Pistol mounted red dots or mini red dot reflex sights (MRDS) are become increasingly more common in many realms of shooting. From competitive shooting all the way to concealed carry, they are frequently seen mounted on handguns. It has gotten to the point where many firearms manufacturers have begun to, or have released plans to include mounting solutions for the varying types of micro red dots on handgun slides. Some may think the idea of a red dot on a handgun is odd, not acceptable, or unnecessary. We are going to break down some simple attributes of a pistol mounted red dots and any shortfalls it may have and it may change your perception or further solidify your opinion of red dots on pistols.
Luckily, as technology improves and the red dots get more popular price has slightly decreased. While this is good for the consumer, are you still ensured high quality optics and reliability? You truly get what you pay for with any accessories for guns. If the red dot is for a range gun or competition gun then the make or quality of the red dot may not be too important to you; however, if you are geared towards concealed carry or a defensive handgun then you should consider saving money for a well made optic. With the quality of course comes the higher price, but when your life depends on it you will need your red dot working and able to take a beating.
One more consideration with cost: If your pistol did not come with a pre-milled slide or mounting system for a red dot you will then have to find someone do some work on your slide. This is extra money on top of the red dot itself.
Anything that runs on battery and is electronic can and will eventually fail. Batteries die, internal parts wear out, and malfunctions happen. Since technology can fail you still have to be able to utilize iron sights, so do not become dependent on a red dot because when you need it Murphy's Law may take over. Also, over time you may experience a loss of zero due to consistent recoil on the optic and the nature of a slide reciprocating.
Speed and Accuracy
Though it is completely dependent on the shooter and the amount of practice, there are many who report considerable increases in their speed and accuracy when applying a red dot onto their handguns. At the same time, if you do not train for this new form of sight picture you may end up being slower and less accurate.
We have been trained and conditioned on iron sights for so long that red dots on pistols seem like an entirely new world. Many complain about not being able to find the dot when first utilizing a red dot. With this learning takes time and commitment of training that not everyone has.
Obviously you will be adding bulk onto your gun which can make things a little more awkward to carry and possibly conceal. If you have the right belt and holster this may not be a huge issue for you, but it is important to recognize. While mentioning holsters, not all holster makers have started making optics ready holsters, but many of your larger companies should have a selection for popular models.
One Hand Manipulation & Racking the Gun
Since red dots stick up beyond your slide higher than stock sights, one hand manipulations such as racking your firearm off of your belt, holster, etc become much easier. As long as you have purchased a quality optic you should have no problems using the red dot to rack your slide normally. In fact, it may even be easier to do so since your hand has an object to hook onto and pull.
Easier Long Range Shots
On a defensive gun there are not many situations that would arise where you need to take a shot at great distance for personal protection, but it is not impossible. This feature is more appropriate for those doing competition and target shooting since it is more applicable and/or practical. Distance shooting becomes easier by simply placing the dot over your target, and if needed you can do holdovers and still see the target instead of blocking your view with iron sights.
Target Focused Vision
Traditionally we are accustomed to focusing on our front sight when shooting handguns. A red dot gives you the opportunity to have a target focused view instead of your sight so you can have a better view of what is around you. This allows you to be focused entirely on the situation at hand. In a defensive situation you would like to know in entirety what is happening around you. Focusing on a front sight may give you a tunnel vision effect and you may lose track of dynamic actions that are happening right in front of you. When using a red dot you can focus entirely on the target and more easily see what actions are happening.
If I was to give you my completely biased opinion, I would tell you outright that you need to try a red dot on your pistol. It is like cheating and there's nothing wrong with cheating in defensive gun work because it can mean life or death. Gun fights do not have rules, so increase your skills any way that you can. A red dot does not, I repeat, does not give you an excuse to neglect your fundamentals. If anything, it gives you a chance to be hyper-aware of your shooting errors. While many great benefits exist, everyone can clearly understand drawbacks that are presented. For this reason, I highly suggest running back up iron sights and continuing to train with them. Shooting red dots on pistols may be an entirely new skill set for some and it will take time to understand differences enough to be proficient. If you have the dedication to get out to the range and/or dry fire with this added accessory to your gun then it may be optimal. Remember though, fundamentals are still key. Lastly, do not bash pistol mounted red dots until you have at least tried them, you may find that it works well to multiply your skills, or helps you shoot in some way. If they don't end up working for you then it is no big deal! Continuing shooting like you always have- it is more important to be proficient in what works best for yourself.