Id hate to start a caliber war here but the .38 special is not equal to the 9mm at all. The 9mm is a higher pressure round. The best rounds in .38 are not equal to the best rounds of 9mm. But back on subject, for your price range, I'd get a glock in 9mm. Simple, reliable, and can be found used for 350/400 at local gun shows in my area.
A hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .44