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Tricked Out Handguns: An Enhancement or a Hindrance?

Aug 14, 2008
I am assuming the answer to this question depends on what category the user belongs to -- a civilian, a member of military special operations, or a law enforcement officer in SWAT (Special Weapons & Tactics), ESU (Emergency Services Unit), or HRT (Hostage & Rescue Team). The solution seems obvious: the ordinary citizen would be best suited for a "no frills" pistol while the other two highly trained individuals would opt for the fully "gadgetized" firearm. But is this really the case?

There is a wise quote, "the simpler the better" which applies to the very essence of this article. The more mechanically and electronically complicated a device, the more likely it will break down and be rendered inoperative. This could prove fatal when it involves weaponry. When all else fails in terms of failure of performance enhancing gadgetry such as fancy lights, lasers, and aiming devices that are attached to a handgun, the successful deployment of a firearm falls in the sole ability of the shooter.

Most current semiautomatic pistols of major brands such as Sig Sauer, HK, Beretta, Glock, Springfield XD, and Ruger have Picatinny rail systems which are mounts for optical devices underneath the barrels. These rails add to the size of the frame requiring specialized holsters in order to fit the guns. They can also add to the overall weight of the firearms, especially if they are fitted with flashlights, laser dot devices, or a combination of these. Safariland Rapid Light System, AimSHOT Laser, and Insight X2 Light and Laser are such examples.

An ideal handgun is suppose to feel balanced when gripped and maneuvered with your hand(s), such as my Kimber Stainless II 1911 pistol and Sig Sauer P229, which I carry on duty. Both are without Picatinny railings. Compare these 2 fine guns with let us say a Glock 17 9mm pistol with a mounted light/laser attachment. The Glock is "top heavy" to begin with as it has a steel slide and light polymer frame. Attach a combo aiming device under the frame and past the trigger guard and what you get is a firearm that has a center of gravity under the tip of the barrel. When you extend this particular "tricked out" semi outward and rapidly sweep it horizontally and vertically, you can definitely feel the extra inertia associated with moving the gun.

There has also been a proliferation of top mounted aiming devices for both semiautomatics and revolvers. Some are fancy telescopic sights with magnifiers while others project red dots, target and holographic sights onto their lens. Still, a few have tritium gas illuminated reticles and/or fiber optics for enhancing targeting in low light conditions. Good examples are EOTech Weapons Sight, Trijicon ACOG Scopes, and Aimpoint Micro Red Dot Sights. Similar to their bottom mounted light and/or laser gizmo counterparts, they too add to the bulk and weight of the firearm, in addition to its redistribution of its center of gravity. The top-of-the-line military spec scopes even cost more than a thousand dollars. Ouch! Sometimes more than the cost of a pistol!

However, the current fad of tricking out handguns with the mentioned high-tech gadgetry has its drawbacks. Most of them need batteries to function. If the power runs out, even the best shooting aid can be useless. Moreover, if the gun gets dropped on a hard and rugged surface, these scopes and illuminating devices can be misaligned or broken. Speaking of that, I remember handling my on duty pistol not too long ago and observing that the front Trijicon sight no longer glowed in low light conditions. The miniature glass capsule containing tritium gas broke most likely when my Sig Sauer P229 fell from my Galco leather shoulder holster to the concrete floor due to a loose restraining strap which happened months before. If I relied on these glowing sights in the dark too much during a firefight after it broke, I would be at a considerable disadvantage.

Nevertheless, over reliance on light and laser projection attached devices can have grave consequences. Trying to find your target while aiming your short gun with the light and/or laser activated for prolonged periods of time can serve as a bull's eye marker for your face if the bad guy decides to shoot back.

Reaction time becomes a critical factor when you identify, aim, and shoot a target. The faster you accurately shoot and hit your opponent, the better your chances of survival. Adding an aiming or targeting device to your handgun and taking extra time to look through a lens or pressing a touch pad or button to activate that fancy gizmo to acquire a target lengthens your reaction time. Even a fraction of a second can decide the outcome of a firefight.

You must rely on your ability to "point shoot" in which you simply look at the target while pointing your gun in that direction and pulling the trigger without using the sights. Again, the simpler the operation, the better. The fewer amount of steps to achieve a result, the better. When all else fails as long as you have an operational firearm, even if the iron sights are mangled, you can always depend on your shooting skills to achieve an accurate hit.
About the Author
A conservative American with backgrounds in law enforcement, martial arts, engineering, and information systems management. Please check my web site about self-defense devices, child and home protection, and surveillance equipment at Striker701 Group.
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