Get yourself to a gunshow and look at the tables with the used guns on them. Often you can find police trade in auto's that have a lot of finish wear but are almost pristine on the inside. My local shows usually have a few Ruger's, S&W 3rd gen autos, and some older Sig imports. All are good guns and can be had in that price range. As far as new guns, look at Ruger and the S&W Sigma's. They aren't the most refined but they usually work well and they are cheap.
"Si vis pacem, para bellum" - If you want peace, prepare for war.