By Scott Mayer
There are circumstances, often financial sometimes environmental, when having an expensive gun isn’t possible, or may not be the best choice. For those instances, Hi Point offers a value-priced—no, a low-priced–line of American-made handguns that prove time and again that—almost no matter what–they can be counted on to work when you need them. That’s exactly what the company’s owners set out to do—provide a safe, reliable handgun that practically anyone can afford. So what can you expect for about $150 bucks?
My gun safe contains Kimbers and Colts, Baker shotguns and custom rifles—and a Hi Point C9 9mm semiautomatic pistol. I know it might surprise some people to read that in addition to higher end guns, I have lower end ones, too, but I am a fan of Hi Points because they are one of the best values in the gun market. Full retail on a Hi Point C9 is $179 and I see them listed on GunsAmerica “new in box” for as little as $145. Add to that the fact that they’re American-made and can take a heck of a lot of abuse and still work, and there’s no reason not to appreciate a Hi Point except for the fact that many people think they’re heavy and ugly.
Do much searching on the Internet, and you’ll generally find two types of people who comment about Hi Points: folks who think their cheap pieces of crap and wouldn’t own one; and folks who say they always work when you pull the trigger. I bring this up because almost 100 percent of the time the former group has never actually shot a Hi Point, while the later group either has shot one or owns one. I don’t know why, but more often than not it seems negative comments about Hi Points are based on perception, and not necessarily actual experience.
The C9 you see here has had the ever lovin’ snot beaten out of it. I bought it about a year ago for an abuse test that it passed probably better than many higher-priced handguns would. The abuse involved a series of scenarios that replicate possible real-world circumstances. For example, sometimes a gun gets dropped, so I dropped it repeatedly on a solid rock surface to see if the zinc-alloy slide would break. The slide has several dings now, but didn’t break.
It’s less likely that you would drive over your gun, but I placed this one on soft ground and drove over several times with a large pick up truck to see if the slide would bend or the polymer frame would crack. I even spun out on it to see if the slide would separate from the frame. It didn’t; the slide is fine and the frame is undamaged.
If stored in a tackle box or glove compartment, it’s quite possible for something to find its way into the barrel, so I’ve fired this Hi Point remotely with a barrel obstruction to see if the barrel would bulge or burst—it did not. Storage in a car’s glove box can also subject a gun to vibrations that can work things loose, so I placed this Hi Point in a wooden box on the hood of a lawnmower for a day of cutting grass—nothing rattled loose.
It functions when packed with fine powder, gritty mud or sticky flour paste with only the occasional failure to extract when grit on a fired cartridge makes a mechanical lock with the chamber walls. When the works are really gummed up, it sometimes takes a smart rap on the back of the slide to close it all the way into battery. If what I put my Hi Point C9 through is any indication, then it’s accurate to say that despite its lowly appearance and equally low price, a Hi Point is every bit as reliable and tough as a more expensive handgun.
Because of its reliability and low price, my C9 has earned a place in my kayak. If I need it, I know it will work. If I roll my kayak and can’t recover the gun from the bottom of the river, I’m only out what amounts to the cost of gasoline and food for that kayak trip. That seems like a fairly good trade-off for the peace of mind that comes with having a gun when you’re alone in the middle of nowhere with no cell service.
So how can a manufacturer make a gun in the United States for such a low price? Simple design, easy manufacture, and inexpensive materials are why. A Hi Point is elegant in its design simplicity. For example, they’re blowback-operated, so there is no “lock up” to get compromised by a glob of mud. A 1911-style pistol has a link that toggles the barrel up and down, and at the top of the barrel are lugs that have to “lock up” with matching recesses cut inside the top of the slide. A 1911 does a great job at keeping the grit out of those lugs in the first place and also giving it a place to go if it does get in there, but get enough grit into the lugs and the barrel won’t go into battery position and the gun won’t fire.
Instead of mechanically locking like a 1911, a Hi Point relies on the mass of the slide to keep the gun closed during firing. The slide weighs a little more than a pound and when closed, simply sits against the back of the cartridge when it goes off. The slide moves backward from the blowback pressure of the cartridge, and is returned forward by a return spring. The barrel is pinned to the frame so it doesn’t even move; so as long as the slide can move backward and fully forward, a Hi Point cycles.
To get the necessary mass and still keep the slide a reasonable size, Hi Point uses a dense zinc alloy that melts at a much lower temperature than steel. It’s easily die cast, which is a less expensive manufacturing process than machining steel. Because it is also “soft,” the slide has steel inserts at stress points for added strength, and that added strength goes so far that all Hi Points are rated for +P ammo.
The slide’s weight is also a subject of Hi Point criticism, however—folks think these guns are heavy and bulky–but I’m of the opinion that a lot of that criticism is more perception than reality. No doubt a Hi Point is very top-heavy. Compound that with its lightweight polymer frame and the C9 is very much out of balance compared to every other gun I’ve handled. But they’re really not significantly heavier or bulkier than guns people don’t flame as being heavy and bulky. For example, listed weights for a 9mm Hi Point C9 and 9mm Springfield XD 3.8 are within an ounce of each other, but I’ve never heard anyone condemn the XD as heavy. As for bulky, the slide on my Hi Point is 0.08-inch wider than the slide of my HK USP Compact, so there’s not much to complain about there, either. Still, the unbalance and perceived heaviness can’t be denied. I would not want to conceal carry this gun because of that, but secured in my kayak or stored bedside, the balance is not an issue.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I won’t go into the appearance of Hi Points other than to say it has a look all its own. Despite that uniqueness, many handgun shooters will find its controls familiar. As with most handguns, the magazine release is a button behind the triggerguard. For its low cost, you sacrifice the option of having a reversible safety button, but that feature is a relatively new handgun design feature anyhow so I’m sure Southpaws have learned by now how to release a magazine by pushing the button with their trigger or middle finger.
Love it or hate it, these guns have a magazine disconnect designed to make the gun unable to fire if the magazine is removed. It’s a feature found on many handguns and I believe is intended to create at least one idiot-proofing layer—the idiot being someone who removes the magazine thinking that unloads their gun and then pulls the trigger unintentionally firing the round left in the chamber. The magazine also operates an internal last shot hold-open device that keeps the slide back when the magazine runs empty. Most guns with a hold-open feature also have a slide release you can depress to lower the slide when the gun is empty, but the Hi Point operates a little differently. It does not have a conventional slide release and you cannot lower the slide on an empty magazine. Instead, you have to remove the empty magazine, and then lower the slide. What looks like a slide release notch is actually a disassembly notch that the safety lever engages to keep the slide back while you drive out an assembly pin. If the safety lever is in that notch and the slide locked back, you cannot load a round from the magazine into the chamber by racking the slide until you pivot the safety lever out of that notch. This is one of those instances where the more familiar you are with the operation of other semi-auto handguns, the more likely you are to get tripped up operating a Hi Point. I admit the first time I tried to load the gun it was locked open with the safety lever in the disassembly notch and I tried several times unsuccessfully to rack the slide to load the chamber before I figured it out.
In addition to locking the slide back for disassembly, the safety lever functions as—wait for it—a safety lever. It’s functional, and mechanically the way it blocks the sear is another point of elegant simplicity. Don’t count on snapping it on or off with the smartness of other handguns; it doesn’t have spring-loaded detents to provide that positive “click” when you operate it. It’s also tiny and sits just barely above the level of the grip surface and I found it very difficult to manipulate from a firing grip.
Also functional are the sights—you’re not going to compete in any formal target shooting with them. That said, they’re a heck of a lot better than the “gutter snipe” often found on inexpensive blowback pistols. The front is cast as part of the slide and has a yellow bar painted on its face so it stands out. The rear is a plastic square notch unit that’s screw-adjustable for windage. It has a pair of red dots to contrast with the yellow front, but the dots aren’t that bright and essentially disappear into the black around them in all but the brightest light. The yellow front sight, though, stands out quite well. If I have a complaint about it, it’s that it’s painted just a little below the top of the front sight. My eye was readily drawn to the yellow, and with it being a little low, I found 147-grain Hornady TAP loads consistently hitting high, and unable to adjust elevation on this gun. If the yellow had gone all the way to the top of the front sight, I think it might have changed the sight picture enough for the bullets to impact at point of aim.
A way to compensate for elevation problems, though, is to simply use a load with a different bullet weight. For example, I normally have 115-grain Critical Defense in this gun because they’re accurate and the sight elevation suits them. Heavier bullets hit higher than lighter bullets because of two factors–recoil and dwell time. Dwell time is how long the bullet is in the barrel before it leaves the muzzle, and recoil is how much the gun kicks. When a handgun kicks, its muzzle scribes an arc through the air, and handguns begin that arc before the bullet leaves the muzzle. The more into the arc, the higher the bullet hits. Heavy bullets kick harder and are usually slower than light bullets, so they leave the muzzle higher in the arc. Some folks argue that you can change where on the arc the bullet leaves the muzzle by handloading to a higher or lower velocity, but when you increase velocity to decrease dwell time, you also increase recoil (and vice versa), so the effort tends to cancel itself out.
It’s probably a bit optimistic to expect itty-bitty groups from a gun that costs about $150, so don’t. I’ve read plenty of reports claiming really good accuracy from Hi Points, but I think how this one shot is probably more representative of what to expect. Offhand at 15 yards, I could consistently keep all eight shots from the magazine in a group about the size of a DVD, which is not great, but respectable. Sometimes on a semi-auto the first shot from the magazine hits separate from all the others, but I did not find that to be the case with this gun. The biggest problem I had with shooting tighter groups was the trigger. Just like with accuracy, I’ve read reports of great triggers on some Hi Points, but this wasn’t one of those. At 5 pounds pull the trigger wasn’t horrible, but for a striker-fired single-action it was long and soft—like trying to snap a wilted carrot that bends a lot before it breaks. It really forced me to concentrate on trigger discipline and follow-through. Fifteen yards is an awful long distance for a self-defense encounter though, so I’m not sure at closer range how much of a factor a trigger like this will be for someone else. But as with any gun, you need to train with it so it’s handling idiosyncrasies becomes second nature.
The Hi Point’s top-heaviness was actually something of a benefit when shooting; perceived recoil seemed a lot less than what I’ve come to expect from polymer-frame 9mm pistols. Maybe it was just perception caused by all of that slide mass reciprocating, but the gun also seemed to cycle much slower than recoil-operated 9mm handguns. Real or perceived, it is a very soft-shooting pistol.
I can’t report on longevity, because I haven’t had this pistol for all that long. It’s had more than 1,000 round through it—but not much more–and the only problems I’ve had were the ones mentioned above that occurred during the course of abusive handling. Cleaned and lubed, it’s running like a champ. Mechanically, there’s just not that much that can break, but I can’t recall ever seeing a used Hi Point for sale. That lack of used guns could indicate that folks who own a Hi Point aren’t parting with them. It could also indicate that the guns wear out before they can make it to the used gun market. I’m not convinced that’s what’s happening though because Hi Point has perhaps the single best warranty of any manufacturer in the industry. It even covers damage and normal wear and tear with no questions asked. Basically, if it breaks for any reason—EVER–Hi Point will repair or replace the gun free for the life of the gun no matter if you’re the original owner or not. Overall, that’s a heck of a lot for $150.