By Massad Ayoob
Today, there are several categories of customer who’ll benefit from a red-dot optic on their home defense, or even concealed carry, handgun. The technology on these sights has come a long way. When red-dot optical sights were first adapted to handguns, they were crude and bulky. They looked more like small soup cans placed on top of the pistol or revolver. But, in the 1980s Brian Enos captured the Bianchi Cup and Jerry Barnhart won the IPSC National Championships — both used red-dot sights en route to victory, which put the technology firmly “on the map.”
Well, fast forward. As with most innovations, technology took its course: red-dots have since been vastly improved to be better, faster, smaller and relatively cheaper. For a few years now, red-dot sights have been small enough to conceal with the same gear and garb you’d use to carry a full-size service pistol.
When the compact optical sight such as the Trijicon RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex) first became available, a small cottage industry evolved in the gunsmithing trade to machine the tops of auto pistol slides so they would fit. Several firearms manufacturers have recognized the growth potential in this segment and have since introduced optics-ready pistols.
The first to my knowledge was when FN America (FNH USA at the time) offered the FNH .45 pistol with Trijicon RMR in 2010 on a factory-cut slide — complete with Trijicon’s own high iron sights. Smith & Wesson’s C.O.R.E. line, which stands for Competition Optics Ready Equipment, came out in 2013. Other companies have followed suit: GLOCK has introduced the MOS (Modular Optic System) series; Springfield Armory integrated the concept into the XD(M) line with the OSP (Optical Sight Pistol) and SIG SAUER recently debuted the RX series, the designation coming from SIG’s ROMEO optic.
With firearm manufacturers now producing full lines of optic-ready pistols, retailers are presented with a ready-made opportunity.
Leupold DeltaPoint Pro
Why Backup Sights Are Important
There are lots of low profile, red-dot optics available. The RMR from Trijicon appears to be a consistent seller, at least from what I’m seeing from students at the classes I teach. The Leupold DeltaPoint is very popular with students; Docter and JP brands also show up. Interestingly, all of them seem to work just fine in terms of the student being able to see the red-dot on target and in terms of reliability and battery life.
An important thing to keep in mind when selling these optics to customers: Make sure they have backup iron sights that “co-witness” with the red-dot on their pistols!
Standard pistol sights, when a red-dot optic is mounted — even the low-riding carry optics under discussion here — are going to lie below the line of sight and often become invisible through the glass of the optical sight. If the battery dies and the red-dot goes out or if the customer just can’t see the red-dot, he or she is essentially shooting blind.
So, a pistol with a red-dot optic really needs BUIS (Back-Up Iron Sights) just as a red-dot sight does on an MSR. There are two important reasons for this. One already mentioned is the possibility of a battery-operated sight “going out.” The other is, quite simply, the shooter may be able to find the big, blocky front sight sooner through the window of the optic than they can find the red-dot itself.
Karl Rehn, a longtime instructor, has a lot of experience training new and experienced students with these types of sights. One of the things he’s found consistently is if a shooter could look through the optic’s window and see the front sight through it, he or she could more quickly get on the red-dot. Remember, finding the dot is a pivotal part of making the concept work. Unlike working a long gun from the shoulder with a red-dot sight, there’s no torso-level reference point that brings the dot to the eye when shooting a handgun. The gun and gun hand are “floating out there” until the student learns the long-term muscle memory to align the dot with the eye. Thus, backup irons are critical and they need to be tall — like the aftermarket sights you’ll need to aim with a suppressor.
Springfield Armory XD(M) OSP
SIG’s new P320 RX comes with SIG’s own ROMEO red-dot sight.
Final Selling Points
Old geezers like me may seem to be a natural market for red-dot optics on defensive handguns (and yes, it sometimes works out that way) but generally speaking we’re better shots with iron sights in close quarters. Rehn’s experience comes to the same conclusion.
However we old folks still want to try these sights, so sell them to us — but you should also warn us about the learning curve ahead of time, too. It takes a lot of rounds downrange to get as good with red-dots as the iron sights we’ve been using since before there was dirt!
Rising higher above the slide than iron sights, carry optics increase the “height” of the gun and thus compromise concealment in an on-the-hip or slightly-behind-the-hip holster. This is why many shooters who like carry optics have gone to appendix position holsters: The added bulk is going toward the front center of the gun carrier’s body, which can be easily hidden by a garment draping down from the chest area. Certain body shapes work better for this than others. Because some carry optic mounts may sit forward of the triggerguard, you should sell the customer a holster cut for carry optics — which will still allow the trigger area to be safely covered by the holster.
Bottom line? Carry optics aren’t just “any thing,” they’re a “thing” here to stay. Some of your customers already have them, and more will want them in the future. If you can properly educate the customer, and sell wisely with the right accompanying gear, it will work out well for both parties.