The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Preview – Second-Hand Shooters

At RECOIL, we review every product fairly and without bias. Making a purchase through one of our links may earn us a small commission, and helps support independent gun reviews. Learn More

Photos by Kenda Lenseigne

Arm Yourself With Knowledge and Pick Up a Bargain Defensive Handgun

As a society, we’re obsessed with the newest and shiniest trinkets — if it’s not this year’s model, then it can’t be any good. This thinking sometimes extends to our CCW pieces, and we’re often led to believe that a carry gun has to have a freshly minted polymer frame and flashy advertising campaign to be worthy of place in our armory. This is kind of like saying that because an Aston Martin Vanquish rolled off the production line in 2001, it’s no longer an ass-kicking vehicle.

For those of us with families to support and bills to pay, the latest and greatest pistol might not be such a great purchase, if by so doing we’re left with nothing in the budget for quality defensive loads, training ammo, or a holster in which to put it. A more sensible solution to the problem of what to trust our lives to might be found in the used gun section of our local gun store, where perfectly competent handguns can be found at a fraction of the cost of their brand spankin’ new counterparts.

To draw another analogy to the automotive world, you should use the same safeguards when shopping for a used heater as you would when navigating the shark-infested waters of a used car lot. Do your research, take a buddy along who knows the models you’re interested in, and buy from a reputable dealer who will look out for you if something goes wrong. Great deals can also be found online, but you better do your homework. Below are four used guns we found in the course of our travels that would serve admirably in the cause of self-defense and can be had for less than four bills, if you know where to look.

Browning Hi-Power
For decades, the Hi-Power was the 9mm handgun. John Moses Browning’s last design has more than proven itself on battlefields the world over (the example here served as sidearm in the Israeli Defense Force) and although it’s been eclipsed by more modern designs it’s still a very competent weapon. With aftermarket magazines, it offers a 15+1 capacity, single-action trigger, and decent sights. Many shooters used to the feel of modern, top-heavy pistols marvel at the pointability and balance of the old warhorse, and once experienced, it’s tough to go back.


When searching for an example for use as a carry gun, look for a Mark III if possible — compared to older models, the ambidextrous safety and larger sights are a real benefit. Although many models and variants were offered throughout its long production lifespan, some of which commanded premium prices, it’s still possible to pick up an ugly version for not a whole lot of coin — the one you see here retailed for $360 with one mag. Beauty is only skin deep, and once you get past the parkerized frame and epoxy-coated slide, the internals proved to be pristine with hardly any evidence of being shot.

The Hi-Power has been thoroughly debugged since its introduction in 1935, and its weaknesses are well known. If you have large hands, then it might not be the ideal pistol for your needs due to hammer bite; the backstrap lacks much in the way of a beavertail, allowing the web between thumb and forefinger to be pinched by the hammer if you have meaty paws. On the other hand, if you have small ones, you’ll love the Hi-Power. It’s best to handle a Hi-Power first before slapping down the plastic to see if this is going to be a problem for you. The trigger pull can be heavy and gritty, but can also be quickly and easily improved by simply removing the magazine safety — 15 minutes and small punch is all it takes. Although the gun will digest a steady diet of normal-pressure 9mm Luger, +P loadings should be avoided as this will batter the slide’s locking lugs.

Third-Generation Smith & Wesson Autos
Later Smith semi-autos, such as the one shown here, represent some of the best bargains on the used gun market today. Introduced in 1990, they feature a spherical barrel locking interface, excellent sights, and more often than not, DA/SA actions. Double-action variants are available, should you wish for a consistent trigger pull — or you could swap out the hammer for a DAO version yourself, if you were so inclined. Built from the get-go to be utterly reliable, they’re over-engineered in 9mm, very accurate, and have adequate magazine capacities for self-defense purposes. Smith discontinued the third-gen pistols due to the wheel of fashion turning to favor polymer frames, which coincidentally are much cheaper to produce.


A note on Smith & Wesson’s nomenclature, which at first glance can be confusing — there are a slew of different models out there, developed from the first-generation models 39 and 59. The ones we’re interested in for value-conscious CCW purposes are the compact, double-stack, alloy-framed 9mm versions, which are the 6906 (stainless slide, anodized silver frame) and 6904 (blue slide, blackened alloy frame). Toward the end of the production run, the factory started producing low-cost models of the third-gen guns that cut corners by using plastic sights, deleting the ambi safety, and reducing the number of machine operations necessary for the slide and frame. While perfectly serviceable guns, if you’re bargain shopping, you may as well pick up something that will retain its value over the long run. So it’s worth holding out for the models mentioned above. A good one should run you about 350 bucks.

For the rest of this article, click here to purchase: CONCEALMENT

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Free