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When it comes to high-speed shooting, red-dot sights are a handgunner’s helper.

When it comes to high-speed hammering, red-dot sights are a handgunner’s helper.

Lately, we’ve been seeing some very tactical people start to pay attention to compact red-dot sights on handguns. Pardon me while I enjoy a good chuckle. Step into the Way-Back Machine with me, and travel to the 1995 USPSA 3-Gun Nationals. Held on Long Island, of all places.

There and then, to be seen with an AR using a scope or red-dot sight was to be heretically nontactical. Today, if you peruse photos of our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, what do you see? M4s with optics or red-dot sights. The derided competition-only Open Rifle of a short while ago is now a common sight on patrol.

What does this have to do with handguns, you ask?

Simple. Red dots are viewed as an easy out in tactical circles. While many have accepted them on rifles (you’d have to be an idiot not to see the improvements in shooting results), many still resist red dots on handguns.

So, why not put red-dot sights on handguns? A magnifying sight on a rifle for dealing with bad guys at a couple of hundred yards is very useful. A magnifying optic on a handgun used at 10 yards? Not so much. But a red-dot optic on a handgun can be blazingly fast. The trick is fastening the red-dot sight to the handgun and learning to use it.

Adding the dot by means of a base attached to the frame makes for a bulky handgun. Bulk is bad for comfortable or concealed carry. A typical red-dot-equipped sight seen at practical shooting ranges would be a USPSA Open gun with a comp, an extended magazine and a red dot on top. With all the other appurtenances, and no need to carry concealed, a scope mount attached to the frame in that context is no big deal. If you plan to carry it in any kind of practical manner, you have to have something a whole lot more compact.

The red-dot-sight-equipped FNH USA FNP-45 would have been anathema to the tactical set just a few years ago.

Attaching it to the slide means the sight feels the effects of recoil on each and every shot. Vibration and G-forces are bad for electronics. However, these things tend to get solved when those using them want things solved. When red-dot sights were new on handguns, it wasn’t uncommon for us to have two or three sights ready to go. When one died, we’d unbolt it, replace it and keep shooting. The expired unit would be sent to the electronics maestro of the moment for tuning. Manufacturers were aware of this and worked hard to make them durable.
The end result is that we now have red-dot sights that are more compact, more durable, with longer battery life. Handgun manufacturers are aware of this, some more than others.
FNH USA offers its FNP-45 Tactical Handgun for our blasting pleasure. The pistol was a result of the on-again/off-again Joint Pistol Program, a program apparently conceived to show just how much the Army yawns over handguns. FNH USA designed and built a high-cap .45 that does everything you’d want and then some. It not only has a threaded barrel, it has a red-dot sight incorporated into the slide. Shooting it is a hoot, as the big grip distributes felt recoil over your whole hand, making the gun easy to control. But that red dot makes for easier aiming for those ready for it.

Ready for it? Yes. You see, the big slam that the “tacti-cool” crowd has on red dots is that they make aiming easier, effortless, almost like cheating.
Well, yes and no. If you think that putting a red dot on a handgun makes it as easy to shoot as a rifle, you’ve been listening to the gun shop commandos too much. Adding a red-dot sight does not negate the need for practice or skill. You just have new techniques to learn.

A proper design allows the use of iron sights should the red-dot unit expire.

When you put a scope or red-dot sight on a rifle, if you’ve done it right, your eye is lined up with the sights when you shoulder the rifle. Aiming is a matter of lining up the crosshairs or dot with the target and pressing the trigger. (Yes, I realize I’m grossly simplifying things.) But with a handgun, you have an additional factor to contend with: getting the sights correlated with your line of sight.
From time to time at matches, you’ll see someone who is new to shooting a red-dot-sighted handgun. The buzzer will go off, he’ll draw, and there will be several seconds of “muzzle-wagging” as he frantically waves the pistol around, trying to locate the dot. What happened? Well, primarily, the shooter believed the tactical guys, who told him that the dot negated any need for skill. What he found out, however, was that you have to train your hands and eye to present the dot to your line of sight, just as with any other handgun sighting system.

The overly tactical set has it backward.

Top Shooters don’t win because of red-dot sights, they win because they know how to use them.

The top shooters don’t win because they have red-dot sights, they win because they put in the time to practice with them. The red-dot sight itself is just an efficient tool. And, truth be told, a red dot can actually make you slower if you’re unfamiliar -it becomes something you either have to fumble with or work around.

Equipment cannot make skill unnecessary. It can only augment your skill in direct proportion to the time you spend in practice and whatever natural ability you have. What is really hilarious is that the “competition is bad; it will get you killed” crowd is often so resistant to the lessons learned from competition that its followers won’t give new things a try.

Will a red-dot sight, by itself, make you a better shooter? No, but practicing with it will, as would practicing with most anything. So, will we be seeing red dots on defensive handguns?

You bet. To steal a quote from Casablanca: “Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”

Just remember to practice.