Exclusive to The Zelman Partisans
I have a confession to make. I’m not a millionaire.
This probably doesn’t come as a shock to anyone familiar with my comments on different topics on this website, but what you might not realize is that I have other interests outside of firearms, and other things to spend money.
Like a great many of you, I have a family that’s grown accustomed to a certain level of comfort. They expect things that, from looking at the lives of many other gun enthusiasts, are a given for most, but must be planned for in my case. Things like — oh, I don’t know — a roof over our heads and gasoline in our vehicles. My family even likes to eat every day.
It sometimes seems that I’m the only gun enthusiast who must work hard not only to squeeze firearms into my tight budget, but to squeeze in the normal, everyday things as well.
This post is not for the person who has an unlimited budget. It’s also not intended for the person who has a perhaps normal, decent, comfortable income. It’s meant for the rest of us. Living in the real world. The world where you can’t spend money frivolously for the latest and greatest guns and doodads.
Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking: I’ve seen this type of post before. How inexpensive firearms are just fine for self defense. But that’s not quite what I’m getting at. When I first was looking at a handgun for concealed carry, I also read as many of those articles as I could find. The problem with them, and the reason I ultimately rejected their advice, was that others’ idea of a cheap handgun and my idea of a cheap handgun are two different things. For starters, those other writers would balk at the word cheap and would insist on the term affordable, which opens a whole new can of worms.
Who hasn’t seen the post from the guy or gal who likes to say, “Your life is worth it. Don’t buy a cheap gun. Save your money until you can afford to buy a decent one.” Their idea of affordable almost universally has a price tag of $500 and up. Do you know how long it would take some of us to save up that much?
For those who are unwilling to use a credit card, or who chose to live simply and have finally escaped the rat race, that price can still be too steep.
So what do the rest of us do? Are we supposed to stay defenseless if we can’t afford someone else’s idea of “affordable”?
I used to think it was not necessary for me to carry a gun, that I could handle one or two attackers on my own. I was strong, fit, and of the mindset that I would prevail. In other words, I was an idiot. I’m now older, slower, and hopefully wiser. I realize that there are people out there willing not only to hurt me, but kill me to take what little I may have for themselves. And the only way that I can stop them may be with a gun.
With that in mind, I’m going to present you a real world example of self defense carry guns on a very basic budget — including the good, the not so good, and what I am doing now. This is not what I’m saying you should do. Rather it’s what I have done and some of the reasons why.
My first handgun was an H & R model 929, a 9-shot, .22 caliber revolver. I had the 6-inch barrel. I carried it for quite some time, and never felt like I was in danger of being “made” even though I used an OWB holster with a cover garment. It seemed like concealment became more of a mindset thing than anything else. And it was a fairly good sized gun.
I won’t get into the caliber wars. I used what I had. I figured that .22 was similar to the diameter of a pencil. I sure wouldn’t want anyone to stick a pencil through me nine times, so I felt somewhat safe.
I admit to making my biggest mistake next. Not because of my choice of gun, but because I was still using credit cards. I bought a firearm from Cabelas for $179. Looking back, I still would have bought the gun, but wouldn’t have gone into debt to do it.
This gun was a P-64, made by the Polish factory Radom. The short description is: an all steel military version of a Walther PPK, only instead of being .380, it’s chambered in 9 x 18 Makarov. Again, I am not getting into caliber debates. Just remember the .380 is 9 x 17, the Makarov is 9 x 18, and the Luger is 9 x 19. This gun is double-action, with a decocker safety. It came with two magazines, a military holster, and a cleaning rod.
It does have its quirks, shall we say. First, the trigger pull. Just go to the P-64 website and you will learn how to change the springs. I ordered the kit from Wolff springs. It took the double action from about 30 pounds (almost unusable) to maybe 16. It took the single action to probably 3 pounds. After about 500 rounds, the double action pull not only smoothed out, but lessened some more. Its other, more difficult for some, quirk is that it kicks like a rented mule. Not for everyone, but I had no problem with it.
I was working third shift when I owned this gun, and coming home from work in the morning, sometimes at 5:00 a.m., I had occasion to stop at the local big box store based in Arkansas. It was comforting to know that this gun slipped easily into the front pocket of my jeans and just as easily came back out in a hurry if the need arose. Even here in small town middle America, the class of people one might encounter at that big box store in the early morning hours after perhaps a long night of drinking are questionable at best, and not the type I wanted to brave without protection.
Next comes every gun snob’s nightmare. The dreaded Hi-Point. I bought a Hi-Point C-9, with a Galco paddle holster, for $140. I get how bad everybody says they are — that is, everybody who has never owned one or shot one. Yeah, they are kind of ugly. Just like I think all plastic guns are kind of ugly. They are kind of top-heavy. They feel weird. They also kind of work. Every time.
But here’s the best part. My wife was able to cash-flow the entire purchase of the gun and some ammo by winning a contest from a local radio station just before Christmas one year. She won gift certificates to a Cabelas close to us. I had been wanting a new pistol, and the prices for everything but the Hi-Point were more than the gift certificates.
Just a couple more to go.
I sold another gun, got $100 again, and wanted a pocket carry gun. I had my eye on the Phoenix 22a. It’s a .22 cal semiauto. I checked online and got a price of $119 from Classic Firearms. I thought, I really should give a local gun store a shot. You know, support them and all. I went to them and they said that they couldn’t sell me a Phoenix for a good price; they had to pay $130 to their supplier for the gun themselves. Of course, they not only lost that sale, they never saw me again. I have no problem with someone making a profit from me. I just am funny about rape.
The Phoenix 22a is a neat little gun from California. It feels nice in your hand. It has an available 5-inch barrel, which can be switched with the 3-inch barrel I bought.
I made a holster for it and carried it for awhile. Then my son moved back to Michigan (where I live) from California. His new wife, who hadn’t been exposed to guns, went shooting with us. She fell in love with the gun, and I sold it to her for $100, plus I gave her the extra magazine I had ordered.
This would be a great carry gun for someone with a small hand, or who was recoil-sensitive, save for one thing. The safety setup on the gun is onerous. It has a hammer-block safety, which is fine; it is a single action. It also has a magazine safety lever. And it has other idiosyncracies. One that I found just plain strange was that you could only draw the slide back about 3/16 of an inch to check for a loaded round. I just never got comfortable with all the monkeying about with safeties, and am reluctant to follow the advice of some on the web and just disable the magazine safety. I carried the gun with both safeties off and no round in the chamber, and although quite workable, it never felt like this was a good carry gun for me.
And now we come to my current carry gun. I paid exactly $200 for it, new, from Classic Firearms on a 4th of July sale. This is the Taurus PT 111, Gen 2. It’s a striker-fired, polymer gun with a second-shot capability, which means if the first time around it fails to fire, simply pull the trigger again for a double action attempt on the same round.
This gun was not affected by last year’s recall of Taurus pistols which could fire if dropped, safety on or off. Most of the time we try and not drop our handguns, but I suppose that it could happen.
The Taurus has an external safety, comes with two double-stack 9mm magazines, each holding 12 rounds, plus one in the chamber. Like any handguns I’ve owned, this one has never had any issues of any kind. I currently have about 600 or 700 rounds through it.
I carry this gun in the Hi-Point’s old holster, with a slight modification. The thumb-break strap was loose on the Taurus, so I drilled the old snap out and moved it to get a better fit.
I hardly have to say that these guns are not high-end. Yet, given my experience there is no need for any “expert” to claim that you should never carry a _____ (whatever gun that person doesn’t like) because it might blow up, or spontaneously combust, or even worse, one of my friends might see me with it.
Maybe you don’t want, or don’t have to, get guns as cheap as these, but no matter what any “expert” says, you can get a good carry guns without breaking your bank.
Of course, I would love to own and carry a different gun. I now have enough experience for MYSELF to decide what type and caliber of handgun I will ultimately acquire, if I decide to spend the money for something else.
I’m not going to tell you what gun I lust after, but for me it will be hammer-fired, double-action with a decocker safety. I would love to own another P 64, but the two issues that make it a no-go for me are parts availability and the caliber. It was a communist bloc gun, and if a firing pin were to break, it could be a problem to find a replacement. On the caliber issue: I paid from 21 to 25 dollars a box Makarov ammo in the town where I live, when it was available. I could sometimes order Russian-made ammo for as little as $9 from Cheaper Than Dirt, but that, too, wasn’t always available. With 9mm Luger, I can go to my local Dunham’s Sporting Goods and get Remington/UMC ammo for 12 dollars per box. I can buy just a box or two when I can afford it and not have to worry about availability.
I still have the Hi-Point in 9mm as well, and for us poor, I mean frugal-minded, folks, it just makes sense to settle on a major caliber for all of our carry guns. That means I can slowly build up my supply of ammo without trying to do so in several different flavors. I do save my brass, and also pick up other spent brass left behind. If someday the need arises, I can always start to reload, and the brass will keep indefinately.
Again, I’m not aying you should do anything I’ve just described. Rather, this is is what I have done and some of the reasons why. I don’t pretend this is what a quote-unquote knowledgable firearms person would recommend. I can almost guarantee they would scream in panic at the thought of carrying some of the firearms I’ve carried.
I can also bet that more people fit the mold of either going this route or going without. And I don’t have to tell you that I think doing without is a bad idea.
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