This article originally appeared at Ammoland.

By Tom McHale

With a little work, you can find good defensive guns for $300 or so.

With a little work, you can find good defensive guns for $300 or so.

Tom McHale headshot low-res square

Tom McHale

USA –-( If you listen to White House Press Secretaries, you’ll keep hearing things like “unemployment is at the lowest rate in 43 million years…” and other such nonsense. Wow! If that were actually true, then right now, at this moment, we wouldn’t have more American’s unemployed and underemployed than in the history of ever, right? Well, you know as well as I do how skilled politicians are at manipulating numbers.

Enough about that. Why do I mention unemployment in an article about home defense? When times are tough, and places like Turkmenistan have more vibrant economic growth than we do, people have to stretch a dollar. When it comes to life and death issues like home defense, it’s easy to say things like “It’s your life! It’s worth spending the extra money for the very best!” That sounds great on paper, but if your checking account doesn’t agree, then you have to get a little more creative when choosing a home-defense weapon. You may even have to make some deliberate trade-offs, but we’ll discuss those as we get to them.

Here are three ideas for your consideration. Are they all perfect? No. Are they fail-safe T-Rex stoppers? Not necessarily. Will they get the job done, provided you learn, practice, and train? Yup. The best part is that each will cost you less than $400 if you shop. Expensive gear is great, but no gear ever makes up for lack of education, training, and practice. Whether or not the ideas presented here will win the 100,000 round, paramilitary ninja torture tests are largely irrelevant for purposes of a decent home-defense gun. Whether it’s safe and reliable enough to operate under normal maintenance, storage, and usage conditions is. Let’s take a look.

Pump Shotguns

If you must keep costs down and want a shotgun, then pump is the way to go. The action design is reliable, but more important from the budget perspective is that pumps are economical to manufacture. A double-barrel shotgun has much manufacturing cost tied up in not one, but two barrels. Semi-automatics are great, but more complex to make, and therefore, more expensive for you to buy.

I just received a great example of a pump shotgun that you can buy, brand new, for less than $300. It’s a Stoeger P3000 that comes with 28” barrel, fiber optic front sight, and has a three-inch chamber, not that you need that for home defense applications. It sports a synthetic stock, so you don’t have to baby it at home or in the car.

This Stoeger P3000 pump-action shotgun carries an MSRP of just $299, so you can likely find it for less than that.

This Stoeger P3000 pump-action shotgun carries an MSRP of just $299, so you can likely find it for less than that.

Another interesting option is the Remington 870 Express line. If it’s to be a home defense shotgun, I might even consider buying the youth model because it’s smaller and more compact for indoor use. Better yet, take a look at the 20 Gauge youth version. That better matches the smaller dimensions and lower weight to recoil. No one is going to argue much about the reliability of an 870, and you can find one for about $350 pretty easily – less if you wait for sales.

Police Trade-In Pistols

Even though agency budgets are tight, law enforcement agencies rotate through guns. Manufacturers are always coming up with creative trade-in programs to help departments get the newest thing, and the net result is that batches of used police guns show up on the market from time to time. You can get a first-rate quality gun for half of its new price if you’re patient. The best part is that, while they may be worn and show some age on the surface, many police guns haven’t been fired nearly as much as you might assume. How many police officers break out their gun once a year for qualification? Maybe too many, but that’s good for you if you’re buying it used.

It's easy to find police trade in Glocks, Smith & Wesson's and Sigs. Once in a while you might even run across something with some character like this Italian police trade in Beretta 92S. Image: Bud's Gun Shop.

It’s easy to find police trade in Glocks, Smith & Wesson’s and Sigs. Once in a while you might even run across something with some character like this Italian police trade in Beretta 92S. Image: Bud’s Gun Shop.

While you’ll see police trade-ins pop up in local gun stores from time to time, you also might want to look around online. You can buy one from anywhere and have it shipped to a local dealer. Looking around just today, I’ve found plenty of quality guns out there. Glock 22’s are plentiful, and will probably become even more available as many agencies switch to 9mm. Today, I see plenty of Glock 22 pistols on the market for about $350. Smith & Wesson M&P’s are also relatively easy to find in various sizes and in both 9mm and .40 S&W depending on what you like. Prices (again today) at Bud’s Gun Shop range from $319 to $399. The lower end of the price scale has basic models, where the higher end allows niceties like night sights. Either way, those prices are hard to beat. Just Google something like “police trade in pistols” when you’re ready to shop, and you should have no trouble finding some.

.22 Rifles?

Hey, if money is the driving force for this discussion, it’s something to consider. A .22LR would never be my first choice for a defensive gun, mainly because they make really small holes. But, if we let economics rule for a minute, there might be some factors worthy of consideration.

In my mind, here’s what it boils down to. If your spending ceiling is $300 or so, then it’s tough to get a quality (new) pistol or revolver in that range. Yes, there are some out there. Yes, you may have a Model “X” that “works great.” But, yes, economics also dictates that there comes a point when you start asking too much performance, reliability, and overall quality per dollar. For example, it’s pretty tough to find a centerfire repeating (semi-automatic) rifle for less than $300 bucks. There’s just too much material and engineering to hit that price point and still have an acceptable quality level. While not impossible, the same applies to most semi-automatic pistols and revolvers.

On the other hand, .22s are abundantly available at price points (new) below $300 – even semi-automatic ones.

For example, you can pick up a Ruger 10/22 Carbine for about $260. It comes with a 10-round rotary magazine, but you can easily add a Ruger-brand 25-round magazine that works. Yes, it’s a .22. Yes, there are plenty of guns that may be more effective on a shot-for-shot basis. On the other hand, it’s affordable and exceptionally easy for just about anyone to handle. Even with the new normal of .22LR ammo pricing, it’s a lot cheaper than centerfire ammunition.

In some situations, a rifle as simple as a Ruger 10/22 might be the right answer.

In some situations, a rifle as simple as a Ruger 10/22 might be the right answer.

Perhaps the most compelling point in favor of the .22 semi-automatic rifle consideration is that you’ll develop skill. Why? It’s crazy fun to shoot. It’s likely that even the non-shooters in your household will really enjoy shooting this little rifle. The more they shoot, the better they’ll get and the more confidence they’ll develop handling this little firearm. Will your other family members likely dedicate the same round count on the range to a 12 gauge pump shotgun? Probably not. In this hypothetical example, would you rather have a non-gunnie family member pick up the .22 they shoot every weekend or a more powerful gun they’ve shot twice? It’s an interesting tradeoff to ponder.

A quick side note: A reliable .22LR semi-automatic is a delicate pas de deux between a specific gun and a specific type of ammo. Quality ammo may or may not be reliable in your gun. Cheap ammo may or may not be reliable in your gun. .22s are notoriously ammo-finicky, so do plenty of shooting to figure out what ammo your gun likes.

Am I recommending that everyone run out and get a .22 rifle for home defense? Certainly not. All I’m saying is that it might be an option for some folks in some cases. I’d much rather have something like a Ruger 10/22 by the nightstand than a Louisville Slugger.

Like any defensive strategy decision, it’s all up to you. You’re the only one who knows your specific needs, budget, and dedication of other people in the household. Regardless of what the internet says, there is rarely ever a single right or wrong answer that applies to everyone. Do your homework, research all the pros and cons, then weigh those against your personal situational factors. Only you can do that. Most importantly, whatever your ultimate choice, learn how to use it. That’s worth far more than any theoretical equipment advantages.


Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.