Carry a Cheap Pistol… In Case You Have to Use It?

Since the official word of 2018 seems to be “sanctimonious,” I want to call out an important issue: nice gun shaming. If you choose to carry a gun that costs more than a used Hi-Point, you might be judged as fiscally irresponsible, wasteful, or at a minimum, extravagant. 

Both of these are solid carry guns. Would you ever choose to carry the one you didn't shoot as well solely based on price?
Both of these are solid carry guns. Would you ever choose to carry the one you didn’t shoot as well solely based on price?

Here’s the thing. I hear from lots of folks that one should carry a cheap pistol in case they ever have to use it. Why? The reasoning goes like this. If you ever have to use your firearm in a self-defense encounter, it will almost certainly be seized as evidence, even if it’s blindingly obvious that you acted properly and charges will not likely be filed against you. If it’s taken, then your gun will sit in some evidence locker for days, weeks, months or a couple of millennia. It’s inconvenient for you to carry a gun that’s stowed away at the police department, so you will be without from that day forward, and you’ll have to buy a new one to replace your confiscated firearm. 

At first perusal, the logic appears to make a bit of sense, kind of like urinal polishing. Who would want to spend extra money on a quality gun that might be confiscated? What a waste, right? Think of all the things you could do with the money saved like taking Macarena classes or enrolling in hamster cosmetology school.

If I had to use one of these for self-defense and it was confiscated as evidence, it would hurt, but I'd get over it. Being alive and all...
If I had to use one of these for self-defense and it was confiscated as evidence, it would hurt, but I’d get over it. Being alive and all…

In fact, the idea makes so much sense that I’m going to apply it to other areas of my life. Those airbags in my car? They add extra weight and take up valuable storage where I could keep Slim Jims. I’m ripping them out. If I ever get in a wreck, they’ll inflate so I’ll just have to buy new ones. While we’re talking about cars, I’m selling my premium tires and installing used re-treads. If I’m ever in an accident, I certainly don’t want to risk damaging expensive tires. Oh, and my dog? Outta here. What if she dies at some point? All the money I spent on quality food and treats would be completely wasted. Don’t even get me started on fire extinguishers. When you use one, all the expensive stuff you purchased gets sprayed all over the floor. What a waste. I think a partially used fire extinguisher makes a heck of a lot more sense.

This Sig Sauer Legion costs a pretty penny, but I shoot it far better than alternative guns that might cost less, so I carry it.
This Sig Sauer Legion costs a pretty penny, but I shoot it far better than alternative guns that might cost less, so I carry it.

Since it’s apparently dumb to carry a nice gun because it might be taken from you if you have to use it to… oh, wait… save your freakin’ life, I consider that a shaming move by the sweet gun justice warriors. Needless to say, I have some different opinions on the matter.

If you want to carry an inexpensive gun, knock yourself out. I’m happy for you and wish you the best. With the quality of almost all production guns today, it should work just peachy for you should you ever need to use it. 

Assuming you can afford it, get a reputable gun, but also carry quality magazines. What’s the biggest point of potential failure? Magazines. Don’t cheap out on them either, even though they might be confiscated too. If you spend $30 on a good magazine versus $9.95 for a cheap one, that extra $20 won’t seem very significant at all if you use it to save your life one day, especially if the Dollar Store special falls apart during use.

If you shoot a fancy 1911 well, there's no good reason not to carry it.
If you shoot a fancy 1911 well, there’s no good reason not to carry it.

The only reason to carry a firearm at all is to save your life, or at minimum, protect yourself and/or your family from grave bodily harm. That’s it. So the real question comes down to the value of your life and the lives of your loved ones. Are they worth $250? $500? $1,000? $10 billion? You get the idea. Granted, buying a more expensive handgun does not guarantee that you’ll prevail in a defensive encounter. That boils down to some unpredictable blend of skill, circumstance, will, and dumb luck. However, if better equipment improves your odds, even a little, is that not one of the best investments ever? 

I carry a variety of guns as a result of what I do for a living. Sometimes it’s a Springfield Armory TRP 1911 which sells for about $1,300. Other times, I might carry a $1,200 Sig Sauer Legion or an $800 Beretta PX4 Compact Carry. When space is at a premium, I might carry a Springfield Armory XD-S which sells for about $400. They’re all nice guns but do you know what? If I have to use one of them to save my life, I won’t cry for a minute about surrendering it as evidence and having to buy a replacement. That kind of sucks, but I’ll be alive to think about the pros and cons.

I’m not going to carry a gold-plated 1911 with diamond dust checkering just to prove a point. However, if a $1,000 gun is the one I shoot best and that gives me confidence, you can bet I’m going to carry it. If a $300 gun is the one I shoot with absolute confidence, then that’s the one I’m going to carry. What I’m not going to do is choose my carry gun based on the very rare chance that it might be held by the police as evidence.

My bottom line? I’ll carry whatever gives me the best odds of succeeding when my life depends on it. Oh, wait. It does.

Tom McHale is a committed learning junkie always seeking a new subject victim. As a lifelong student of whatever grabs his attention on any particular day, he thrives on beating rabbit trails into submission. In between his time as a high-tech marketing executive, restaurant owner, and hamster cosmetology practitioner, he's published seven books and nearly 1,500 articles about guns, shooting, and the American way.

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22 thoughts on “Carry a Cheap Pistol… In Case You Have to Use It?

  1. I don’t think the price of the firearm you carry is important, what is important is that it is reliable and you have spent a sufficient amount of trigger time with it to prove it is going to work every time with the ammo you carry in it..

    1. I carry a used fire extinguisher in my car. No sense wasting my hard-earned cash on a shiny new fancy-schmancy extingusher if it might get all used up someday.

      OK end sarc. Actually I bought a brand new red extingusher that matches my brand new red car that probably won’t catch fire. Oh yeah… a short machete, two knives, first aid kit, extra jack, jumper cables, poncho, food bars, blanket, a few writing pens, a book or two, and duct tape. Just realized I should carry some storable water, too. It can get real lonely if you’re stuck on a seldom-traveled road. If I’m stuck with a traveling companion, there’s also a rubber Frisbee.

    2. Well I’ll be a Monkey’s Uncle. I think I JUST read an article that spoken of this. Glad I read this here FIRST. SMH

  2. I can’t think of anyone I know being made fun of for having expensive pistols, even if it is a Gun Crafter 1911. I do know of people, including myself who have been made fun of for spending more on “fixing up” a pistol than what the pistol cost factory new.

    1. I catch alot of crap for carrying my Omni
      IDGAF tho…if your dead money don’t matter and I don’t want to be dead

  3. Interesting take on what to carry. Top shelf or Muscatel? I started out cheap and ended up on the next level and that’s where this old silver back has stayed… We don’t need the problem that would appear with having to high end equipment marketed as the ultimate….

  4. I carry a STI DVC Omni
    My and families life is worry more than the $5000 I have in the gun rmr and light. I can shoot fast accurate and consistent with it better then any other gun

      1. Lots of really, really good guns out there between $400 and $600. Take it to $800 if you just have to have that SIG or H&K. Anything after that doesn’t make you shoot better in a defense situation. Matches aren’t the same; you don’t need a match gun in a defense shooting, and with the adrenaline and panic you really won’t notice the differences in trigger, sights, etc.

  5. I think the advice should be “don’t carry a firearm that you can’t afford to lose”.

    That $2,000 Wilson Combat pistol that paid for by living on ramen noodles for 6 months? Yeah, don’t carry that. A $500 Glock is just as capable of saving your life. Of course, if you’re wealthy enough that you *can* afford to risk losing that $2k pistol, then by all means, carry on.

  6. I think people are getting too concerned with the potential of “losing” a firearm rather than the whole point of having the firearm to begin with. If you are involved in a shooting, where you have to defend yourself or someone else, the cost of the firearm is the least of your problems. Therefore, discussing that you might “lose” your favorite and costly 1911 is a pointless conversation. What is a conversation worth having is the point of this discussion. You should carry a firearm that you are proficient with and have spent time, and continue to spend time, practicing with. Just like a golfer goes to the range and hits a bucket of balls, you should go to the range and practice with a couple of boxes of ammo. Regularly. Also, when it comes to buying a gun for carry, get the best you can afford. Maybe you have to save up for a couple more month which is absolutely fine. Don’t buy a “cheap” gun. They are cheap for a reason. I look at buying a carry gun like buying a parachute. I personally would not buy a cheap parachute.

    1. More guns will not make things worse. They’re already worse! Knee-jerk cries of derision, from virtual co-conspirators of the crises (imagining they are do gooders), plead, “More guns will only make things worse!” Do the innocents facing death agree? One side is armed, the other is being slaughtered. What did Amnesty call them? People imminently threatened.
      Nobody needs self-defense gear and preparedness more than people AI describes. Imminently threatened—that’s the precise legal threshold for using deadly force in self-defense law: that’s when you can pull the triggers. Why haven’t these victims got any?


      If I had as much chance of using my gun to defend me or mine as a jumper has of using their chute, I’d find some other place to be.
      Then there is the fact that nobody knows I am carrying a $300 used Glock 26 Gen 3. I got it from a bud who made me a good deal when he got a Gen 4. I replaced his breath of death trigger transfer bar with a lightly polished OEM trigger bar and replaced all the springs cuz I can, their inexpensive, and I wanted to. Hopefully, l’ll be carrying it to that other place for a long time and you’ll never know.
      So if it makes your hip feel better, carry whatever you want and be happy. I’ll still be the guy no one knows is carrying a cheap used Glock that has fired a few thousand rounds in steel challenge ad local IDPA matches with no problems.

    1. You missed a classic – and the cost of electrical tape for the grip frame woulda been cheaper than looking for new replica grips. Maybe next time…

  7. Sure.
    The investigating police department will take care of your firearm as as same as you will.
    Well oiled, amd wiped down, padded gun case, and handled carefully. BS. It will get tagged, dropped in a draw, non-humidified evidence room, fired by the forensics lab, thrown in a box, with other evidence for trips to court.
    Then, if you are no-billed by a grand jury, you may get it back a year later. If they can find it. Usually without the original ammunition and missing the magazine.
    The police department will tell you oops / sorry / can’t find it / will keep looking / you’re not the only case going on. Protect and serve? Right.
    By the way, your state carry license is under review by the chief or one his rump swab deputies. “We need to look at this further.”
    Hard comments? It’s the truth, from personal experience.
    The key word is FUNCTIONAL. Carry what runs consistently and reliably.
    Carrying a very expensive gun as a status symbol for self-defense won’t mean a thing. Except to your friends. Reliability is everything.

  8. There’s a difference between “cheap” and “inexpensive”, if the gun you shoot best (and carry/conceal well) is “inexpensive” and more importantly RELIABLE then carry it and who gives a rats azz about how much you spent on it.

  9. I use to carry a CZ-82, what an awesome accurate pistol. I used subsonic 9×18 so it wouldn’t go through my double wides walls after hitting my target. Its micro grove square riffling made it a very accurate weapon out to 15 yards, past that and your looking at a paper plate group. Now I carry a S&W SD9VE medium size gun. The only trouble I have with it is that the trigger isn’t nice and crisp, but neither was the trigger on the CZ. I’m very happy with my S&W. I’m thinking about getting a new trigger group for it, but what the hell if it works, don’t fix it.

  10. Wow, the purpose to carry is to save your life if needed. Simply put, you should carry a reliable tool that you are comfortable and accurate with. Trained with, accurate, and reliable all add to #1 priority. If you are worrying about your lifesaver being confiscated because of the cost, then you have lost perspective.

  11. A dozen or more years ago Massad Ayoob (knows a little about guns and law) strongly recommended that anyone regularly traveling in or through Denver obtain a Makarov pistol as a car gun. At the time (prior to widespread shall issue concealed permits) he stated that Denver PD’s unwritten/unspoken policy was to confiscate any firearms (due process…snort!) found in any vehicle and enter it into their irretrievable evidence lock up. At the time a Makarov was scary cheap. I ordered a Bulgarian copy for $135 and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t a darn good piece! Inherently accurate, more energy than a .380, robust and totally reliable. Relating to this article – there is a time and place to consider having expendable tools…as long as they function as needed.

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