Our sermon this month is simple: Know when to stop hanging crap on your gun! I’m speaking primarily to those who own tactical rifles, though the disease can be seen manifested on everything from pistols to shotguns, sniper rifles, and even slingshots. I’m not kidding on the last point.
It’s all well and good that we are in the midst of a technological boom fueled by advances in optics, lighting, and computer-controlled machining. Those factors, forged in the fires of a couple of shooting wars, mean that we have every possible type of gimmick and gimcrack available to modify your weapon.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh when I say gimmick. While there is always a significant amount of junk on the market, the junk usually disappears quickly. Rather, today we have a world of cool firearms accessories that serve every possible purpose, built with care by the most brilliant minds, of the finest materials and impeccably serving the intended purpose.
Unfortunately, the intended purpose for the end-user often seems to be appearance, not function. Therein lies the rub: with all this good stuff, we can reach the point of diminishing returns, where too much of a good thing is simply too much.
It shouldn’t be any shock that, as Americans, we tend to go overboard. With disposable income, a plethora of choices, and a more-or-less legitimate need, it is easy to “want.” This is the reason we see so many guns in the field that look like the result of a high-speed impact between a piece of billet aluminum and the Large Hadron Collider.
However, the more experience you have at the point of your particular flavor of spear, the more you realize that less is truly more.
There are two significant factors related to having too many accessories on your gun: dependability and usability. The more complex you make any system, the more possible points of failure exist, especially if you add things that change the mechanical function from the original design criteria. Bigger brains than yours or mine developed those guns, and each part was engineered to specific tolerances. If you add stuff that changes the equation, the likely out-come is failure—usually at the worst possible moment.
The other issue is carry and usage. I’ve seen weapons that were so forend heavy with gadgets there was no way to cover a door or window for an extended period of time unless you had the upper-body strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. The extra weight, coupled with a couple dozen extra protrusions to catch passing obstructions, makes some of these guns suitable only for bench-rest duty.
I blame the Picatinny rail craze. Starting in 1995, shooters suddenly found a way to hang every possible gizmo off their M4 carbines and eventually every other “tactical” firearm. Tactical rail equipped .22 rifles are common, and I’ve even seen a .410 shotgun with such a rail.
Now you can hang a scope or heads-up sighting device, white light, laser aiming module, night vision device, vertical grip, backup iron sights, and bipod to your rifle. You could probably even find a Coyote Brown tactical-partridge-in-a-pear-tree that is STANAG compatible.
OK, so the fancy-pants writer has made fun of all the stuff hanging off rifles. What should we have on there?
Sights are obviously first and foremost. There is absolutely no debate that if allowed, you should be using a red dot sight on your gun. Anything less on a tactical rifle places you at a supreme disadvantage.
What about backup sights? This is where we will inspire hate mail: for most non-military users, I see little use for backup iron sights. Hear me out while you sharpen your poison pen.
If you are in true combat and your sighting system might break without the possibility of replacement for days or weeks, you need a backup. Fortunately, very few people in the United States will be in that dire situation. In a cost-benefit analysis, the likelihood of the sights snagging on something greatly outweighs the possibility of your sighting system taking a dump at the most inopportune moment. Furthermore, in a domestic defensive situation, you could still likely put rounds on target semi-effectively even if the primary sight is down.
Law enforcement officers could argue with me on this point and probably be right, though I’ve yet to hear of an officer saved by his backup sights. Maybe it’s just overabundant clumsiness, but for my money, the fewer things to snag on door frames, duty belts and passing branches, the better.
A weaponlight is certainly important. A backup light is not important, because you should already have a general-purpose spare on your person. You do still train to use a non-attached flashlight if necessary, right?
A laser is completely pointless unless you are operating in a military environment or regularly using night vision devices.
Mounting a vertical foregrip is personal preference. We’ll leave it alone except to register our prediction that it will be largely passé in ten years.
Other items, such as a bayonet or bipod, might make sense if charging up San Juan Hill with your military unit, but for the guy or gal trying to protect their home or the cop standing on the perimeter, such things are pointless.
Just like everything else in the tactical world, it’s a matter of trade-off. Added functionality increases the chance that something will break, catch a passing curtain, or make the gun so unwieldy that you aren’t pointing at your designated doorway at the moment a miscreant decides to go out in a blaze of glory.
It’s your call, and though I’ll never be called “high-speed, low-drag,” I try to make sure my weapons fit into that category.