February 25, 2023
The 9mm Luger is far and away the nation’s most popular centerfire handgun cartridge, and with good reason. Handguns in 9mm are great for everything from concealed carry to competition, and the ammunition blends manageable recoil with a massive selection of available commercial loads.
The problem, however, is that with so many different 9mm handguns on the market it can be difficult to select the best one for you. So, here’s a list of 9mm pistols that offer exceptional value. They aren’t necessarily the cheapest 9mm pistols (although several are relatively affordable), but they all offer lots of features for their price. When you’re clearing space in your gun safe for one more handgun, take a hard look at these nine exceptional 9mm pistols.
One reason Ruger products remain so popular is that this company has their pulse on the shooting market. Case in point, the Security-9. Starting at just $469, the Security-9 is available with a 4-inch barrel and a magazine capacity of 15-rounds. Looking for something with a smaller footprint? It’s also available with a 3.42-inch barrel and a 10-round magazine. With a black oxide alloy steel slide that measures right at 1-inch wide, these guns are easy to conceal under light clothing. Yet, both versions remain very easy to shoot thanks to a well-contoured glass-filled nylon grip frame with comfortable texturing. The Secure Action fire control system includes an internal hammer and a bladed trigger. Less force is required to operate the slide than competing 9mms, and the trigger is very smooth and clean. You can upgrade the version with steel tritium sights for a couple hundred bucks more, but the low-profile drift adjustable sights on the standard model are well-designed and functional.
Stoeger STR-9SC OR
Some companies add a 9mm carry gun to their portfolio to increase their market share, but that’s not the case here. Stoeger’s whole STR-9 family of pistols are well thought out and feature rich. The new STR-9SC OR (optics ready) pistol comes with two 10-round magazines, three interchangeable backstraps, and costs under $400. Ergonomics on these pistols are excellent and the deep, aggressive slide cuts are easy to grasp and operate. With a 3.54-inch barrel and a weight of just over 22 ounces unloaded, this gun carries well and the base model comes with plain, but functional, three-dot sights. For $70 more you can upgrade to a model with tritium sights if you’d like, and both guns come with very crisp, manageable triggers. That exceptional trigger is one reason STR-9 pistols are so accurate, often outshooting guns costing hundreds more.
Girsan MC P35
A mechanical doppelganger of John Browning and Dieudonné Saive’s P35 of yore, the MC P35 pays homage to one of the world’s most popular and revolutionary 9mm pistols. With its all-steel slide, frame and magazines, the recoil-operated MC P35 is a bit heavier than polymer-frame guns, but at around 30 ounces unloaded it’s hardly a brick. In fact, this gun (like all P35s) is exceptionally well-balanced and handles recoil beautifully. The single-action trigger is smooth, the staggered magazine holds 15 rounds, and the safety is ambidextrous. You can select from three color schemes — dark earth, blued/black or two-tone black and silver — all of which come with a 4.6-inch barrel. I tested two of these guns for Guns & Ammo and was so impressed with their performance and accuracy that both now reside in my gun safe. In the short time I’ve had them, one or the other has accompanied me to the range on every trip. These guns are just plain fun to shoot.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield Plus
Smith & Wesson’s M&P line of pistols have been a big success for years, and while you can spend over $800 on the tricked-out Performance Center edition with a Crimson Trace laser, the sub-$500 base model is a lot of gun for the money. Capacity is 10 rounds with the flush fit magazine or 13 rounds in the extended mag, and the new flat-face bladed trigger design is comfortable and easy to control. The control layout is simple and the black Armornite finish will hold up well to daily carry. At just over 1-inch wide and 6-inches long the Shield Plus is small enough to conceal comfortably, yet it shoots more like a full-sized pistol than a subcompact, especially with the extended magazine that offers more real estate, and improved control, for those with large hands. Takedown is simple and fast thanks to the inclusion of a rotating takedown lever, and the inclusion of a sear deactivation lever means you don’t need to pull the trigger to disassemble the gun.
Mossberg’s shotguns have earned an enviable reputation for reliability over the years, and that never-say-die ethos carries over to the MC2sc. The guns that I’ve tested from Mossberg sailed through thousands of rounds without a hitch and the stainless steel slide with black DLC finish can take a real beating without damage. Grip geometry is good, the base sights are simple but user-friendly, and the innovative takedown system is safe, simple, and provides easy access to the firing fin for maintenance and cleaning. Magazine capacities are 11 rounds for the flush fit and 14 in the extended mag, which is very good for a carry gun with a 3.4-inch barrel. These guns come standard with an optics cut so mounting a Shield RMSc-footprint reflex sight is oh so simple.
The GX4 competes in the ultra-crowded 9mm subcompact space where there are lots of good handgun options. But it does more than compete: the GX4 has carved out a spot at the top of the subcompact food chain by offering outstanding ergonomics, easy operation, and surprisingly good accuracy for a gun that’s barely 6-inches long and sports a 3.06-inch barrel. If you’d refer something with a bit more sight radius, there’s an XL version with a 3.7-inch barrel as well, and both models come with optional Taurus T.O.R.O. optics-ready slides. The grip, texturing, and front and rear slide cuts give the Taurus a modern look and feel, and most importantly this gun shoots very well. The GX4 manages to do everything well at a modest price point, and that’s why it was our Guns & Ammo Handgun of the Year for 2022.
Savage Arms Stance
Savage has expanded their product portfolio of late, and the Stance is the company’s first entry into the subcompact 9mm pistol market. With modern, aggressive lines the Stance looks good, but it’s also practical. Vented slide serrations on the front of the gun make it easy to manipulate and the slide cuts reduce weight and make the gun easier to reholster. Savage understands the need for good iron sights on a carry pistol and outfitted the Stance with a U-notch rear and orange dot front sight, a perfect combo for personal defense. Two single-stack magazines come standard, one with 7 rounds and an extended mag with 8 rounds. Lefties will appreciate the ambidextrous slide stop, and at just 22 ounces, unloaded, and a bit over 6 inches long, the Stance slides easily into an IWB holster and is comfortable for all-day carry. The chassis and 3.2-inch barrel are made from stainless steel, and the steel slide comes with a rugged black nitride finish. Polymer grip frames are available in black, grey, and flat dark earth.
Springfield Armory XD-S Mod.2 OSP
The XD-S is a bit long in the tooth but remains a great carry gun that’s very reliable and fun to shoot. Capacity is seven rounds with the flush-fit magazine and nine with the extended mag and so it doesn’t match the capacity of other 9mm guns listed here, but it does manage to keep grip width under an inch, so it’s exceptionally easy to conceal. The Mod.2’s grip texturing is an improvement over the earlier, more aggressive design, and the standard U-notch rear/post front sights are very good. The black nitride Melonite finish is very durable: I carried and shot one of these guns for several years and the gun still looks as if it’s fresh out of the box. These guns come optics ready for a micro red dot and a grip safety is standard.
Rock Island Armory STK100:
The STK100 differs from most other pistols on this list in that it utilizes an aluminum frame instead of polymer. With its 4.5-inch barrel it isn’t quite as light as other guns here (unloaded weight is around 28 ounces), but that makes the STK100 comfortable to shoot. If the frame design looks familiar, that’s because it’s dimensionally similar to a 1911 and even features an extended beavertail. This gun’s balance and ergonomics make it feel great in the hand, and the optics cut on the slide allows you to mount a reflex sight. Even if you don’t opt to add a red dot, the iron sights are good, and disassembly is fast and simple, following the common Glock procedure with bilateral takedown tabs. The control layout is shooter-friendly and the rugged nitride finish will stand up well to abuse. Though it’s not as small or light as some of the carry guns on this list, you could conceal this gun, but it’s real calling is as a target and home defense pistol, and it excels in both roles.
What do you think? Is there another handgun offering exceptional features for the price? Let us know by emailing us at GAEDITOR@OUTDOORSG.COM, and use "Sound Off" in the subject line.
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