Pros and Cons of Red Dots on Pistols

costa red dot

Chris Costa has a decent 25 min video highlighting the pros and cons of red dots on pistols. He makes some points that may be of use to you. Such issues like moisture obscuring the emitter or the glass. For LE or military he brings up the use of NODs and red dots. The pros do out weigh the cons. One aspect that I didn’t consider is age and eyesight. Red Dots can be easier for older shooters. Costa talks about certain types of corrective lenses that may cause a shooter to spend more time getting their sight picture but a Red Dot would help to speed that process up.



Nicholas C

Co-Founder of KRISSTALK forums, an owner’s support group and all things KRISS Vector related. Nick found his passion through competitive shooting while living in NY. He participates in USPSA and 3Gun. He loves all things that shoots and flashlights. Really really bright flashlights.

Any questions please email him at nicholas.c@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • guest

    Bla bla bla bla bla so much talk it could just as well be a monologue on C-span.

    Long story short: handguns are used at such a short distance that in many cases sights may not be used (instinctive/muscle memory) and for obvious reasons finding a tiny dot in an tiny collimating mirror may be also tricky and waste time. My 0.02$ – red dots are very suitable on race guns, but then again it has to be something serious like Railway or Eotech, with a “widescreen” view not a pathetic little thing like the RMR or Docter. Prac/Tac use – learn to shoot with iron sights. 500 bucks on a sight + x amount on a milled slide may be put to much better use.
    Those compact red dots are truly at home as backup sights for scopes on rifles, to use them for anything else is a waste of money.

    • sianmink

      Thanks for boiling it down. 26 minutes is a bit oogy.

      • Lysenko

        Except that that was more the -Guest’s- take on red dot sights than Costa’s. Costa actually came down in -favor- of Red Dot sight use for specific purposes. Specifically: Longer range shots (for him he defined that as over about 15 yards with pistol), on suppressed pistols (he likes co-witnessing always, but believes they offer a measurable improvement over even higher iron sights), and for older shooters and/or those with specific types of vision correction.

        He only came down unambiguously -against- them (that is, saying they’re worse than just iron sights, as opposed to equal to) in two respects: A) complexity and additional points of failure, B) environmental conditions (dusty, wet, snowy, etc. crap on a RMR doesn’t just obscure the dot, it obscures your iron sights too).

        So my takeaway would be that for most people, they’re a range toy or tool for competition rather than something you’d want to put on a daily carry weapon, but that they’re useful for specific people, platforms, and/or missions like the suppressed pistol he uses for home defense.

        That’s a far cry from “using a red dot sight for ANYTHING but a backup on a rifle is a waste”.

        • guest

          I never claimed to be talking on behalf of Costa to begin with, I guess “long story short” was a bad choice of words but what’s done is done.

          I have tried RMR, on handguns and rifles, and they they fit the latter perfectly, while on handguns they have no real advantage and plenty of disadvantages. I also have a can, and have no issues what so ever shooting even with the iron sights obscured.

          Like I said the concept of having a red dot on a handgun is neither revolutionary or new, but that given the right optics and RMR/Docter are NOT the right optics. If you want to use 500+++ bucks on a questional improvement go ahead. Where I live that more than covers the price of a new can and a rifled barrel, so the choice is obvious. Hell, you can get a new handgun for that price!

          Having a marginally *easier* way of aiming is not the same as having a significantly faster and easier to aim gun. That is the sole reason why no race gunners ever use this nonsense.

          • Cymond

            … I think ‘race gunners’ were the first adopters of red dots on pistols, although most race pistols have a very large red dot sight mounted to a rail above the slide, instead of a small dot mounted directly to the slide. They also often use a special cocking handle because the sight & mount interfere with gripping the slide. Race-gun style red dot setups aren’t practical for daily carry.

        • valorius

          A laser is better in every way.

  • David

    Red dots on handguns only work if you have a perfect presentation. If you are in an odd position, such as might be in a self defense situation, and the handgun is not aligned properly, the red dot will not be visible. The problem is that you won’t know if the dot is high, low, right or left so it may take a long time to find the dot. Iron sights do not suffer that malady as you can easily see how they are misaligned. I built up a S&W M&P with a red dot and am very dissapointed.

    • Paladin

      This was addressed in the video: if you acquire your irons through the optic you will find the dot since they will co-witness. It should not be any more difficult to acquire the dot than it would be to acquire iron sights.

      • David

        Slow and likely not going to happen under stress

        • Cymond

          How is it any slower or less likely to happen than aligning iron sights without a cowitnessing dot?
          If you can’t align the iron sights, you have bigger problems than a red dot sight.

          • valorius

            Just wrong. Try it and see.

        • Paladin

          At the very least it’s no slower than acquiring regular iron sights, and if you can’t do that under stress you need to train more.

          • valorius

            It is much slower.

          • Paladin

            How and why? Repeating the same point over and over does not argue your case well.

          • valorius

            Because even slight wrist misalignment, especially in low light, makes the dot disappear from the sight glass.

            Iron Night sights and lasers are much much faster, especially at night.

          • Paladin

            That same misalignment will make your sight picture with irons go out of whack too. The advantage a red dot has over iron sights is that you don’t need a perfect sight alignment to get an accurate shot, you just need “good enough” so that you can see the dot. This makes a red-dot optic faster than iron sights, and more ideal for non-traditional shooting stances since you don’t need as precise of an alignment.

          • valorius

            Its much easier to initially find and quickie align a front iron night sight in the dark than a single plane red dot though. I actually prefer just a front tritium sight with standard iron rears. Very, very fast to line up in low light.

            Red dots are great on long guns, but not so much on fighting pistols. On target pistols theyre great.

          • Paladin

            Pistol sights may be easy to align for some, but not for everyone. I for one don’t have a particularly strong dominant eye, which is nice for shooting long guns since I can shoot just about equally well off of either shoulder, but makes it near impossible for me to align pistol sights with both eyes open. A mini red dot works excellently for me since I only ever see one dot instead of trying to align two sets of irons.

            There is no one size fits all setup. A mini red dot may not work well for you, but it certainly does for me.

          • valorius

            I can not recommend a crimson trace pressure activated laser guard highly enough. Seriously, try one…. It is clearly superior to any pistol mounted red dot. No alignment/presentation issues, and the laser dot is a huge deterrent factor once you have it shining on your target. It ends a lot of fights before they even begin.

          • Paladin

            I have tried them. I like the crimson trace grip mounted lasers. They do not fill the same role as a red dot sight. Iron sights may work well for you but that does not mean that they work well for everyone. Do I need to repeat myself again, or are you paying attention to the words that I am typing now?

          • valorius

            I have been listening very closely to your words, so far the only thing you have definitely offered is that a red dot sight is better at long ranges. Ranges that almost never occur in real-world civilian gunfights.

          • Paladin

            It’s also significantly beneficial for people like me who find leaf sights nigh on unusable when firing both eyes open, as one would in a fighting scenario. You have a set up that works for you. That’s great. That doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. It doesn’t work for me.

          • valorius

            What about a laser doesnt work for you? Afterall…a red dot is just a laser that shines on a piece of glass.

          • Paladin

            No it’s not. Red dots use LEDs not lasers. And I’ve already explained this. Red dots and lasers do not fill the same role. Would you use a pistol without iron sights?

      • valorius

        It is different.

        • Paladin

          Use cases for lasers and reflex optics are entirely different.

          • valorius

            On pistols? I disagree.

          • Paladin

            Red dot sights and lasers are not mutually exclusive you know… Lasers are useful for close in shooting when there is no time to get a proper stance and sight picture, “shooting from the hip” as it were. The laser rapidly loses effectiveness as range increases, the red dot sight does not. They are different tools for different purposes.

          • valorius

            90% of all gunfights occur at a range of 7-10 feet.

            I agree lasers are not mutually exclusive to dot sights. If youre interested, Google my screen name and hit images, youll see some of the set ups ive run.

            Green lasers are a lot better for day/range limitations, but ctc doesn’t make a
            Laserguard green for most pistols. Having used most major laser makes on the market, I think the ctc model is hands down the best around.

          • Paladin

            87% of statistics quoted on the internet are made up on the spot. I’m not aware of anyone who is actually collecting that sort of data.

            My philosophy is that the only time I should ever be fighting with a pistol is because I don’t have a workable rifle. Pistols are, on the whole, inaccurate and underpowered, so I want to pack as many potential advantages into that package as is practical to address the inadequacies of the system. I may never have to use a handgun beyond bad breath distances, but then again I may never have to use it at all (I sincerely hope for this one). It’s still a good idea to prepare for the eventuality that I may have to use it, and that I may have to use it at distances and under circumstances that are beyond my comfort level.

          • valorius

            That is an fbi statistic. Feel free to research it.

            A crimson trace laserguard backed up by a tritium front night sight is a much better option than a red dot or night sights.

          • Paladin

            And in the 1940s the Soviets found that most of their engagements were occurring at around 300 metres, but I’m not a soviet soldier fighting on the eastern front and I’m not an FBI agent.

            Defensive shootings, depending on the circumstances, can occur at ranges from contact to over 50 metres. I don’t doubt that the majority of them are at the closer end of the scale, but the ones in the minority can still kill you. It’s a good idea to be prepared for them.

          • valorius

            The 7 to 10 foot distance is for all civilian shootings in America, on average. ( police are civilians too, by the way).

            So if you were to get into an actual gunfight in America, there’s a 90% chance that it will be in low light, at a range of 7 to 10 feet.

            In most cases, it is going to be extremely difficult to argue justifiable self-defense at an engagement range of 50 meters. Gun fights can and do still happen at that range, and even further, but they are exceedingly rare in America.

          • Paladin

            The majority of defensive gun uses end without any shots fired, does that mean I should carry an unloaded gun? Bullets are heavy and expensive after all. If it enhances my capabilities without significant drawbacks then it is a good modification.

          • valorius

            Yeah, thats the point i was making (roll eyes).

          • Paladin

            All I’m saying is that if you’re only going to prepare for the most likely confrontation you’re limiting yourself. Yes, certain situations are more or less likely than others, but if you can be prepared for more of them why wouldn’t you?

          • valorius

            You are talking to a guy who in his spare magazine keeps loaded that will penetrate over 40 inches gel or shoot clean through both sides of a car.

            You know, in case I run into an escaped circus lion, or a velociraptor. 😉

            As I said, I have experimented with many combinations of red dots on handguns. I came away from them all extremely dissatisfied with the results in the real-world capabilities of the combinations.

          • Paladin

            So they didn’t work for you, they work for me though. There is no one size fits all setup, particularly when it comes to sighting systems. What works well for one guy might not work for another. I like being able to keep both eyes open and maintain a target focus, I can’t do that with iron sights, That red dots are also more precise sighting systems than standard pistol iron sights is a bonus.

          • valorius

            You can do that with a Crimson trace laser guard though.

            At the sorts of ranges that real gunfights Oakerner of the overwhelming majority of the time, the laser offers the advantages of a red dot but without the disadvantage of imperfect or awkward weapon presentation problems.

            And with a laser you get the added psychological advantage of a massive Deterrent efect when you put that laser dot right over someone’s heart or in their face.

          • Paladin

            Do I have to say it again? Lasers and red dots do not fill the same role. Period. A laser is a good addition to a defensive handgun, and very useful at close ranges when there is no time to acquire a proper sight picture, but lasers are attenuated by distance, and the dot can get lost at longer ranges. This is why it’s important to have an alternate sighting system. You use iron sights for this purpose. I use a red dot. Your solution works for you, mine works for me.

          • valorius

            I ran a red dot and a laser on my five seven pistol for a while, that was a pretty neat setup.

            The problem for me was the red dot replaced the rear sight and obscured the front night site blade, so I found it to be lacking.

          • Paladin

            Which is why I prefer something like a S&W M&P CORE or a Glock with a milled slide. The dot mounts forward of the rear sight, and suppressor height sights clear the base of the dot allowing co-witness.

    • n0truscotsman

      red dots, even on a handgun, are significantly superior when it comes to target acquisition speed and accuracy.

      If you are having trouble acquiring your red dot (which you shouldn’t if your rifle is pulled into you with even a semi-proper cheekweld), then it is a training issue. Or you dont have a aimpoint.

      • valorius

        Rod dots on fightin pistols are a gimmick.

        • n0truscotsman

          Within 30 meters? probably yeah.

          Except if its suppressed or if you have night vision 😛

    • valorius

      Ive had a red dot burris fastfire and tube type on 4 different pistols. I agree 100%

  • n0truscotsman

    Never could see the point in adding a optic to a handgun.

    It belongs on a long gun.

    • Airman596

      People used to say they didn’t see the point to a red dot sight on a rifle either. Back in my day we didn’t even have sights! You kids and your fancy “rifled” barrels. A real man shoots a smooth bore. We didn’t need sights back in my day! You spoiled brats and your overpriced “modern technology.”

      • n0truscotsman

        That is a poor comparison. For one, a rifle is a primary weapon and a handgun never should be (but can be in really shitting situations).
        Second, your snark does nothing to validate your asinine comparison.
        Yes, a red dot on a handgun allows users to acquire targets faster for the same reasons they do with a rifle.
        Personally, I dont see the point in adding a red dot on a handgun unless I was in competition because my handgun is not a primary weapon. I suppose if it makes you sleep better…

        • Airman596

          Hey, I agree with you! I’m sticking to my smooth bore. Don’t need no newfangled technology. Plus, I’ll save money for more black powder.

          • n0truscotsman

            and you completely miss the point…

            To use your flawed analogy, if you had a budget (limited money), and wanted to replace your smoothbore rifle and pistol with firearms with rifling, which would measurably improve their effectiveness, which would be a better selection to replace with a firearm with rifling? the rifle or the pistol?

            Thats my point. Dumbass.

            But im sure you and jack bauer can enjoy the “gargantuan leap” in combat effectiveness with your red dot equipped handguns as your primary weapon systems. Fuck long guns. Handguns FTW! /rolls eyes

          • Airman596

            I don’t see the point of rifled barrels. My smooth bore works just fine. You go and waste your money on that nonsense.

        • Cymond

          I agree that handguns are a poor primary weapon, but a rifle is a bit awkward to carry around all the time, and tends to bring a lot of negative attention.
          Given that handguns are already far less effective than rifles, it is arguable that they should be given every advantage possible. The red dot doesn’t interfere with point-shooting at short range, but can enhance the ability to make a longer shot if needed, at least for those who don’t carry rifles around.

        • David

          The pistol is a secondary until your primary fails. Then it’s your primary.

        • David

          Yeah, rifle are primary weapons–pure fantasy. I have a handgun on me at all times. Chances of getting to a rifle while under attack is pretty mill

          • n0truscotsman

            “Yeah, rifle are primary weapons–pure fantasy”

            Which tells me a lot about your mindset. Good to know.

            Im not talking about concealed/everyday carry.

          • Cymond

            The two most common defensive situations are “concealed/everyday carry” and home defense. It’s foolish to ignore either of those.

          • n0truscotsman

            Who is ignoring them?

            Since my point has been missed several fucking times, let me reiterate: If you are on a budget, it is more logical to spend the money on a optic for your long gun than it is a handgun since that is the most effective tool in your arsenal.

            If you have the money for both, then go for it, disadvantages noted.

            Do DGUs for handguns regularly exceed 10-15 meters?

            That is why I haven’t been thoroughly convinced I need a RMR on my glock or M&P. The only time I’ll use my handgun is during EDC. In my home, it will be a AR.

    • Fred Johnson

      Red dots are great for people that had their vision lose the ability to see handgun sights well. Like middle aged people. That have to wear bifocals or trifocals. That means me.

      Not that I need red dots on a carry gun where the target is very close and large, but for target shooting at any speed they sure work nicely for me.

  • Seans

    So for night vision, lets see either use a infrared laser, such as crimson trace, or just throw some holes in your covers or get the phokus hoplite and you are good to go.

  • BattleshipGrey

    I’ve only had time for a 1/3rd of the video so far, but he makes some good points that I hadn’t really thought of in terms of the wear and tear and potential water issues, all of which I subject my duty gun to. The MAJOR prohibiting factor that’s kept me from adding a RDS is obviously the cost. I totally understand the pros (even without seeing that portion of the vid), but I really can’t justify the $700+ even with the pros. The cons I listed also somewhat demystify the concept for me.

    • n0truscotsman

      Exactly.
      If im going to drop 400 on a aimpoint or more money for something else, im going to put it on one of my rifles and not a handgun.

  • Rogier Velting

    Haven’t watched the video, but wouldn’t a red dot on a pistol make it much harder to conceal / holster? If so, is that disadvantage, along with other disadvantages, worth the small advantage you’d gain? If you can’t quickly grab your pistol, what’s the point of improving your aiming speed? Having a pistol out may be enough to scare someone off in a defensive situation (I think, never have been in one, but I know I’d get away if someone is holding a pistol), so is being able to aim faster worth not being able to quickly grab your pistol? Doesn’t seem like it to me.

    • Travr

      Those fancy sights aren’t exactly huge. It’s possible you’d have another small bulge to conceal, but I don’t see how this would affect your draw speed. Certainly Costa doesn’t seem to be any slower drawing one pistol over another; I’d imagine if it had any effect on draw-speed, that could be trained around. And I don’t think it would affect draw speed. It would be more likely you’d need a custom holster, but hey, if you’re spending $500 or so on a red dot sight, you can afford a custom holster.

  • Greg

    Heck I just want the T-shirt!!!!!!

    • Fred Johnson

      You gotta find a city that has those convenience stores. A strange name for a store in these times, for sure.

  • John

    I use a Gen1 Aimpoint on my Glock. The retro Aimpoint is built like a tank and actually feels more expensive than my PRO and CompM4. The best part is I paid $36 for it on eBay including shipping and it was New in Box. The accuracy of modern pistols far exceeds their iron sights. To not use any kind of red dot is a true shame.

    • valorius

      Real gun fights occur at a range of 7 to 10 feet over 90% of the time according to FBI statistics.

      In The real world, where gunfights occur at very short range and in low light, a pressure activating Crimson trace laser is vastly superior to any red dot.

      • Blainestang

        Realistically, if someone is coming at you at 7 feet, you’re probably not going to use any aiming aid and probably not even the irons. Point being, deciding exactly which aiming solution is best at 7 feet is probably splitting hairs. Not that it’s not an interesting discussion, but none of the options are likely to be “vastly superior” than the other common options.

        • valorius

          Yet at that range cops still manage to miss and miss and miss.

          What makes the ctc so superior is that its an instant on solution. No aligning, no switches, no multiple sight planes, and yet it offers precision instantaneous targeting. The SEALS
          Picked the laserguard for a reason. I have a laserguard on 4 different pistols….it also has an awesome warranty.

          • Blainestang

            Assuming that cops do miss and miss and miss at 7 feet, can you show that they WOULDN’T miss if they had a laser? Just saying that they miss doesn’t prove that the laser is the solution, just that there’s a problem. Regarding SEALS, assuming they do use Laserguards (a quick Google search didn’t yield anything solid, though they have used non-Laserguard lasers on the HK MK23), just because they use something in a particular scenario doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best for a civilian CCW carrier.

          • valorius

            The SEALS use ir laserguards on their new suppressed .45 sidearms. Check the crimson trace sight if you want verification.

            You seem to have no experience with lasers, based on your comments. A bright red laser dot on your target takes all the guesswork out of where your bullets are going.

          • Blainestang

            You seem to think I’m saying Laserguards aren’t good. That’s not the case. I’m saying that there are pros and cons to each option (the HK45C Laserguard prevents the use of a mounted light, for instance) so it’s going to take more than one person’s opinion on this to convince me that one or the other is “vastly superior” to the rest of the sighting options.

          • valorius

            I hear you. Try one out, carry it for a while, I think you would find that it is a really really useful tool.

          • Blainestang

            I intend to get more personal experience with them, for sure. Maybe even pick one up for my HK45C!

          • Blainestang

            That said, I’m sure the laser is a deterrent when someone sees it on their chest! Then again, staring down the business end of a firearm is pretty convincing on its own. 🙂

          • valorius

            I imagine that it is complete freak of nature that this happened last night, but I had the unfortunate occasion of putting the green laser dot of my viridian, attached my AR 15, on the chest of an intruder across the street from my home last night. Caught him as he was trying to walk out the door stealing the plumbing fixtures from my neighbors property. It was pretty amusing to see his reaction.

            Needless to say, I had is complete and total attention.

          • Blainestang

            Strange coincidence, indeed! Definitely a great scenario for laser use, too. I imagine he decided not to steal anything else haha.

          • valorius

            Lol,he put it all back and then ran like hell.

  • ExNuke

    How many red dots have you seen that don’t take batteries and have to be turned on? I’m sure there must be some out there but I haven’t seen them. Battery life and the extra movement and grip shift to actually turn one on is what turns me off to the idea. Range toy ok, EDC piece, don’t think so.

    • Blainestang

      FWIW, there are several Trijicon RMRs that are dual illuminated by ambient light and tritium, and therefore are always on… no batteries and no buttons.

      • valorius

        And they are very dimly lit dots, his point stands.

        • Blainestang

          He said that “turn[ing] one on is what turns me off to the idea.” Therefore, I said there are some that don’t require turning on. That is irrefutable.

          Are they ideal for every lighting condition? Nope, that’s beside the original point… and good luck finding ANY tool that’s ideal for every condition.

          • valorius

            For fightin pistols, the crimson trace laserguard is as close to ideal as current technology allows.

          • Blainestang

            Source that proves the Laser is “ideal” or “vastly superior” to the other options?

          • valorius

            Me, former us army infantryman and ccw holder of 20 years.

          • Blainestang

            In either of those cases (infantryman or CCW holder), have you used both Red Dots and Lasers on pistols in numerous self-defense-type close encounters such that you can compare both and make these claims?

          • valorius

            Obviously i feel that i have to be making such a strong statement.

          • Nicks87

            Obviously, I be making such a statment to feel strong.

          • valorius

            Lol why you am bez mockinz me man?

          • Blainestang

            As long as you’re convinced, go for it. I was just hoping you had some sort of testing/article to back it up. If one option really was vastly superior than another, I certainly would be interested in seeing that research/testing.

          • valorius

            My testing comes from 20+ years actually carrying firearms in one of the most violent and dangerous cities in America.

          • Blainestang

            If I were you, I’d probably be convinced, too. That said, I’d like to see a little more empirical evidence that confirms your conclusion before making a decision on which option is best.

          • valorius

            I got my personal experience from spending lots of money on lots of set ups over the years. The crimson trace laserguard stood head and shoulders above the rest.

      • ExNuke

        I don’t dispute that, if you can afford the Trijicon that cost 2 – 3 times what the gun cost that might be a good option for you, it doesn’t work for me. I have nothing against anyone who feels differently. My comment wasn’t meant as an argument, just a personal opinion.

        • Blainestang

          Didn’t mean mine as an argument, either… just a heads-up in case you (or someone else reading your post) didn’t know that there actually are some always-on micro red dots. Regarding price, I picked up a brand new dual-illuminated RMR for ~$250. I wouldn’t pay anywhere near MSRP for one, either.

  • valorius

    From personal experience, Red dots such as the burris fastfire are a no go on combat handguns.

    • Nicks87

      I wouldnt put a burris fastfire on an airsoft training pistol let alone a “combat” handgun. Also, I would avoid statements like “vastly superior” unless you are Chris Costa.

      • valorius

        The burris works the same as the trijicon and leupold, ive used them all.

        A ctc laser is indeed vastly superior in the real world.

        • Nicks87

          NO, just no…

          • valorius

            Obviously i disagree, and i have actually used them all on the street.

          • Nicks87

            Yo, I’m FROM the street!

          • valorius

            Lol….

  • Nicholas Mew

    I vote for Genetic Engineering to fix eye sight problems.

  • Michael

    If you like it and it works for you then use it, Please don’t tell me what gun, sight, lazer, optics, is the only one to use. We all find a different combination works best for us. This is a bit like the people that say the 1911 in 45 ACP is the only gun to have and everyone that does not use one is a fool.

  • Jay

    I will admit that I was (and am) a skeptic. My thought is that if you are within pistol distance, you shouldn’t need an optic. And then I picked up an FN45 with an RMR on top. Didn’t buy the gun but the quick acquisition was noteworthy.