Budget Pistols: Inexpensive Entry Level Semiautomatic Handguns

I was recently approached by my Brother-In-Law who had begun to show some interest in shooting. He wanted to buy a good semiautomatic pistol that would be inexpensive, reliable, and something that he can continue to use as his skills grow. Given his budget of $400, there were only a few pistols that fit those requirements.

S&W Sigma

Probably the most well known budget pistol on the market right now is the Smith and Wesson Sigma. In the 9ve 9mm configuration, this pistol can be had for less than $300 with currently available rebates. That leaves $100 which can be used to buy 500 rounds of practice ammunition or accessories like additional magazines and holsters. Of course the Sigma is not without its drawbacks—the trigger pull has been rated as “poor” by a number of reviewers who claim that it is nothing more than a poorly executed Glock knock-off. We feel the Sigma is a fine pistol for its price point, it certainly is reliable, but better options are available for our $400 budget.

Ruger P95

One of the most popular budget pistols is probably the Ruger P95. The P95 is well known as a utilitarian pistol. There’s nothing fancy about it, it works reliably, and it’s easily serviceable. It also met his requirements for having an abundance of accessories and holsters available. We also looked briefly at the Ruger SR9, but decided that like the Sigma, the trigger pull was just too hard and gritty. Additionally, accessories for it were not widely available enough to seriously consider this pistol.


Kel-Tec has a number of reliable and inexpensive pistols, one of which is their new PF9 model. The PF9 is a compact and very slim pistol, perfect for concealed carry. The PF9 is very slim, at less than an inch thick. Despite its small size, it still packs a wallop with a 7+1 capacity of 9mm cartridges. The action is DAO and the trigger pull, while long, is smooth and consistent. The PF9 is also very inexpensive: MSRP is around $300, and it can often be found less than that. It may however be too small to use in competitions like IDPA, which the brother-in-law has expressed an interest in participating in.

Taurus 709

Taurus has established a name for themselves as a manufacturer of inexpensive clones. The Taurus PT-92 is a budget priced version of Beretta’s 92 model pistol. The MSRP of the PT-92 leaves it just out of our price range however. Taurus’s new 709 Slim on the other hand comes in just under the $400 wire. This new offering by Taurus is very much like the PF9, with a very slim single stack grip and overall lightweight construction. The Taurus 709 uses a trigger action that is based off of the Taurus 24/7. This unique trigger sets itself in single action mode when a round is chambered. After pulling the trigger, the action resets in a double action mode until another round is chambered, allowing for the trigger to be pulled twice in the case of a light strike or hard primer. The 709 Slim also has a Glock style trigger safety in addition to an external thumb safety. Like the PF9, the Taurus 709 is better suited for concealed carry, but isn’t quite suitable for IDPA style competitions.


Finally, we have the CZ line of pistols. The new P-07 is the CZ-75 based duty weapon now produced by CZ. It has a polymer frame and also has a decocker like the more recent CZ-85. The CZ P-07 can be found for just under $400, making it priced right for our $400 budget. The polymer frame however doesn’t quite have the ergonomics of the older CZ-75 models, and there is no way to change the grips. Still, it does have the same reliability and incredible accuracy of the older CZ-75 models.

Sadly, none of these pistols were favored by the Brother-In-Law. The polymer framed pistols kicked a bit too much for his liking. Being a new shooter, he favored the steel framed pistols for the easy recoil recovery. Though he really liked the Taurus PT-92, there was one more pistol that he tried that we haven’t mentioned yet, the CZ-75B. The CZ-75B is an all steel construction and has been one of the most popular police issue weapons in Europe pretty much since its debut in 1975. The CZ-75 borrows heavily from the Browning Hi Power and Sig 210, and is similar to the older Sig 220 models in its design. The CZ 75B has a smooth double action/single action trigger. The pistol can be carried in a 1911 style “cocked and locked” mode with the safety engaged, or with the hammer in a half-cocked position which requires the shooter to fire the first round using the double action trigger. The CZ-75 is a bit big and heavy for concealed carry, but the smooth ergonomic grips and abundance of accessories made it very appealing. It is also priced a bit more than our budget. But then, many fine used pistols are widely available on the market. After a bit of shopping around and hitting a few gun shows, we located a good CZ-75B that, while used, appeared to have been carefully maintained.

As we mentioned in our article on Budget Pistols: Buying Used, many fine firearms can be found for very good deals if you search around. You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good quality firearm. All of the pistols we discussed above have their advantages and disadvantages. If you’re looking for a good quality semiautomatic pistol without breaking the bank, all of these handguns are a good place to start.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (23)

  1. Wow. You guys missed my gun , the PT845 from Taurus , very similar to th S&W, very affordable easy shooting , and in 45 it’s got punch,.

  2. I would like to be contacted when you get in a S&W old Model 15 revolver. I carried one for the 28 years I was in Law Enforcement (prior to this new generation who carry semi-auto pistols.) I am very comfortable with this weapon as I had to requalify with it every 6 months of those 28 years. So as you can see I am quite proficiant with this revolver with two speed loaders. I have always said if you can’t hit your target with a kill shot with 6 rounds, you need to throw it at your target and forget it because you are a lousy shot. The Model 15 is also very rugged and it never jams. I lost mine in a motor home that went off a 708 ft MO. Ozark mountain when the brakes failed. I lost my right leg and all of my firearms as upon hitting a huge tree at the bottom of that mountain the motor home caught fire and burnt to the frame. The MO highway patrol told me none of my guns were even found. I truly question that.

  3. As Adam (comment 9) stated, 400-500 dollars is a bit out of range for some people, especially those who are wishing to jump into the handgun realm. Considering the title of this article “Inexpensive Entry Level Semiautomatic Handguns” I am very disappointed to not see Hi-Point on here at all. I understand that most gun enthusiasts don’t respect them, but it’s only because they are a bit bulkier, they look ugly, and they hold a lower round count (if you can’t kill or scare away your target in 8-9 shots you need to practice more). They NEVER jam/break/malfunction, they cost between 125-175 brand new, and they come in .380, 9mm, .40SW and .45. What more could you ask for in an “Inexpensive Entry Level Semiautomatic Handgun”?

    1. First thing, you can’t say never. Even the best firearms can jam in the right situation. Second, despite your experience with Hi Point, it is a truly cheaply made firearm. My buddy owns a gun shop, he used to carry Hi Point as a bottom line entry firearm for those wanting to get a firearm and learn to shoot. But he had so many problems with them, about a 40% return for warranty work, that he stopped selling them. Yes it is cheap as you say. You can get on for $150. But for my family’s protection I want something much more reliable. I don’t mind spending 500-700 for a quality firearm like a Glock or S&W MP. You can even pick up budget 1911’s these days for under 400. You can’t hardly beat the performance record of the 1911. So while you might love your Hi Point, my life and my family’s life is worth investing a little more.

  4. I have owned a Taurus 24/7 DS Pro 9mm for several years that I bought new for under $300. They are not that cheap anymore, but deals can be found. It’s been a great gun. I also just purchased a Glock 17 that is in VERY lightly used condition with 17 round mag and night sights for $399 from a popular gun sales website. Deals are out there, you just have to shop around and be patient. I’ve heard good things about the Ruger SR-9 and cleaning up the trigger can be as inexpensive as polishing a few key pieces in the trigger mechanism. Gun forums and You Tube can be a huge help as long as you can weed through the crap and glean the good information from them.

  5. The Ruger SR9’s trigger is hard and gritty? Maybe you should take a second look before including false info on your article. Their triggers are amazing and only get better throughout the life of the firearm. They’re known to have crisp and rather light triggers for a striker fired, semi-auto. You didn’t include it, but you included the PF-9? You’re on crack if you think the PF-9’s trigger is better than the SR9’s.

  6. It would be nice if this article mentioned ANY model that was in stock.
    But not only are they not,the majority of those mentioned are listed as “No longer available”.
    Exactly what good is an article about things that you can’t buy?

  7. Have you ever thought about creating an
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    I know my audience would appreciate your work.

    If you are even remotely interested, feel free to
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    1. I don’t see mention of the SarArms b6p. It is essentially a well made version of the CZ. Only difference in my estimation is its being marketed for those who want only US made firearms. Mine was had new for just over the target price. But for the money, its a steal.

    2. I like CZ’s. A clone is a clone is a clone. But the new CZ P07 is a totally new thing for CZ and CZ fans know the difference from a CZ 75 to a Polymer. But if anyone wants a CZ or a clone that can do anything, let them try a P01.

  8. I’m not exactly a gun ethusinist, but I’ve always enjoyed shooting. Also, I always carry a pistol for protection. I’m not sure what most people can afford, but personally I can’t afford a $400-$500 pistol…If you’re like me, your top dollar is $100-$200. I bought a new High Point .380 (9mm is the same price, just has more recoil)… is american made and carries a lifetime warranty. It may not be the best, but it shoots true and is very reliable…and the price is unbeatable. I paid $129 for it and $20 for 50 rounds of ammo.

  9. I’ve acquired a Yugoslavian M57 (7.62x25mm) from Gander Mountain back about Nov. 2010 with an $80.00 discount, my cost with tax ran just shy $217.00. The complete package includes two magazines, cleaning rod, gun sock, gun lock & a brown dress holster. Pistol, magazines & cleaning rod are coated in Cosmoline.

    As patriotdesign said above, this ammo can be bought at $90 for 1260 rounds plus S/H.

  10. I have the older SW9V. I did the little fire-control mod (youtube it if you own a Sigma, takes 5 minutes) on it, and couldn’t be happier. With that little Mod, the trigger is actually quite nice (I’ll take as gospel that the factory trigger set up on the Sigma is terrible). Where the trigger was 12 pounds of grit and creep, now it’s smoothed out and is a comfortable six and a half. I’ve put four thousand rounds and counting through my Sigma, and have never had a malfunction. It’s my EDC, I carry it with new 16 round magazines, and spent under $300 for the whole she-bang. It’s accurate and reliable.

    If you’ve got a Sigma that you don’t want anymore – send it my way, I love em.

  11. His experience mimics mine. I found a used CZ75 at a gunshow for under $500, and it’s the gun I use to this day in USPSA. I also have a CZ P07 as my daily carry, and I can vouch for it’s reliability and comfort. The new S&W SD9 and SD40 look very good also.

  12. After shooting everything my friends and I have I still find myself drawn back to my old standby CZ-52. All steel, hard hitting and accurate out to 100 yards. Yes 100 yards. I sometimes take it to the rifle range just to shoot 5″ groups and make the other iron site users mad. 🙂

  13. Try the Taurus PT 24/7 line. I got a 12 shot 45 auto for $369 new. Very happy with the quality and performance. Much better then the Sigma.

  14. The Stoeger Cougar sounds like it would fill the bill. It is the Beretta Cougar built in Turkey, Stoeger is owned by Beretta and the guns are built on Beretta machinery. You can find them for less than $400 if you look around and they are available in 9mm and .40S&W.
    I bought a .40 and found it to be an excellent pistol, I shoot it very well and the ergonomics are first rate. It is a metal framed pistol, heavier than the polymer guns and therefore has less felt recoil.

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