Today’s New Tech: Red Dot Handguns

I am often asked what is the coolest new thing in firearms technology…and the answer isn’t anything having to do with the actual gun design. Our guns today are mechanically the same as they were in 1950. What has improved markedly are materials and optics. A Glock is just another simplified Browning tilting-barrel action, but its polymer frame makes it substantially lighter and cheaper, and an optic on top makes it substantially more effective.

We have had optics on competition handguns for a while now, but those rigs have never been practical for daily carry. The optics were bulky and often a bit unreliable, and the mounts were also bulky and inefficient. IMO, the most substantive change in recent arms technology is the synthesis of a light polymer handgun with an optic that is durable, reliable, and small enough for practical daily carry. One of the longest-working advocates of this system has been Gabe Suarez, so when I wanted to try out the leading edge in carry guns, I went to him.

The setup I have been using is a Glock 19 (3rd generation, although that doesn’t really matter) coupled with a Trijicon RM02 optic and a Glock slide made by Suarez, and carried in an appendix holster with a guard for the optic. Over several months of practice, training, and competition, I have found it to be an excellent sidearm. The co-witnessed iron sights allow me to get on target just as fast as with no optic, while the dot allows faster transitions between targets, much better shooting from awkward positions, and more precise shooting at long range and on small targets.

Within 5 years, I expect this type of setup will be the standard for law enforcement and security agencies – just as electro-optical sights on combat rifles have become totally ordinary in recent years. It took a bit more work to get the optics smaller and more rugged for handgun use, but we are there now. For lots more commentary on the concept, check out Suarez’ page of articles and such; Red Dot Glocks.



  1. And that is why Gasser (original Austrian, not Belgian copies) were THE revolver – loose enough tolerances to make parts interchangeable…

  2. How can the high price for that optic be justified?
    Yes, yes, it is nice but the cost to make that could not possibly be anywhere even close to the purchase price.

    • Do you want something works or something that looks nice until it breaks? Think how much more engineering, trouble shooting, and testing go into the former? Cutting edge materials and electronics. Actually making it water, shock, cold, heat proof. Do you want to have a little switch on the side that turns it on and you can adjust the brightness or do you want it to do it automatically?

      It comes down to this is cutting edge tech and its not cheap. Innovation always is. Its easy to copy something in a cheap fashion but you get what you pay for.

      If you are carrying a gun, are you worried about saving a few bucks and having an issue when you need it the most? Or do you want the best, pay the price, and know its going to work when you need it.

  3. Makes my 1962-era Clark accurized 1911 Gold Cup with a grip scope mount just a bit outdated, doesn’t it? But it will still take a deer at 75-80 yards with home-cast Elmer Keith semi-wadcutter handloads every time. It’s just that you need a suitcase to carry the “bundelsome” thing and you can forget concealed carry. Now if I can just convince Wife that I need a new toy for Easter …

  4. You are probably right about red dot sights becoming the next big thing for service pistols, but I wonder if they really make sense for concealed carry handguns? Not that I know much about concealed carry in practice, since it’s strictly illegal for private citizens here, but it seems to me that many, if not most people want something smaller for CCW than a compact size pistol like the G19. Also, aren’t concealed carry weapons intended for self defense, where accuracy beyond the classic 25 ft range is mostly irrelevant? I suppose that if you have to bring a handgun to a rifle fight, a red dot sight would help a lot, but even that scenario is mostly relevant to law enforcement and security service pistols, in my opinion.

    • In my longest range encounter (March 3, 1986 if memory serves) with pistols I had my 1911A1 and he had a .22 magnum and .357 magnum revolver. He fired two shots from the .22 magnum first while running and I responded with a verbal and a warning shot over his head. As he swung the .357 back for another shot I fired one shot. It was a measured 51 yards 3 inches from where my second casing fell to where he fell. A pistol that was accurate up to 25 feet would have gotten me killed. (It was later determined that he was wanted for three previous murders.) In a gunfight there is no substitute for a weapon you can shoot accurately, stopping power and a good set of sights of whatever form you shoot best with. This is supported by the article with discussions reproduced from Policemag and found at the website:
      In another study report several calibers were compared from actual police reports over several years. The outcome was that any handgun was sufficient with the appropriately placed shots in critical areas ranging from an average of two for the higher energy rounds to five for the .25 ACP. But ALL were closely tied to shot placement over kinetic energy. If I can find it tomorrow I will post the source of that study.

      • I was thinking about private citizen self defense use with the 25 ft as typical range. Of course a longer accurate range is highly desirable, but I wonder if increased accuracy at longer ranges is worth putting an additional, potentially “snagging” gizmo on your CCW.

      • A hit from a .22 lr is worse than a miss from a .45acp. Your right it’s all about shot placement. Personally I’ll stick with iron sites, steel frames and single/double action triggers.

        • To both above: true on all opinions; the encounter was with the same .45 I carried while in the Marines and thereafter for many years. I have never been in such a situation using anything but open sights and would prefer not to. In fact, my hope is that I NEVER have to go that route again with any weapon but my mantra is that you shoot the best with what you shoot the most as attested by McGivern, Elmer Keeth, Charles Askins, etc. And I had rather have my Hi-Standard Sport King instead of any pistol I have never shot before because a near miss is still a miss.

    • “I was thinking about private citizen self defense use with the 25 ft as typical range.”

      With the possibly increasing incidence of copycat mass shooters (due to idiot news media), and jehadi moslem bomb wearing mass shooters now showing up, a precision head shot at longer ranges is becoming a more desirable skill. It would appear that an RDS equipped pistol would enhance that ability. The cost, though. Ouch!

  5. Nice bit of kit, perhaps a flip up magnifier for a projected dot sight might keep things slimmer.
    I mean it is pretty slim already, but given you
    still use open sights, you could flip it up
    when you wanted to use it at longer ranges etc.
    They have flip aside magnifiers for these types
    of sights on rifles, already. Mind you, there’s
    these goggles now you clip a smart phone in.
    Virtual reality, doubtless someone will knock
    something up with them for shooting “Terminator view”
    via a wee camera on the gun etc, auto zoom all that,
    check your Facebook while being engaged by the enemy.

    I did think of using laser rangefinders to create an image, if you had one that “fired” lots of beams out quick and read the range individually perhaps it could create an image out of the data I.e. Say there’s a chap stood in a field at night, if some beams hit him, but others went past, he’d stand out from the background, sort of laser scanning, don’t know how you’d do it “disco ball” lens, software, I digress.

    Maybe gun slide will be made with red dots, little magnifiers, lcd screens built in, probably make a Glock more Highpoint sized but if they delivered noticeable benefits with practicality- Drop proof, they might become the norm. Space age, the Terminator 1 red dot sight, he he.

    • Periscope… Essentially you mount an angled mirror on the back of the Glock, with the Trijicon behind it, with a corresponding angled mirror looking over the top of the slide, just thinking of ways to make it slimmer, then you build the above into a slide so the rear sight sits on the periscopes sheild looking out above the slide with a corresponding raised front sight on a see thru mount obviously. The image might be a bit small, although perhaps not, essentially you are just separating the screen from the working bits of the sight to save space.

          • As side note experimental Soviet rapid-firing 7.62×54 Савин-Норов machine gun (1937) has also barrel moving forward:
            it was not pure blow-forward but, I don’t know how to put in English: forward&backward-gear-wheel-gas-operated? see image in link above, unique feature is that barrel and bolt move in opposite directions at one time, shorter travel length allow higher rate-of-fire, it fired 2800-3000 rpm. Used in very limited quantity during Talvisota (attached to I-16 aeroplanes), reliability was not satisfactory, gun did not enter production.

          • I think the term for the “gear wheel” is a rack and pinnion, interesting design…
            “Driving machine gun 1937 Sverhskorostrelny” Looking at the picture I think the barrel is driven forward by gas via the ports, somehow. The rounds in the belt are above the barrel, not aligned with the chamber. There’s a round ready to be chambered that’s not inline with the chamber, this would be when the barrel moves forward presumably. I think it is supposed to have a high rate of fire because “The length of the stroke of moving parts reduced by twice the length etc” the barrel moving forwards makes the feed mechanism move rearward, maybe the barrel moves forward say half the length of the cartridge and the bolt the other half allowing a cartridge to drop inline with the chamber simultaneously upon firing, ejecting the spent one aided by the “special bevel” thing. The bolt looks like it’s locked by tilting, unlocked by the barrel moving forward thus the mechanism rearwards. Must be the length of travel, the mechanism is precise in regards it opens and closes simultaneously, with minimum movement. Well… Half the movement, of a usual bolt.

          • “Unique feature is that barrel and bolt move in opposite directions at one time, shorter travel length allow higher rate-of-fire, it fired 2800-3000 rpm. Used in very limited quantity during Talvisota (attached to I-16 aeroplanes), reliability was not satisfactory, gun did not enter production.”

            Probably should have read that part of your comment, before looking at the picture. In order to speed up my understanding of it, he he.

          • The Lewis gun had a rack and pinnion arrangement, with it’s “clock” type, spring.

            Anyway the Sverhskorostrelny, another forgotten weapon! Rediscovered!!

          • Are the “ports” ports… Or is that the return spring? Hmmm, what if it’s kind of locked… delayed blowback… Er, it’s using the barrel as part of the bolt mass I.e. The bolt moves rearwards, which pushes the barrel forward. I have thought of doing that myself, but if the tilting bolt is locked what actuates it’s carrier in regards say a Sturmgehwer and the gas piston.

          • Actually you know, I think thats the return spring. That’s the blow forward element, it is blow forward, the bolt is locked, the barrel moves forward first, that movement unlocks the bolt because it’s transferred into a rearward movement, so it is using the barrels mass as resistance to opening but in the blow forward method.

          • Now, does it blow forward in the manner of a Schwarzlose “bullet friction, gripping the rifling” or is it gas, there might be a single port on the side of the barrel behind it’s spring engaging stop which might double as a gas plug. The potential port is in the correct position to release gas into an expanding chamber via the spring compressing, backed by the part of the barrel sleeve which shrouds the barrels external diameter so to speak.

          • “Reliability was not satisfactory, gun did not enter production.” Interesting gun though 🙂

            You could reverse the mmotion, to have the bolt moving back push the barrel forward for a direct blowback design probably assuming that without gas it wouldn’t blow forward enough on it’s own.
            Maybe in a less powerful calibre… But it would add resistance to the bolt opening.

            Thinking of a type of API, you could have a bolt travelling forward, enters the normal chamber with a standard cartridge 7.62x54R say, fires, while the bolt is still travelling forward facilitated by it pushing the barrel forward, bolt starts to move back pushing the barrel further forward thus resisting the rearward movement of the bolt.

          • An FN 1900 type layout might be alright, with the hammer being lower down. There appears to be an area on the back of slide thing, which doesn’t do much, therefore it might be able to be replaced with one of these sorts of sights for compactness as a purpose built design.

          • Even as a periscope one, just incorporate the action into a futuristic Taurus curve type frame.

            Zap! Zap!

          • “Anyway the Sverhskorostrelny, another forgotten weapon! Rediscovered!!”
            It is no its name but adjective meaning “super-fast-firing”, proper name is either СН (for Савин and Норов, designer) or formally «7,62-мм скорострельный авиационный пулемет обр. 1937 г. системы Савина – Норова» meaning 7,62-mm fast-firing aviation machine gun model 1937 year system Savin-Norov

  6. “Our guns today are mechanically the same as they were in 1950.”
    I will say that automatic pistol mechanically are 1930s or earlier or mix of solution known of 1930s of earlier, later changes are evolutionary not revolutionary, or maybe I am missing something?

    • I believe you are correct. Ian may have gone with the mid-century mark as it was a nice round number, but like you I think that the last really new developments took place in the 1930’s.

      • There is rarely anything new under the sun in terms of practical weapons technology development as of World War II. What is new is generally more likely to be the practical application of said technology.

        Prior to both world wars, generals wanted this out of soldiers: “One shot, one or more kills per shot. Don’t waste ammunition.” This statement rarely applies to small arms, let alone infantry rifles, more so than it will apply to artillery when the intended victims are within line of sight. A rifle in the average soldier’s hands can only get a one-shot kill if the intended target is sitting still and/or charging towards said soldier in a straight line and if the soldier is aiming for something which will incapacitate the target upon penetration (like one’s groin or spinal cord?).

        Unless I’m totally wrong, most GI’s on the way to North Africa in 1942 were trained for long-range marksmanship on relatively peaceful shooting ranges which did not simulate a noisy, chaotic battlefield. The maneuvering field exercises simulating any real campaign would never involve any form of ammunition (probably not even blanks) for safety reasons (one would assume this if only to keep the trainees from shooting each other in the kneecaps or blowing out each other’s eardrums). In contrast, the Wehrmacht had simulated enemies by means of the ZfG-38 blank-firing machinegun and dummy tanks improvised from civilian car chasses and wooden tank body panels (assembled once the driver got in his seat).

        Any random guy can think up just about anything about improving the weapons at hand. But not just anyone can make a practical improvement that works…

        If I’ve messed up anything, please address the issue in question without foul language.

        • WWII GI’s did practice with blanks on training exercises. My grandfather told me of a time, on a training exercise, when a soldier on one side crept up next to one of the “enemy” and shot him in the leg at near point blank. That was with blanks, but even so it messed up the guy’s leg. GI’s being trained also crawled under live machine gun fire. I suppose that no training is ever enough, but the WWII GI training was probably as realistic as any side that did some training before sending them off to fight.

          When the Germans in WWII started out fighting no side (rank and file troops) had real experience, at least not at the new type of warfare. As the Germans prevailed they then took that new experience and that was an advantage when fighting other, new, opponents that lacked experience. German troops in North Africa may have been through two or three years of combat. As the GI’s (and every other side) gained real experience they fought better. Preparing for North Africa the GI’s were led on large scale maneuvers in the desert South West with tanks, armored cars, etc. There is a photo of Gen. Patton on those maneuvers with a 22 Colt Woodsman, to shoot at jack rabbits I suppose. Regarding Gen. Patton, he was a proponent of “marching fire” with the M1 rifle. He did not seem to care too much for the one shot one kill concept.

      • The first glass-reinforced polymer (i.e. Zytel, later used on Glocks) receiver was 1959. I tend to use that as the last major breakthrough that isn’t accessory or pure ergonomics-related (though it wasn’t applied to a pistol until 1970). But Ian may be thinking of pseudo-DI or roller-delayed blowback, both of which are post-1930s.

        • “The first glass-reinforced polymer (i.e. Zytel, later used on Glocks) receiver was 1959.”
          You mean GLOCK 17 automatic pistol? Mechanically it is short-recoil/tilting-barrel, nothing new mechanism-wise.

          “roller-delayed blowback”
          Ok, but notice that very similar Degtyarev delayed blow-back was used in Degtyarev 1929 sub-machine gun (not to be confused with PPD-34 sub-machine gun)
          which is same as roller-delayed excluding that instead of roller it use Боевые упоры (don’t have clue how it is called in US parlance) similar for that in DP machine gun but for delaying, not locking

    • Gas-delayed blowback action was invented by Karl Barnitzke during WW2 in Germany and first used successfully in an automatic pistol in 1968 (Steyr GB), although the Swiss (Pistole 47) had an earlier experimental prototype. The gas-delay system was further refined in mid-1970s by H&K for the P7, which had a separate gas cylinder, and that is also the action used by the modern Walther CCP.

      So, if Ian was thinking gas-delayed blowback when he put the limit in 1950 (the Pistole 47 just fits into that time frame), he was exactly right, although I would consider the switch to a separate gas cylinder with the P7 a fairly significant development (though not truly “revolutionary” by any means).

  7. If it requires power, you have to worry about low batteries at the wrong moment.

    Also, in future, there’s a good chance that the OPFOR (military) will have sensors that can detect power sources. After all, during the Vietnam War our AC-130 gunships over the Ho Chi Minh trail in Cambodia had a sensor that could find trucks in motion by the static signature of their ignition systems. It was the size of a refrigerator, because it used tubes and 1960’s printed circuits. Today, you could probably fit the same thing into a pocket calculator sized package- attached to the sights of a sniper rifle.

    Sub drivers know that the first rule of undersea combat is “To radiate is to die”. They think in terms of sound, but the principle is the same with EM spectrum emissions.

    I suspect that in the next two decades, we are going to see far fewer electronic doodads on IWs, simply because detection of such widgets will get easier for the nasty people. If you put out an active EM signature, even just from switching on something powered by a couple of hearing-aid batteries, two seconds later you get Excedrin Headache Number Seven Point Six Two for your trouble.

    And just wait ’til you have to wear a special “skinsuit” under your BDUs to avoid showing up on passive IR. That’s gonna be fun. (Not.)

    The soldier of 2035-40 will either wear powered armor- or next to nothing. Because his only survival options will be either to be so tough and resistant to damage that he can take anything up to light anti-armor weapon hits and still kill the enemy- or just not be detected in the first place and thus avoid getting hit at all.

    And then run like hell once he’s fired. As in “never linger where you have killed”.

    It will likely never be possible to kill every infantryman on a given battlefield. But the OPFOR will keep trying.

    Monty Python’s Flying Circus got it right;

    You have to learn “How Not To Be Seen”.

    (Hint; Don’t Stand Up.)



    • Small battery-powered electronics produce positively tiny radio frequency emissions, which won’t be detectable from the background radiation at any ranges that would matter. They do produce some heat, which will be detectable by thermal (long wave passive IR) imagers, but as long as they are carried by warm-bodied humans with much larger heat signatures, that is not really significant.

    • Well, speaking of being undetected there was one burglar in South Korea who managed to avoid being identified for two years despite smashing into cash registers in front of security cameras during those two years at over 200 locations. He wore a cardboard box on his head, not giving the police any way to see even the basic shape of his head (and presumably he wore gloves to avoid fingerprinting the evidence). The box may have helped the thief hide in a storage room too…

    • The RF emission may be small, but there are already EMP weapons being developed to target enemy vehicles and such. How long before electronic gizmos start getting fried from EMP from passing drones, etc. Troops ought to know how to shoot iron sights, even if they plan on using red dots.

      The application of this (red dot on pistol) would likely to be for law enforcement, special ops, and general self defense. Typical military use of side arms is as a last ditch weapon for troops not expected to be in combat, and might make better sense to issue twice as many pistols than half as many with advanced sights.

      It would be a good idea for people as they age and can not easily shift focus between multiple focal points anymore.

    • Eon on the battery front I believe that Ian’s iron sights are usable through the dot sight so he still has that option if the dot sight fails.

  8. The consistent objection to “red dot” sights, be they lasers or projected illusion, is that one (you, the shooter,) tends to look at the “red dot” rather than the target.
    This is an ongoing example of an action that sounds good to the inexperienced and/or ignorant and/or gamer (no offense intended, Ian) but can land you in court, bankrupt your savings/retirement fund and/or gift you serious jail time.
    Think about it. What are you going to say when the prosecution asks you what your target was? And you try and convince the jury a non-substantial jiggling red dot was a life threatening threat to your life?
    Think instead about the concept of engaging your target…not a jiggling red-dot.

    • With a red dot, you can focus on your target and still have a clear view of the dot. With irons, as we know, making good accurate shots requires focusing on the front sight and letting the target go out of focus. Seems to me the dot is better.

  9. You said in the video that the guns haven’t changed much mechanically for some time now. That got me wondering what would be the next big innovation in the guns themselves? Not their optic, attachments, etc. but the gun itself. What do you think will be the next big thing for firearms?

    • My two cents is, it’s all about the ammo… There’s some room, for “new” mechanisms, using established principles. But, until guns use different ammo, they are kind of limited. You have to feed and eject a case etc… Advanced primer ignition with funny shaped cases, was a development of cased ammo but its still cased, so you need to eject the case. Fn90 funny way to feed the case, but still limited. Obviously lasers are ideal… Zap.

      • I have a Wankel engine, gun, drawn on the back of a cigarette packet which fires via the exhaust part of the cycle hitting a projectile in a magazine. It’s not a Huygens black powder engine, because it doesn’t use black powder for starters. It uses an unstable residue’ less powder I forgot the name of, it’s quite old.

          • Was more of an aircraft sized gun. Been thinking about that lately, Nazi last ditch aircraft. Came to the conclusion, the best gun was a sort of Fliegerfaust but in RPO-A Shmel (Bumblebee) calibre. The rockets are as per, but without the igniters. Each tube, is loaded with a separate tube inside of which is said rocket. The tube has mortar style powder “doughnuts around it and ports through it, to induce spin on the rocket within (modified rocket fin design) each tube is blasted out by a Co2 cartridge from the launcher, the outer charges propel the rocket a certain distance by igniting then the rockets take over, theres a central rocket which fires slightly after the sequence of the other nine, this contains the igniters it blows apart and the igniters spread out into the cloud created by the above. Each tube has a Venturi cone, which doesn’t surpass the diameter of the charge tube. The tubes fire after being fired to give a wider dispersion for the cloud, prone pilot Arado E.381 style in a Heinkel P.1078 B configuration, gun on one side pilot the other, of the rocket. Depends if Skynet is going to try and get us with drones, Thermobaric blast gives maximum hit dispersion, planes are plywood relies on multiple attacks, the pilot can eject from the rear I.e. Pulled out the back upon deploying a small parachute, so they can then parachute.

          • “Arado E.381 style in a Heinkel P.1078 B”
            If you like exotic weapons, don’t overlook ЖАО:
            ЖАО stands for жидкостное автоматическое оружие or Liquid Automatic Weapon (Automatic meaning full-auto here). It was invented by group of engineers of МГУ (Lomonosov University, Moscow) which have knowledge about mathematics and mechanics but not fire-arms. Objective was to get high-velocity gun with gun armour-piercing capabilities. Firstly electromagnet and multi-charge (same principle as in German V-3) but it proved to be not feasible, finally it was chosen to propel 14.5mm bullet by kerosene and nitric acid mixture, which would be still go into during bullet moving down the barrel. Author notes that P.W.Bridgman work The physics of high pressure (1931) give solution for some problem. It proved to give high muzzle velocity, but don’t cycle properly, so special loading for 14.5×114 cartridge was created: it can pierce 45mm armour and was from 4g of kerosene and 15g of nitric acid (normal cartridge: 32g of powder)

    • I’m not Ian, but I will contribute my 2 cents’ worth anyway: it is actually really difficult to predict from current trends. I am inclined to think that caseless or semi-caseless (combustible case) ammunition will still be the next big thing, but neither will be practical or economical in the near future.

      The technology to make caseless ammunition and guns that use them has existed for nearly three decades, but the costs are prohibitive for practical use. At some point materials technology will probably advance enough for that to change, but not in this decade or the next.

      • “caseless ammunition”
        Voere produced VEC-91 rifle firing its proprietary case-less cartridge, it also used electric primer, which mean much shorter trigger-squezzed-to-cartridge-ignited time.
        Also there is special category of fire-arms which are not truly case-less like Benelli CB-M2:
        For me looks like sound solution, you have case considering powder defense from environment factor, but don’t have it considering malfunction:stovepipe

    • Ergonomics.

      People talk about how great the Remington 51 points. And how long ago was that? People can not define ergonomics or tack a score on it so it is sort of ignored. We all use the mag release that John Browning put on by accident (it was supposed to be actuated from the other side)–does it really make sense? The grip angle on pistols is whatever some designer felt like at the moment. If a space alien found a pistol would they guess it fit the human hand? I have hand saws from before WWII that fit my hand better than a $700+ pistol.

  10. I agree that “caseless or semi-caseless (combustible case) ammunition will still be the next big thing” but not the predicted time frame. The heat-sink problem and the miss-fire clearing can be solved with simple engineering that I consider readily available as can the majority of the smaller problems such as fragility of the propellant grain/charge. I see some of the pending and achieved solutions buried within previous subjects discussed on this forum but thusfar unrecognized as such. We are working in it ….

  11. Love the use of the Glock and referencing all that other stuff you don’t have to do when you get a new one unlike i don’t know any pistol whose manufacturer starts with a K and ends with el-Tec which really isn’t a bad pistol once you have basically replaced half the factory parts, milled a few parts to fit better and shot several hundred rounds down range.

    Have seen a few of the pistol optics but never seen one quite that sleek looking will have to see if i can find one to have a look although my preferred C&R has always been a Revolver.

    As usual a very informative and enjoyable video to watch while eating lunch

  12. Good and rudimentary slice thru state-of-art of pistol shooting. Proficiency is there too, no doubt.

    I tend to agree that there is not much new otherwise.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. SayUncle » Gun Porn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.