Like any company selling a type of product there are manufacturers who consistently produce a quality product and those who produce something less. Any manufacturer can turn out a “lemon” now and then. Sometimes a particular model’s design looked good enough to produce, but flopped miserably in the market. Neither should detract from the overall reputation of the company.
Here we attempt to categorize some of the brand names you’ll encounter during a trip to a gun shop or gun show. The list is broken down into 3 categories.
The high quality brands are companies that – overall – produce a very good to excellent product on a consistent basis. In general, you’ll probably be satisfied with their products. These companies generally have good to excellent customer service too.
The “secondary” manufacturers (a.k.a. 2nd tier) often try very hard to balance quality with a competitive price – though not always doing it well. In general, price is the motivator. They can be a good value if you want a gun that will see little use in its lifetime (i.e. less than 5,000 rounds). If you select carefully, you’ll probably be happy with your purchase. You won’t find silky actions or superbly polished finishes. There is a higher than average chance you’ll encounter something that needs attention by the factory or a gunsmith.
In the low quality category are brands that are usually poor quality and/or execution. These guns tend to have more problems than most in feeding, ejecting and accuracy. In some cases, these guns may actually be unsafe to fire with modern ammunition. Most knowledgeable gun folks simply walk away from these guns.
High Quality Brand Names (alphabetically)
Armscor (Philippines) – Produces a quality 1911 pistol under the “Rock Island” and “Hi-Standard” names. Revolvers are a very rough Colt knock-off and of secondary quality. Customer service is considered excellent.
Beretta (Italy/USA) – High quality semi-autos. Manufactures U.S. Military M9 pistol based on its 92FS model.
Bersa (Agentina) – Produces a quality .380 compact pistol, plus several other 9mm & .45 caliber pistols.
These are somewhat expensive for a 2-shot gun and can be awkward to use. A variety of chamberings, a trigger guard, grip options and a cross-bolt safety make them top notch guns.
Spend the money on a good quality .380, 9mm or .38 special unless you absolutely need a gun that is smaller for deep concealment.
Browning (USA) – Manufactures the Browning Hi-Power 9mm and Buck Mark .22. Known for high standards of workmanship and reliability.
Colt Firearms (USA) – The oldest name in American handguns, Colt essentially invented the well-known revolver. Today they make high quality 1911 pistols and single action revolvers. Colt’s double-action revolver production has been shuttered since the 1990s, due to the high cost of manufacture. However, used Colt handguns carry high prices for their excellence in quality manufacturing.
CZ (Ceska Zbrojovka) (Czech Republic) – Manufactures the CZ-75 and similar quality semi-autos. CZ is fast becoming a favorite of many semi-auto fans and not only because of their lower prices.
Dan Wesson (USA) – Originally a revolver mfr., DW also produces a 1911 clone of high quality. CZ now owns the company. DW’s are a very good value for the money. Their original revolver design featured a sleeved barrel the user could change from a 6″ to a 4″ or even 2″ barrel in under a minute. Their 1911′s are considered excellent quality guns by their owners.
Detonics (USA) – Manufacturer of an all steel compact 1911 copy.
Ed Brown Products (USA) – Custom manufactures high-end 1911 pistols.
E.M.F. (USA/Italy) – EMF imports western-style single actions from quality Italian gun makers. The company has been providing quality “cowboy” guns since the 1950′s.
Firestorm (Argentina) – Firestorm is similar to Bersa, though some models have shown a little less quality in their finish.
F.N. (Fabrique Nationale) (a.k.a. FN Herstal or FNH) (Belgium) – Makers of the FNP, FNX and Five-seven pistols.
Freedom Arms (USA) – Manufactures a high quality, large caliber single action series of revolvers.
GLOCK (Austria) – Manufactures a high quality polymer-framed pistol in 9mm, .40, .45ACP and others. Used by police worldwide and considered extremely reliable.
Harrington & Richardson (pre-1991) (USA) – (out of business) Older H&R revolvers and pistols were very good quality, if not as pretty as other guns. Low initial investment provided many years of use.
Heckler & Koch (HK) (Germany) – Maker of high quality semi-auto firearms for police, military & civilian use. H&K is a well-known maker of quality firearms.
High-Standard Mfg. (USA) – (Out of business), the older High-Standard handguns were exceptionally well made for their prices. Their .22 semi-automatic was prized for accuracy and is sought by collectors. The current High-Standard Mfg. Co., located in Houston, Texas distributes guns from other manufacturers under its own name.
IMI / Magnum Research (Israel) – Israeli Military Industries markets under it’s own name and Magnum research. The Jericho and Desert Eagle pistols are fair examples. High quality and unique designs.
Kahr Arms (USA) – Manufacturer of the Kahr pistol series. High quality with somewhat of a tendency towards more problems than most and slightly spotty customer service. Kahr owners praise their guns highly.
Kel-Tec CNC Industries (USA) – Makes a good quality, inexpensive .32ACP and .380 polymer pocket pistol
Kimber (USA) – Manufacturer of a line of well-accessorized 1911 clones.
Korth (Germany) – Manufactures an extremely high precision revolver of unique design.
Les Baer Custom (USA) – Makers of high-end customized 1911s.
Manurhin (France) – Manufactures quality handguns in France.
Mauser (Germany) – A long established and well respected name in quality firearms.
North American Arms (USA) – Makers of a .22 caliber mini revolver series of firearms.
Para-Ordnance Mfg Co. (Canada) – Produces “high capacity” 1911 clones
Pietta (Italy) – Mostly black-powder and western era reproduction revolvers
Pedersoli, Davide (Italy) – Mostly black-powder and western era reproduction revolvers
Precision Small Arms (PCA) (USA) – Makes the “Baby Browning” .25ACP under license from FN.
Rock Island Armory (USA) – A U.S. Brand name for Armscor (see above)
Rorbaugh Firearms Crop. (USA) – Custom maker of the smallest 9mm pistol.
Sig Arms / Sig-Sauer (Switzerland/USA) – Produces Sig firearms with typical European precision.
Seecamp, L.W. Co. (USA) – Manufactures a very small .32 semi-auto pistol.
Smith & Wesson (USA) – One of America’s oldest and largest handgun manufacturers dating back to the mid-1800′s. S&W has produced millions of quality guns for military, police and civilian markets. Their customer service is generally top-notch. S&W now owns Thompson/Center firearms (see below).
Springfield Armory (USA) – Makes 1911 clones, the XD pistol series and military rifles. The company is not affiliated with the old U.S. government-owned Springfield Armory.
Steyr Arms / Steyr Mannlicher (Austria) – Makers of quality firearms in Europe
STI International – Primarily a maker of 1911 clones for building accurate competition guns.
Sturm Ruger & Co. (USA) – Ruger manufactures a high quality handgun at lower prices using investment cast frames. Strong & rugged, the company has built an excellent reputation of providing an excellent product at lower cost. Customer service is very good.
Tanfoglio, Fratelli (Italy) – Founded in the late 1940′s, the company makes quality European designed pistols. Their best-known pistol is a copy of the CZ-75 series.
Thompson/Center (USA) – Known for it’s single-shot, break-open pistols and rifles. High quality combined with the ability to change a barrel and shoot any caliber. Target shooters and hunters mostly use these guns. T/C is now owned by Smith & Wesson (see above).
Uberti Co. (Italy) – Mostly black-powder and western era reproduction revolvers
U.S. Fire Arms Mfg Co. (USA) – Mostly western era reproduction revolvers and has branched out to produce historical firearms like the original 1911.
Walther (Germany) – Long established and reputable manufacturer of excellent pistols.
Wilson Combat (USA) – Custom maker of well-equipped 1911 clones.
The downside is that any gun that pivots open to load will eventually wear the pivot points loose. That can make a gun unsafe to shoot. However, if you plan to sparingly, it might suit you fine.
AMT (Arcadia Machine and Tool) (USA) – (out of business) AMT has manufactured stainless steel handguns for decades. Their major issue seems to be reliability. Their designs are aimed at niche markets. The very compact AMT .380 Backup was aimed at law enforcement. Their famous Auto-Mag pistol was a huge gas-operated affair for special .357 and .44 Auto-Mag cartridges which was finicky about ammo. They produced a .30 Carbine semi-auto and a .22 Magnum semi-auto, both of which incur feeding problems.
Auto-Ordinance (USA) – Owned by Kahr (see above) the functional reliability of their products pushes them into the second tier of manufacturing.
Charter Arms/Charter 2000 (USA) – Charter Arms made its name with inexpensive, cast frame revolvers. Most notable was their lightweight, 5-shot .44 Special “Bulldog” model. The down side is that these guns are definitely “carry lots, shoot a little” guns. Experience shows they can shoot loose in less than about 3,000 rounds of defense ammo. For a nightstand gun that may see only 300 rounds before being regulated to the drawer (and then almost never used) they’re a fair value. However, used ones don’t hold their value well.
Comanche (Argentina) – These get mixed reviews. The .22 seems to be okay, but the .38/.357 specimens suffer from poor triggers, a finish that wears off fast and mediocre accuracy.
FEG (Hungary) – Decent quality guns, usually with gritty or clunky triggers. Most seem to work okay, but don’t expect a high degree of accuracy.
H&R 1871, LLC (post-1991 mfg only) (USA) – Successor to H&R (above). Today the H&R 1871 company produces single-shot shotguns and rifles. It is owned by Marlin Rifle company.
Heritage Manufacturing (USA) – Their Rough Rider .22′s are inexpensive but garner mixed reviews. Many people seem to like them, however if something does go wrong, repairs may be difficult and expensive.
Hi-Point Firearms (USA) – Hi-Points are reliable and functional – and beat with an ugly-stick. They’re inexpensive and they work, a good deal, for those interested strictly in protection at low cost. However, these are often looked at by police as “Saturday Night Specials” due to their low cost. They do not retain their value well as a used gun either.
Rossi (Brazil) – Made in Brazil, Rossi produced a knock-off of S&W revolvers that were strictly second rate. They worked, but the likelihood of failure rose quickly after about 500 rounds. Rossi merged with Taurus around 2000 and has benefited by machine upgrades to their older equipment. Quality overall tends to be good on recent guns, but not excellent. A fair value for a nightstand gun that may see little use.
Taurus (Brazil) – Taurus has a spotty reputation for poor quality control. Materials seem to be good and they don’t explode in your hand. However, the actions of their cheaper revolvers seem to suffer higher failures than most. They’re made by cheaper labor in Brazil and for some reason, they don’t seem to have the right combination of testing & inspection. Their auto pistols seem a little better. Their PT-92, a knock-off of the Beretta 92, is quite a good gun, but it’s made on old Beretta machinery using original Beretta plans. Taurus customer service is renowned to be slow and less than stellar.
[Editor's Note: Most of these companies are now out of business but older used guns are still found floating around.]
Cobra Industries - Produces the Davis & Lorcin design of pistols.
Phoenix Arms – Makers of cheap small caliber guns, built on the ashes of Raven Arms.
Republic Arms – A modern incarnation of Davis Industries.
Standard Arms – (Reno, Nv) – An new incarnation of Lorcin
Manufacturers out of business
Bryco Arms - Makers of cheap small caliber guns.
Clerke - These cast zinc-framed .22′s and .32 S&W revolvers were of dubious quality. If found, relegate them to use as a paperweight, doorstop or fishing weight.
Davis Industries - Another brand of cheap small caliber guns.
Intratec (Navegear) – Makers of the Tec-9, Tec-OC9, AB-10, etc.
Jennings - Made cheap small caliber semi-autos, mostly with feeding problems.
Lorcin Engineering Co. - Cheaply made semi-autos in small calibers.
Raven Arms - Makers of cheap small caliber guns.
Rohm / R.G. Industries – Investment cast, low quality cheap handguns.