If memory serves, I first read about the use of red dot optics on handguns used for defensive purposes on the firearms/self-defense training forum Warriortalk. This was probably back in 2013. Already familiar with the Warriortalk leader’s penchant for touting new bits of hardware to sell to his acolytes, I mostly dismissed this concept for my own purposes.
Later that summer, I got my first glimpse of a pistol equipped with such an optic. A student in my first carbine class was using a Trijicon RMR on his Glock 17. Being a carbine class, there was not a ton of pistol work being done, and I never got the chance to ask to try it out. The student in question attended a few of the same classes as me, and he was one of those students who always seemed to have plenty of funds available to buy the latest “toy” (he was the first person I knew of who owned a Tavor). I left that class unimpressed with his performance with the RMR-equipped Glock.
Nine months later, I took a class where several students and the instructor had RMR-equipped Glocks (see here), and when I took the Sentinel Concepts Critical Handgun Employment class, Steve Fisher, the instructor, had a 1911 equipped with one, and there were one or two students who had them on their Glocks. I had my first opportunity to shoot a pistol so-equipped at the end of that class when I borrowed one from a fellow student (Glock 19). As I noted in the AAR here, I was impressed enough that I decided to purchase one as soon as I was able.
As it happened, that opportunity presented itself just a few weeks later when a friend decided to sell his factory Glock 19 slide that had been milled to accept an RMR. I bought it from him and then bought a brand new Glock 19 frame from Glockmeister. Finally, I bought a new Trijicon RMR (the adjustable RM 07 model with 6.5 MOA red dot) and installed it on the slide.
I initially had some issues with the RMR. On occasion at the range–and even sometimes during dryfire–the red dot would sometimes dim or go out completely, only to revive itself a shot or two later. Feeling a bit disconcerted, I installed a brand new battery and have not had that issue since.
I used this pistol in only one class. As outlined in my AAR here, I used it during the afternoon of Day Two of Mike Pannone’s Covert Carry class (at the time, I was still having the battery issue, as I’d only gotten the RMR a week or two prior to the class). Because I had only briefly owned it, I found I was much quicker and more accurate with my Glock 19 equipped only with iron sights.
Fast forward to today. The pistol red-dot concept is now much more widely accepted and utilized by students and instructors alike. More holsters are now being made that accept such optics, and there are even a few companies offering classes specific to the use of pistols equipped with these type of optics.
Conversely, there are a few instructors who are not necessarily fans of their use. Jeff Gonzales, in an article here, took a lot of flak for the results of his own testing of such equipment as well as the performance of his students in his classes (which I think he did a much better job explaining when interviewed on Ballistic Radio here). In a recent article geared more toward sights on carbines, Paul Howe mentioned that red-dot equipped pistols work well for his students with vision issues, but he also noted that, so far, not one student has passed his pistol standards with a pistol so-equipped. Finally, in listening to John “Shrek” McPhee on his “Sheriff of Baghdad” podcast (sorry, I cannot recall which episodes), he has mentioned more than once that he thinks that they may be the way of the future, but he does not feel like the technology is there yet.
In the end, I have now had two years of ownership of such a system to draw my own conclusions.
1. The RMR allows me to be target rather than sight-focused (it took me a LONG time to figure that out…I was trying to focus on the dot for a while as if it was a front sight!…old habits!). It is nice to be able to clearly see the target, what the target is doing, etc.
2. It is an excellent dry-fire tool. It is easier to see the dot “hop” on a trigger press than the front sight when doing dry practice.
3. I don’t have direct experience on this one, but I am told that the RMR works very well with night vision devices. For sure it works very well in lieu of something like tritium night sights.
1. Slower (for me), and it seems that people like Howe and Gonzales would agree.
2. I feel like I need such a system on ALL of my pistols in order to maximize my training time with it, and this can get VERY expensive (and it just won’t work on some pistols…..try mounting one on a Ruger LCP or J-Frame!)
3. Issues in the rain. I saw first-hand in my classes with Paul Howe where rain and humidity occluded the laser emitter and/or fogged the lens, creating issues for the students using them. This may not be a huge issue for a pistol that is carried concealed, but it is there.
4. The necessity for an almost picture-perfect presentation of the pistol in order to rapidly acquire the dot in the sight picture. I find that pointing it one-handed or in some compromised positions creates issues.
5. Batteries. Though suppressor sights are there as backups and to provide a “visual hand-off” to the red dot, if the battery fails the user may still find himself looking for the dot. A training issue, no doubt, but an issue nevertheless.
In the end, I have decided to end my red-dot equipped pistol “experiment”, and will be selling my milled slide, RMR, and purpose-built holster. I originally purchased this system as a hedge against my slowly worsening eyesight and based on the belief—from my brief experience with a borrowed one outlined earlier—that my shooting at distance would be greatly improved with no penalty up close.
I have found that, for ME, the RMR just is not worth it. Why? Well, for one thing, despite all of this time with it, it still just feels weird having it mounted on there. At a time when I am really trying to improve my iron sight work, I cannot also put the time in to make this feel comfortable. Secondly, I found that I made fairly easy hits with iron sights out to 80 and even 100 yards on reduced-sized steel in Paul Howe’s classes. Can I do better with an RMR and, if so, is that really necessary? Third, up close, I remain noticeably faster with irons (the timer does not lie). In essence, what I take from issues two and three is that the red dot helps the most in situations in which I am least likely to need a firearm. Fourth, because I carry different pistols depending on circumstances/concealment needs, I feel like I need such a sight on all of them so that my practice can be applicable to them all. Equipping all of my pistols, even if physically possible, is economically prohibitive for me at this time (and for the foreseeable future!). Fifth, regarding my worsening eyesight, my switch to prescription eye protection has made it less of an issue. My feeling is that, by the time my eyes REALLY need a red-dot equipped pistol, something newer/better/lighter/etc./will be available.
Please note that this is MY experience. I personally know some others who share my opinion, but I also know others who swear by the concept and have definitely benefited from it. I hold no negative opinion of those who favor their use. I think it’s a good concept that–if I am honest with myself–I can admit that I have not really put the time in to master. I have instead been looking at it from a cost-benefit perspective, where I look at the RMR and the custom slide and think about ammunition I can buy, or a class I could take, or other gear I would like to have….
What is your experience/opinion of red-dot equipped pistols? Please share below.