols I’ve tested. With a price tag of $421 (with street prices likely under $400) the Mossberg Mc1sc is a smart buy.
The Mossberg MC1sc has a lot of innovative features that make it a standout in the sub-$500 market. For starters, the clear polymer magazines are easy to load and show you exactly how many rounds are on tap. The stainless steel slide features a durable, diamond-like carbon coating and there are multiple frame/slide color options. Perhaps the cleverest of all the Mossberg’s features is the safe, simple takedown procedure that eliminates the need to pull the trigger during disassembly, reducing the risk of an accidental discharge. There’s also a model available with a manual crossbolt safety. With its 3.4-inch barrel, the Mossberg Mc1sc measures 6.25-inches long and weighs just 22 ounces loaded. 6- and 7-round magazines are available, and since it measures just over an inch wide, the Mossberg MC1sc is a great carry gun option.
Caliber: 9mm Luger
The new Taurus G3 9mm semiauto pistol comes with a polymer frame, steel slide, drift-adjustable sights and a magazine capacity of up to 17 rounds. Barrel length is 4 inches, but the Taurus measures just 1.2-inches wide, so it will still function for concealed carry. The added sight radius and crisp, 6-pound trigger make this one of the most accurate pistols on the list, and there are several finish and frame color options from which to choose. I reviewed a Taurus G3 last year and found that the pistol was reliable and offered excellent ergonomics. Flat panels on the side of the frame—Taurus calls them Memory Pads—provide a consistent landing spot for your fingers and offer complete control of the firearm under recoil. The Taurus G3 also comes with a manual thumb safety, front and rear slide serrations and a rail under the barrel for mounting accessories like lights and lasers. Weighing in around 25 ounces empty, the G3 is slightly heavier than the other guns here, but those few extra ounces and added sight radius of the 4-inch barrel make this a pleasant gun to shoot.
North American Arms Pug
Caliber: .22 WMR
The five-shot, single-action Pug revolver from North American Arms comes with a 1-inch barrel and is chambered in .22 WMR. And while it doesn’t offer the capacity or kinetic energy of the pistols listed above, the North American Arms Pug is about the most concealable conceal carry handgun on the market. With an overall length of 4.5 inches and weight of just 6.4 ounces, the Pug is easy to slip in a pocket or IWB holster. The small cylinder has notches cut between each chamber that serve as a safe and secure resting place for the hammer blade, and there’s an option to purchase a second .22 cylinder if you prefer. Muzzle rise is manageable thanks to the black rubber pebble grips – and muzzle blast from full-power .22 Magnum loads is intense. If you want the ultimate deep concealment gun, nothing matches the North American Arms Pug.