Life is too short…

…for crappy magazines.  That’s something that you’ll hear me say from time to time if you ever shoot matches with me, or even if you read this blog for any extended period.  It’s not just magazines though, because I believe that life is too short for crappy gear, period.  In the comment section at my co-blogger’s excellent post about the difficulty of managing a DA revolver trigger we’ve been following a rabbit trail off the main subject an in to The Woods of Crappy Guns.  For those that haven’t been following it, here are the broad strokes:

  • Team Gun Nuts believes that a revolver is a fine defensive firearm if you’re willing to invest the time necessary to master the DA trigger.
  • I personally believe that every law abiding citizen has a right to own a gun for self defense, and has a right to defend themselves.
  • It then follows that I believe that everyone should be given the option to have the best tools possible to defend themselves.

The counter arguments run as thus:

  • Lots of people just want a gun for protection and don’t want to practice with it at all
  • 90% of DGUs don’t involve a shot being fired, so it’s not actually important if the gun works or if the person is skilled in the use of the gun
  • With the 90% statistic in mind, people are better served buying cheap guns than spending the money on a “good” gun.

Point by point, let’s examine those.  The first point, that lots of people want a gun for protection and don’t want to practice with it is true.  I think that as professionals and enthusiasts in the industry, we have an obligation to encourage people to get training and practice with their defensive firearms, as having educated and competent gun owners is a benefit for everyone.

The second point I find rather alarming.  In all likelihood, my co-blogger will never need to draw her carry gun to defend herself.  However, if that 0.1% situation actually happens and she needs to use her gun to defend herself, I want her to be as well prepared for that moment as possible.  It’s the same reason why I attended a defensive driving class – and those are skills I’m much more likely to need.

The third option is pure madness.  Let’s take a look at one of the cheaper guns on the market, the Bersa .380.  Quality ranges from good to unreliable owing to poor QC at the factory, so one of these could either be dead reliable or a complete dog.  I owned one of these guns, it was actually my first carry gun before I switched to a 10mm Glock and then to a revolver.  My particular Bersa was okay, but I also didn’t shoot it very much.  On Gunbroker, the average price for a new Bersa is around $250-300.

For the same $300 you could get a Gen2 Glock in .40 S&W, the same gun used by police departments across the nation.  Or for less than the cost of a Bersa or a Taurus you could get a used S&W K-frame revolver, which was essentially the Glock of the 1960’s-80’s.  Even with my objections about the DA trigger for newbies, I’d rather see a thousand used K-frames sold before someone buys something that’s not reliable.

A gun is a very simple tool to use, but unlike a vaccine which is just injected in the end user and then does its own thing, a gun requires the end user have a modicum of skill to use effectively.  Stray rounds and misses are legal liabilities that we don’t want to have, which again is why I feel strongly about encouraging people to seek training and practice.  The same goes with getting good gear – the last news story I want to read is about some 80 year old woman who was beaten to death in her own home because the cheap gun that someone sold her because “she’s not going to practice” failed her in her time of need.

At the end of every episode of the Quest for Master Class, I admonish people to carry their guns.  But life is too short for crappy guns and crappy gear, and if you’re going to buy a gun simply for peace of mind of having a gun, why not make sure it’s the best gun you can buy?


  1. I think the comparison intended was more in the direction of a $100 hi-point.

    Also, recommending that someone make their first (and in this case, only) gun purchase off of Gunbroker is a bit much. I know I didn’t feel comfortable buying used when I got my first handgun, as I didn’t have anyone I knew to vouch for the condition of the weapon. It’s not like a used car where you can drop into am auto shop during your test drive and have it inspected.

    1. I was using Gunbroker as a price reference more than anything. A little shopping around at pawnshops and gun stores will usually reveal the same kind of deals.

      1. And I was using it as representative of a market, not as the end all be all of used gun sources.

        The problem still remains. How is a prospective gun buyer to know if the pawn shop is selling him a used gun whose owner tried to run his own over-powered handloads through it and cracked the slide? He has no expertise to judge with, *especially* if this is someone who isn’t into the hobby enough to get training or go to the range.

        A HI-Point at least comes with a warranty.

        The used market is *definitely* a better option if you’re buying someone their first gun, but then you are using your knowledge to their aid. I can build my grandma a computer, but there’s no way that my general recommendation for new computers for grandmothers is to start ordering parts off of newegg.

        And when the price difference between a cheap gun (which is still plenty accurate at the “point, pull the trigger, and pray” distances most self defense shootings occur at) and a good one could be 1-2 months rent for some people, I’d recommend the cheap gun over no gun any day, because no gun is most likely the alternative you are actually looking at.

  2. ” Let’s take a look at one of the cheaper guns on the market, the Bersa .380. Quality ranges from good to unreliable owing to poor QC at the factory, so one of these could either be dead reliable or a complete dog.”

    Could I get some sources for this? I have a Bersa, and I had no idea it had these problems. The only trouble I’ve had is it not reliably shooting Russian Ammo. I upgraded to a Glock 30, but my wife was going to use the Bersa as a carry gun, so I’m interested in potential problems.


    1. Check out – I know his Bersa broke and a google search around the web will show issues with spring breakage and other parts failures. I’m not necessarily anti-Bersa, but there are better .380s on the market.

  3. If you believe in points 2 and 3 of the counter then don’t bother to pay for ammunition. It’s expensive and 90%…..

  4. A gun is a very simple tool to use, but unlike a vaccine which is just injected in the end user and then does its own thing, a gun requires the end user have a modicum of skill to use effectively.

    No, it doesn’t. At least, not in the vast majority of successful gun self-defense cases where no shots are ever even fired. And while this horrifies many hobbyists who enjoy going to the range to practice, from a public health and safety standpoint, it’s actually a reason for celebration. We stand to get an incredible bang from very few bucks.

    Of course, if you can get a reliable used S&W or Glock, that’s great too, but my point is, 90% of your utility comes from the first $100 it would cost to buy a cheap zinc pistol. Every $100 worth of gun or training you buy beyond that is just getting you a smaller and smaller slice of the remaining 10%. This is economics 101, marginal costs and diminishing returns.

    As hobbyists, we’re willing to spend many thousands of dollars on guns, ammunition, gear, and range time. As a gun geek I share many of your opinions. But as an economics geek (who happens to be married to a microbiology geek) I can’t help but also look at the issue from an economic and epidemiological perspective as well.

    And from that perspective, where we look at guns as “a drug against crime” instead of a form of sport and entertainment, even cheap, unreliable, nearly unshootable guns are awesome.

    If you want to spend more, great. I certainly do. But I don’t kid myself that the extra money is obtaining me enough extra safety to be worthwhile. In fact, because auto accident deaths are so much more common than violent crime deaths for my demographic (ie. Someone who doesn’t deal drugs) I am increasing my risk of death and injury more just driving to and from the range than I am reducing it with the extra skills I develop there!

    But the extra risk is worth it to pursue my hobby. Other people have other hobbies, and the extra risk they incur by spending the money on those hobbies instead of spending more on guns and shooting is worth it to them.

    1. To make this perfectly clear – I am not willing under any circumstances to recommend that someone buy a gun of questionable manufacture and quality simply because “they’ll probably never use it”. I wouldn’t recommend that someone buy a used fire extinguisher or a life jacket with holes in it for the exact same reasons.

      A gun is not a vaccine. If I push someone to buy a crappy gun that fails on them when they need it and as a result of that gun failing they are killed or injured, that is partially my responsibility. The problem with looking at this from a numbers standpoint is that it misses the point entirely. One person dying because they had crappy gear or didn’t know how to use their gun is one too many in my opinion. It’s not about statistics or economics, it’s about ethics.

      1. I would feel horrible if I told someone to go practice with their gun regularly, and they got in an accident on the way to the range and died. Does that mean we should tell people never to practice with their guns?

        There is always an opportunity cost. Every extra dollar and minute you spend on thing X is a dollar or minute you can’t spend on thing Y. Every choice you make has a cost, and risks associated.

        “Ethics” do not change that. The emotions we would feel in the event of an extremely low-probability disaster do not change that. The costs are the costs, and the only ethical thing to do is honestly assess those costs and those risks so that people can make better choices about which are worthwhile to them, and which are not.

        Most Americans would be safer buying a $100 gun for self defense, and using the money they save on a more expensive gun and regular shooting sessions to trade in their vehicle for a heavier one that gets worse gas mileage, but would protect them better in a collision.

        1. At this juncture we’re simply repeating the same talking points over and over again. While talking past one another is an entertaining use of pixels, we’ve both said more than enough for readers to make their own decisions.

          If as an individual you are comfortable recommending that people purchase sub-par firearms of questionable quality because “they’ll probably never use them” then by all means you are welcome to do that.

          I’ll stick with the policy of Gun Nuts to continue to recommend that people buy quality firearms from reputable manufacturers, especially if they don’t plan on shooting that gun or practicing with it regularly.

          1. Whether or not the policy is warranted by evidence is precisely the issue. Once a policy becomes accepted regardless of the actual consequences, once you do something for the sake of doing something, instead of for the benefits it produces (hopefully in excess of the costs, including the opportunities you give up) it’s no longer a policy.

            It’s a doctrine. An article of faith.

            I joke about belonging to the First Church of John Moses Browning, but it’s really not a religion to me. I want people I know to be safer. Period. If spending less money on guns and more on other things like better tires or extra fire extinguishers accomplishes that, wonderful! If they already have those things, then it is likely worthwhile to upgrade the gun too. But that really depends on their individual circumstances and opportunities.

    2. Using your logic someone could just by a $30 airsoft and remove the orange tip off the gun. If the very act of drawing an object that appears to be a functioning gun is enough than for most people that is an extra $70 saved over an unreliable potentially dangerous cheap zinc pistol that cost $100.

      There is a problem with this logic though. The very act of drawing your weapon escalates things in the mind of your attacker. If your attacker genuinely had no intention to kill you you could had your wallet to him and he’d run away. If your attacker is going to kill you anyway you’re better off drawing regardless of risk. Without being able to read his mind you always have to assume his intention is the latter and draw when you can.

      However let’s assume for a moment that his intention was never to kill you. So you have your cheap zinc gun that isn’t even loaded or you go to my extreme example of having a realistic $30 airsoft. Now you have given your would be attacker the option of getting shot and even if he never had any intention to shoot or stab you before he is now much more likely to fire at you or stab you because you have escalated it to a life or death situation in his mind.

      Is this exact chain of events unlikely? According the statistics absolutely. But when you can get an extremely reliable Makarov, surplus CZ-83, S&W revolver for $250, or a used Glock for $300 I have to wonder if it’s really worth the risk. Yes it’s 3 times the price but assuming this is the only gun this person will ever own that’s and extra $200 over the course of their entire life.

      1. Using your logic someone could just by a $30 airsoft and remove the orange tip off the gun.

        Yes! Yes you could. It would work …for a while. That’s not the problem. The problem is that it wouldn’t take long for criminals to figure this out and adapt. Before long, people who pulled real guns would have to fire them just to prove that they have a real gun. Now you’ve got more bullets flying, and shots fired in cases that never required shots to be fired previously. Eventually, airsoft pistols would lose their deterrent effect too.

        You would see a short term gain for people who saved money by buying airsofts, but a long term loss for everyone, whether they bought a real gun or not. It would be like staving off starvation by eating your own arm.

        Cheap guns don’t create this problem. They’ll still lob a bullet, and the bad guys know it. It’s like staving off starvation by eating a burger off the dollar menu instead of a steak. It may not be as pleasant, but it still gets the job done.

        1. You just contradicted yourself. If the bad guy runs at the sight of a gun then the airsoft is enough. If he doesn’t then your zinc gun that might not be loaded isn’t any better than the airsoft.

          But assume they do have a cheap gun and it is loaded what if the cheap gun doesn’t lob a bullet? That’s what we’re arguing here. A cheap gun made of zinc might work reasonably well most of the time, perhaps it works extremely well with one specific type of ammo. For a collector or a gun guy that is willing to spend the time and money to work out the kinks this isn’t really that much of an issue.

          But we are talking about a gun meant for someone that will invest nothing beyond the initial cost of the firearm. No additional time, no additional money they will simply assume that the gun works right out of the box. For these people it’s entirely possible they can get lucky with a cheap gun but when the cost to own a better gun is only marginal more why on earth would you not recommend they buy the better gun?

          1. If he doesn’t then your zinc gun that might not be loaded isn’t any better than the airsoft.

            Of course it is. Even firing a bullet 50% of the time is better than 0%. Which is what you’d get with an airsoft. And “Maybe he’s just using an airsoft” is a much different calculation in a criminal’s mind than “It’s only a Hi-Point, not a Rohrbaugh.” A .355″ chunk of lead in you is just as unpleasant if it comes from a $100 gun as a $1000 gun.

            when the cost to own a better gun is only marginal more why on earth would you not recommend they buy the better gun?

            Because they might not have that marginal amount. Or they might be able to improve their safety even more by spending it on something else. I would never recommend someone buy a more expensive gun if it means driving around on bald tires for even an extra week, for example.

            I’m lucky. I’m blessed. I have lots of nice guns these days.

            But there was a time in my life when a surplus Makarov was a big expense. I have not forgotten it, I will never forget it, and I will never believe that the only people who should have access to their 2nd Amendment rights are those who are prepared to spend the time and money to equip and train themselves to the same standards as professional executive protection staff.

            If someone is willing to carry even a cheap gun, they are making themselves safer, and they are making me safer by making bad guys think twice about everybody. If it works 90% of the time without a shot, and 30% of the rest of the time, that’s 93%. That’s a hell of a start. I’m not going to spit on it because it’s not 97%.

          2. A gun that works 50% of the time is just as bad as a gun that works 0% of the time if the one time you need it happens to be one of the times that it doesn’t work.

            If you want to advocate that people risk their lives by purchasing sub-par guns, you’re welcome to continue doing that in a venue other than Gun Nuts. I would not want a reader or fan to find that advice and think it was something that myself or my co-author endorsed.

          3. I have owned several “cheap zinc guns” in my life, Jennings, Phoenix Arms (great cheap gun, at least the ones I’ve seen) and the one I still have and use for carry on occasion a QFI SA25 (I don’t think these are available anymore, sadly) it has never had a failure with a couple hundred rounds thru it (I know, it’s a small sample size) and it has an external hammer and inertial firing pin, so I can carry it in my pocket with a round in the chamber and the hammer down safely, it is stoked with Glasser Safety Slugs for carry. (which according to live fire tests is supposed to incapacitate as fast as 45 ball ammo, don’t fully believe that but still it must be pretty effective for a mouse round) And it can hit a man sized target out to 50 yds. I filed the “non adjustable” sites down to sight it in for me.

            And it was about $70 NIB back in the late 90’s.

            I will not argue that a cheap gun is as good as a more expensive and better quality gun, but there are some very usable inexpensive guns out there, especially in the 22LR and 25ACP chamberings. Which in my mind is better than going without a gun if you cannot afford a better or bigger gun.

            Also take into account that many older folks have severe arthritis and can’t take the recoil of a bigger gun/heavier caliber and the inexpensive little guns look better all the time.

            I personally am of the opinion that pulling a gun out just to try to ‘scare away’ an attacker is stupid and can get you killed, if you have not decided that shooting your assailant is warranted and justified why draw a weapon that you won’t use? As has been said before, once you draw your weapon you escalate the situation. And if you draw and don’t end the situation immediately the odds are that something bad is going to happen to you pretty damn soon after you draw.

            In short if you don’t feel justified in shooting the perp you aren’t justified to draw a gun on him either.

  5. I certainly agree that picking up a police trade-in Glock or K-Frame is preferable to a Bersa or Taurus, but to play devil’s advocate for a moment, what about carry guns? It’s going to be tough for most people, especially people new to carrying, to lug around a full size service sidearm. That’s when the “cheap” brands start looking really attractive. I think there are quality, affordable options for carry guns, but you have to look a little harder (unless you can settle for a pocket .380).

  6. Carried a Beretta Minx .22 Short for a while. I am capable with it, and it was easy to carry, but FTF was about 1 in 7…. that always was on my mind…always! Got rid of it for what I paid for it and now carry an SR9c … I NEVER worry about FTF.


  7. You know what I miss?

    The early-to-mid-’90s, during the Great Police Autoloader Changeover.

    I used to sell LE trade-in Model 10s, complete with a box of FMJ, a box of JHP, a cheap gun rug, and eye and ear protection for, like, $200-$250 for the whole package…

    1. Hell, I wish I was smart enough to buy a bucket of Model 10’s or Model 64’s when the prophets of the Days of Wheelgun Obscelescence were shouting the loudest in police adminstrator’s ears. . . We just ran scads of old K-frames with much carry wear and almost no range wear in the back door and out the front like a conveyor. I could have had my pick of teh litter at (to today’s eyes) stupidly low prices.

      Although I was smart enough to snag a (allegedly) ex-FBI 3″ model 13. . . straight swap on a 4″ Taurus Model 66 (the older 6-shot version). {SCHWING!}

      Unfortunately, that gun went away when the rent came due and my roomies were short. That sucker was slick. . .

  8. Is there a middle ground here?

    Sight radius, trigger feel, long-term durability – these are things that will make a better gun, or one that is easier to shoot. But as long as it shoots mostly reliably, it does its job.

    There is some level of unreliability beyond which a cheap gun is not a functional firearm but an interesting paperweight.

    Is it a more reasonable argument that above that minimum threshold, cheap but ugly guns can be a good recommendation for some people?

    I consider Hi-point and taurus to fit somewhere in this range. Others may disagree, of course.

  9. I think Charter and Taurus hit the low-end sweet spot. They may not stand up to a lot of shooting, but if you find one that locks up ok, and you can put one box of ammo through it without light strikes, chances are good you’ll get at least a full cylinder out of it should the need arise. Only an actual breakage will prevent it from functioning, and that’s unlikely if you don’t shoot it much.

    (Full disclosure: I have shot, but do not own a single Charter or Taurus product. I keep trade-in Glocks and used S&W J-frames for friends in need. But not everybody has a friend as good as me. If I suddenly found myself friendless, low on money, and in need of a gun, I’d buy a CZ-82, but that’s only because I’ve already invested the time and money to learn semi-autos. For someone who doesn’t even have that, Charter Arms is a godsend. There are very few problems that can’t be solved with 5 reliable rounds of .38 special.)

    1. In defense of the XD, I had two specimens that went north of 5,000 rounds each with zero issues. I even had one cross the 10k mark. They run, I just don’t like the bore axis, grip safety, and where the slide stop is.

      1. I looked at a XD a few years ago, before the 45 ACP version was out, I just didn’t like the “feel” of it.
        Ended up spending a couple hundred less on a used Springfield 1911A1, Which meant money leftover for ‘accessories’, mags, pouches for said mags, holster, and a few hundred rounds of ammo.

        Guess it’s because I grew up and started shooting before there were ‘plastic’ guns but I have yet to try one I liked, the balance just feels wrong to me being that they are so dang top heavy.
        Guess if I had been raised with them I wouldn’t think it was as strange.

        Just a stubborn old fart I guess but I still think guns should be made out of metal…….

  10. I’ll never understand people who absolutely insist they must be allowed to own a gun in the very unlikely case that they may some day need one to defend themselves; but in the next breath they insist that the time, money, and effort needed to achieve proficiency isn’t worth it because “most of them time the BG will run away as soon as he sees you have a gun.”

    You’re not comfortable betting you’ll be part of the 90% who’ll never need a gun at all, but you are comfortable assuming you’ll be part of the 9% who’ll NEED a gun without needing to FIRE it effectively?

    Buy a Ring’s blue gun, paint it black, and carry that. Ta-da. Very cost effective.

    Stupid, but very very cost effective.

    1. I thought that was the whole beauty of a gun over other self defense mechanisms?

      So 90% of people never need to defend themselves. So you’re at 1/10, that’s fairly likely.

      90% of the people left could get by with an airsoft gun, because they just need to appear to have a gun. So that’s 1/100… that’s still a fair number of people. That’s enough that you’re at least likely to know someone who’s had to do it.

      What portion of the remainder will likely do fine with a “point the gun at the bad guy and pull the trigger” level of training? The average personal defense incident is over in a couple shots at close range, and is likely determined more by situational awareness than IDPA style skills.

      Every step improves your chances. Do you chastise people for wanting seat belts in their car when they don’t also take performance or defensive driving lessons? Well, yes, of course you should – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have seatbelts.

      1. Oh, and my point versus other defense mechanisms is that if you give my wife a baseball bat, I wouldn’t be afraid of her unless she also took several years of martial arts. You give her a gun and she nearly as dangerous as someone who knows what they’re doing.

        1. Eggsactly. Intensive training is all very well and good, but almost everyone can manage minute-of-bad-guy accuracy at typical household ranges, and (contra Elloit’s observation in Leverage), the effective range of a firearm is from contact out.

  11. This may be a devils advocate type question but why does the Govt make it a law that given the small percentage of people who get into an auto accident requires the rest of us to wear seatbelts against our will, but at the same time tries to keep people from carrying guns to protest themselves from a similarly small chance of needing one to save their lives?

    Make any sense to you?

  12. I’ve been fairly quiet on this subject but am feeling a need to voice my opinion given that this has turned into something strangely controversial. People who are buying guns are buying them for themselves, that seems like one of the most asinine statements I have ever made but it seems to have been forgotten somewhere along the way.

    Our job is not to “sell” them what WE think they need, regardless of whether WE think they need something cheap or something expensive or whatever it is. As industry professionals our goal should be to provide as much information as possible to those who may be less informed. If a woman is asking me if she should buy a DA revolver or a semi-auto I will tell her the benefits of the revolver as a carry gun, the benefits I achieved shooting one and the difficulty of the double action trigger, then have her TRY one. If, at the end of the day, that’s what she wants to buy then that’s what she wants to buy.

    The same goes for this little “cheap guns” debate. If someone asks me, and they have, about the guns in my rental case I wouldn’t trust my life to I won’t say the awful horrible things I think about them because I know those are guns we sell, but I will give them other options to try and explain that a lot of the time you get what you pay for. People understand that concept. Some people want to pay for reliability, comfort and even cosmetics but some people don’t. That’s their decision, not ours to make for them.

    Selling guns not about “selling this or selling that” to people, it’s about providing them with as much information as possible so they can make a decision that best suits themselves.

    1. I agree. But, as a gun pimp, I never hesitated to recommend that someone may wish to look at a (same or slightly higher price) comperable used revolver in .38 Special versus a cheap zinc automatic in .25 or .32.

      Managed to only sell the pimp special throwaways to two people —

      1. The guy (regular customer) who ran out of “good” guns to buy after the Virginia “Gun of the Month Club” law was passed. He didn’t want to buy guns he already owned copies of (only one 1911 system, only one K-frame Smith, etc.), and he didn’t want to buy used. So he ended up buying every possible zinc pimp gun we carried. After a while, I gently pointed out to him that the “One Gun a Month” wasn’t a MINMUM required purchase. . . {grin} (I usually forget all about him when discussing my limited sale of crap guns.)

      2. The little old widow who listened carefully and then just responded that her house had burned down, and she just wanted to get something exactly like her late husband had given her years ago. So I grabbed a .25 Raven box, slapped a clipboard on the counter, and asked her, “Will you be needing any shells for that, ma’am?”

      Now some might think I discouraged some people who WOULD have purchased zinc disposables, and tehy eoither never got a gun or they went someplace where the guy behind the counter wasn’t “as arrogant”. Except my sales rates on handguns were about the same as the guys who would happily send a guy off to war with a HiPoint. . . (My sales numbers sucked overall because I didn’t know enough about hunting or huntinge gun setups to sell sporting longarms worth a darn, and that was a sizeable minority of our sales figures.)

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