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Massad Ayoob on Guns

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Massad Ayoob


Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Optical gunsights, in the form of telescopic sights, proved their worth in the 19th century, and today are all but standard on most hunting rifles that aren’t intended for short range.  Red dot optical sights – giving a single focal plane of both aiming index and target, but not necessarily any magnification – showed up in the mid-20th century, as did telescopic sights for handguns.  They were novelties then…but technology moved on.  Glock19 Gen4 MOS RMR

Today you see red dot optics on rifles and handguns alike in competition, ranging from standard bulls-eye pistol to action three-gun matches, and red dots have proven themselves fast, accurate, and rugged enough for combat in the Middle East.  The latest evolution, led by the Trijicon RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex), are small enough to sit atop the slide on a concealed carry gun.  I know a couple of cops who carry them on their duty pistols, and more private citizens who are doing so.  They are a logical answer for older shooters with aging eyes.

How well do carry optics work, really?  My friend Karl Rehn at KR Training near Austin, Texas is a grandmaster in the United States Practical Shooting Association’s Carry Optics division, and has done more solid research on the concept than anyone I know.

Here is his lecture given at the MAG-40 class I taught at his place earlier this year, courtesy of ProArms Podcast.  More details of his study are at Karl’s site.

A better mousetrap or not yet ready for prime time in concealed carry?  Ya gotta give ‘em a fair shake before you make your decision, but I know some folks who swear by ‘em.  Let us know here what you think of the concept.

14 Responses to “CARRY OPTICS”

  1. Mike Says:

    One of the smartest guys I know spent a ton of money on milled slides and RMRs for them, and after a year of hard training and testing moved everything back to iron sights. For myself I’d rather invest the extra money in training ammo and extra bulk in a weaponlight. That doesn’t make an RMR wrong if it works for you, it just means they’re not right for everyone.

  2. Dale Says:

    My only concern is for those who are dependent on them. I was at a USPSA match recently and someone in my squad was shooting carry optics. Unfortunately his battery died and he did not have iron sights capable of being used as a backup. He just blasted his way through one stage and then ran out to get a fresh battery (he didn’t have one with him). I was shooting PCC with a EOtech sight but also had spare batteries for it as well as cowitnessed iron sights. Will probably pick up a SIG P320 RX sometime in the next year or so to try out.

  3. Marcus Wynne Says:

    Hi Mas —

    Marcus Wynne here. I literally just got done with a lengthy e-mail exchange on this subject between Ralph Mroz and Bob Taubert Rattenkrieg! The Art and Science of Close Quarters Battle Pistol

    If you’re cool with a lengthy reply on this subject, I’ll just cut and paste into this — if it’s too much just cut as you see fit. Thx Mas!

    Cheers, m

    E-mail extracts:

    I’ve been running one for about six months as my full time CCW. Yes close range can be an issue IF one doesn’t train for that. I have two thousand logged rounds in six months. I go to the range on average twice a month and shoot no more than 150 rounds in any given session. After experimentation I find that the Suarez promulgated “metal on meat” is very similar (identical) to Jimmy Cirillos rear of the gun index which at close fast range works well with irons or red dot. I find at close range I originally did hunt for the dot but transitioned back to the Cirillo index since I use that irregardless of sights at close range. I have no difficulty I keeping a bill drill in six inches A zone at 5 or 7 yards right at average 3.2 seconds from Aiwb Under a tshiirt and hoodie and marginally faster with just a tshirt. I’m going to the range tomorrow and will experiment. I find the red dot makes a HUGE difference in precision at 10 yards and in, just as fast at bad breath range and dude I’ve hit torso targets from the prone at 200 yards and I’ve never done that with my HD sighted pistols lol.


    Also the drawstroke gross motion allows for body index then Cirillo index then seeing meat through the glass then refinement. So just draw like you don’t have a red dot and pick it up along the visual index where appropriate– body index – Cirillo index — seeing irons and through the shroud — seeing the red dot.

    You can hit any way along that visual index.


    I went out and tested my red dot vs. my Trijicon HD glocks. Main issue is that my G19 w/Trijicon HDs has a grip reduction and fits my hand perfectly; my red dot equipped G17 is just a tad too big despite the reductions in the Gen 4 series, so I end up throwing a shot or two at speed in a string of shots. Okay, maybe more than a few sometimes LOL.

    Like I said, at close range there’s no difference in speed for good hits with either pistol. By close range I mean inside of 5 yards. And honestly no difference in group sizes. Outside of 5, and out to 10, I am more accurate with the red dot, and just a hair slower from 7-10. Out to 25 I hit ok (I went out yesterday and shot only 25 yards and was unimpressed with my shooting from the holster — I was lucky to keep 85% of them inside an 8 inch circle with either pistol) with both pistols. When I slow down the red dot rules from 10-25 out, but under speed/time constraints I need to work more if I wanted to recapture my old standard of headshots at 25. I can do that while moving out to ten yards, but past that it’s upper torso out to 25-30 at speed standing, 50 stnading if I take my time fast, and past that if prone can ping the torso out to a measured 200, but that’s taking more time on the trigger/sight.

    Main thing that I notice is that in the close range 0-5 yards my sighting process is like I described, it’s getting the muzzle on the target with a rough aiming provided by the “Cirillo Index” off the back of the gun, and then refinement if time/distance allow whether with red dot or HDs. That’s assuming I’m not grappling in which it’s muzzle to meat to create distance, but in any engagement where there’s an opportunity to sight the pistol.

    That’s a very unscientific completely subjective evaluation/opinion from someone who is not remotely near the top for high end shooting but reasonably competent as a defensive shooter on the street. When I can afford both the money and time to send my main gun off to get a grip reduction, I think shaping the G17 grip will really enhance my speed far more than the red dot — though the red dot accuracy at the longer distances is essential in my current threat environment, which runs from street thugs and goons to dedicated terror operators. Ralph, did you see that article about the bust in NE Minneapolis? Somali crew waiting for a “drone delivery” — armed illegally, with a car and apartment full of bomb making materials, drones, guns and ammunition? And people ask me why I want a pistol I can engage at distance with, LOL….


    You’re overthinking it, dude. The neurological process involved in seeing threats is something we make up a narrative about after the fact, and narrative requires slow words, one after another, instead of the simultaneous parallel processing that makes up the perception process we call seeing. I got the same arthritis issues, right elbow sticks out at a weird angle and my trigger finger is so bent out of shape I have to have my trigger guards shaved so my finger will fit in, LOL.

    If you don’t find MDRS useful, then yeah, they’re an expensive solution to your non-existent problem. But it’s not because they don’t have utility or a place in the scheme of things. I resisted them for a long time. Bob’s writing on the subject and some of the early adopters like Kelly McCann as well made me rethink it, especially once I got north of 50. The process of seeing/utilizing the red dot is an add-on or additional data point within the visual field during sight alignment/target acquisition — in other words as other people have said, don’t just bring the gun up as if you were using the iron sights — actually use the iron sights and then pick up the red dot for refinement. The red dot is already there — it’s just the “visual hand off” as Suarez calls it in his extensive writing on the subject — and that’s absolutely the process from a neurological perspective about how the processing shifts DURING the process. For me I engage like I said, my visual process (assuming I’m not grappling for the gun, in which I just want to get the muzzle against the bad guy) is to pick up the gun in my field of vision — rough align the gun using the entire back of the gun and my hand as the initial reference point — fire if the target is close enough — if target is far enough away to refine the sight picture pick up iron sights — if target/time allows refine sight picture with red dot. I think people training this are way overthinking and overexplaining the process, when some slow walk throughs explaining the sight process in real time and then shooting from contact to 25 yards in increments would cement the process very quickly. I have ZERO doubt that the red dot adds capability I’ve lost due to age: vision, arthritis, general stamina/strength — and extends my lethality range significantly, actually realistically at about 2-3 times the distance I would consider with a non-optic pistol like my G19. I shoot that pretty well and can hit reasonably well out to 35-50 in a hurry, haven’t shot it at 100 yards in a long time, and wouldn’t even bother at 200. So I’m gonna stick with my red dot (remember I have one on my urban carbine too and been training that for awhile) and add a grip reduction to my G17. I think cleaning up the grip to suit my tiny cripple hands will take the last bit of issue out of the weapon system and put it squarely where it belongs, on this aging guys shoulders, LOL.

    Bob, i don’t have much to contribute to your comments and I wouldn’t presume to tell you anything at all about shooting anyway, LOL. I will say for me to keep the red dot on target in a rapid string is that I’m actually watching the fall of the iron sight and refining the red dot like I said — just really really fast. Up close it’s easy. I’m disappointed at my recent performance at 25 yards, especially since the last time I shot at distance I was shooting better at 50 yards than I was the other day at 25. But hey it’s a good reason to go back out on the range, and it’s important to practice the stuff we suck at it instead of the stuff we’re good at. I find Leatham’s advice from a competitive perspective to be most applicable to gun-fighting, and Enos too, but then I like Enos’s esoteric take on things, LOL.


    Main takeaways from this lengthy missive:

    My completely unscientific subjective take is that if properly trained, the red dot restores a level of lethality and extends the reach for that lethality that old age and bodily damage (stroke, arthritis, etc.) had diminished. See specific points above.

    The necessary training process to utilize red-dot optics on a fighting pistol should include an understanding and experiential approach to the vision PROCESS involved, not just “find the red dot and put it on the target.” Specifically, starting with the Cirillo index (for those that don’t know that, Jim Cirillo taught sight alignment starting WITHOUT the sights, taping off the irons and having students index with the target by recognizing visually and feeling kinesthetically the back of the gun in the hand aligned with the target. Once we were confident hitting and hitting well out to 5-7 yards at speed, then the tape came off and we began adding the irons to refine the sight picture and extend our reach. I propose that an effective training program to use red dot start with that same process, and have the ‘hand off” that Gabe Suarez has written extensively about take place at the tail end of the visual process:

    1) Cirillo index
    2) refine with irons
    3) refine/hand off to red dot

    you can hit at anytime in that sequence. I’d start with the targets no further than 3 yds and then back them up and coach the students through the seeing process. Lot faster in my opinion and in my recent experimentation.

    sorry for the lengthy tome, Mas! Just my two cents worth.

    Cheers, m

  4. Mas Says:

    Thank you, Marcus, for that wealth of info!

  5. Marcus Wynne Says:

    Most welcome, Mas. Thank you for all you do in the world and the training and expertise you passed onto me and many many others. It’s seen and very much appreciated.

    Btw awesome job by you and your co-authors on STRAIGHT TALK ABOUT ARMED DEFENSE. I bought a copy and read it through in one sitting. A new classic and a must read for anyone and everyone interested in self protection.

    Take care and thx again Mas!

    Cheers m

  6. TRX Says:

    I’m now in the age group where I don’t pick up both sights and the target at the same time any more. For target shooting, it’s officially a problem. None of my range guns have optics yet, but I’ve been looking.

    For my carry gun… I don’t need more than rudimentary sights in the first place, not at likely defensive ranges. I don’t even bother with adjustable iron sights. An optic adds bulk, weight, and chance of failure, to solve a nonexistent problem.

  7. TN_MAN Says:

    While this study of the effectiveness of various close-range sighting systems is interesting, it has little value in terms of self-defense. The subjects participating in this study were not under combat stress. They (likely) did not experience the physical effects (loss of fine motor skills, tunnel vision, time distortion, etc.) of a human stressed under combat.

    All this study really says is the following: While red dot sights increase hit probability when engaging targets at a distance, this advantage evaporates as the range drops. At close range, red dot sights offer no advantage over iron sights.

    Given that red dot sights add bulk, weight and cost to the weapon system while offering no advantage, their use is not recommended for close range handgun target shooting.

    For myself, I would not even consider the use of red dot sights on any kind of combat handgun. In fact, a case can be made that no sights, of any type, are required.

    If one is attacked and forced to defend oneself, the range is likely to be very close (under 10 feet), it is likely to happen very fast, the lighting conditions are likely to be poor. There is a good chance that the weapon will have to be fired using one hand as the other is used to fend off the attacker or to deflect blows.

    Given these realities of self-defense, my current carry handgun does not even have iron sights. It is a “Boomer” made by Charter Arms. In other words, it is a snub-nose revolver set up with a short barrel, no sights, double-action only, snag-free design, and chambered for .44 Special. I load it with Hornady Critical Defense ammo and my plan is to respond to an attack by means of a rapid draw and “hip shot” that puts a large “44 Caliber” hole in the threat.

    On the off-chance that I might be placed in a defensive situation that calls for a “long shot” (which I would define as any shot taken at a range greater than 15 feet), I have equipped my “Boomer” with Crimson Trace Laser grips. These add no bulk or weight to the gun but they give me the ability to “place the laser dot” on the target and hit at longer ranges. My hope is that, even subject to a threat focus and tunnel vision, I can still see the laser dot and place it on target and get off an accurate shot if a threat needs to be engaged at too long of a range for a “hip shot” to serve.

  8. Dave--VA Says:

    I agree with TN_MAN. Although red dot sights may become the preferred handgun sighting system in the future, I would rather use a Crimson Trace laser. For me, the laser is much quicker to use because the red (or green) dot is actually on the target, giving me a better view of what is going on downrange & making tracking the target much easier. In addition, a laser equipped gun can be fired accurately without having to bring it up to eye level, which Jim Cirillo certainly would have approved of, & I can still see the laser dot on the target without my glasses in the event that they get knocked off somehow. Furthermore, lasers can be shined in an attacker’s eyes, temporarily blinding him, which gives you a momentary advantage to shoot or to maneuver. Although lasers are not as easy to use in bright daylight at distances over 25 yards or on non-reflective targets, I still believe that their advantages outweigh their disadvantages, especially when I back them up with tritium night sights.

  9. kenneth Bell jr Says:

    I have several surefire flashlights that will temporarily blind someone-a laser will do it permantly.

  10. Dave--VA Says:

    With all due respect, if I am being attacked by someone so severely that I have to defend myself with a firearm, permanent eye damage from a laser will probably be the least of his problems. I understand your point though & I certainly do not advocate blinding people with lasers unless it’s a situation where lethal force is justified.

  11. Fruitbat44 Says:

    Am I the only one thinking of ‘Halo: Combat Evolved?’

  12. TN_MAN Says:

    With regard to the question of blinding someone with a laser, that would only be incidental from my point of view. I have the Crimson Trace Laser Grips on my “Boomer” for one reason only: To allow me to obtain a center mass hit with shots taken at longer range.

    It will be the .44 caliber slug, striking the criminal, that does the work.

    In other words, the laser is just (as the military says) to “light the target”. If things are at a point where I have to pull my gun in self-defense, I am not just going to “light-up the target” or try to intimidate or blind someone with the laser. Rather, the bullet is going to be “on its way” just as soon as I can get on the trigger.

  13. David H. Says:

    I have my experience using and teaching others with lasers on pistils which has made me very anti-projected dot sights. That’s settled science for me (with extremely poor eyesight a possible exception.}

    At the same time, I try to learn from others. While I have pistols I meant to try with red dots, I see no reason to repeat exercises done by others. I will be sticking with iron sights and white lights.

    Rifles and handguns are two different worlds. While red dots are a tremendous help at rifle ranges, and IR lasers a great help for those with green eyes, the civilian/LE, self-defense application of the handgun is simply a different animal.

  14. PALADIN Says:

    Cheers Mas,

    Appreciate you providing the resource. I understood his conclusion was that for most individuals, the loss of speed at short range is not worth the trade off of increased accuracy at distance, and the slide mounted optic was generally not recommended. The comments here are 6 to 1 against sidearm optics as well.

    I am getting used to one, and have not performed the test described in the interview to verify if it makes me slower. However, the MAG qualifier is a different timed test, and I ran a 4-5/16 inch 300 score at standard speed in 40S&W a few days ago. That might earn a signature on a $5 bill. Given the general consensus that there is no advantage, then one should not expect to hear claims like “no fair, he used an optic to win!”

    I pick up the dot rapidly on presentation, and have seen a significant increase in consistent accuracy using an RMR. That makes me a safer shooter. Whatever the gear, one should use what they like best, be able to explain the choice and must demonstrate skill with it.


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