Stop Attaching So Much Stuff!

Including The Kitchen Sink ...
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Our sermon of the month is simple: Know when to stop hanging crap off your gun!

I’m speaking primarily to those who own uber-cool black tactical rifles, typically of the AR-15 variety, though the disease can be seen in manifestations ranging from pistols through shotguns to sniper rifles and even on slingshots. I’m not kidding on the last point — a few years ago I reviewed a “tactical” slingshot with a laser and pic rail. It was as good as you could imagine …

It’s all well and good 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 we now have every possible type of gimmick, gimcrack and tactical doo-hickey imaginable to modify your weapon. To prevent sounding too holier-than-thou, I’ll note we’ve reviewed many of them here.

Granted, I’m being too harsh when I say “gimmick.” While there is always some level of junk on the market, especially if you are perusing the website named after a major South American river, most of those things sink to the bottom of the sales pool rather quickly. What I should have said is, “Today we have a world of firearms accessories to serve every possible purpose, need or want, built with care by the most brilliant minds from the finest materials and impeccably serving the intended purpose.”

Unfortunately, too often the intended purpose for the end user frequently seems to be based on appearance rather than function.

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’Merica

With wads of disposable income, a plethora of choices and only a few more-or-less legitimate needs, it’s easy to “want.” And, since a large part of the ownership pool of tactical rifles is male, our natural desire to own hopelessly complicated machinery — search online for “Space Shuttle” as one prime example — must be appeased. It’s a wholly normal impulse, just like the documented urge of women to festoon every sleeping contrivance with 144 decorative pillows, even if it’s just the dog bed.

Another major part of the equation is the fact over the last two decades, a large chunk of a generation went afield with an AR-15 to go terrorist hunting in various mountains and sandboxes. Our bearded operators, oiling their tricked-out rifles with vials of pure testosterone, made us all want to have a gun decked out in the latest go-faster widget.

This is the reason we see so many guns in the field looking like the results of a high-speed impact between a piece of mil-spec billet aluminum and the Large Hadron Collider.

However, the more experience you have at the point of your particular type of spear, the more you realize less is truly more.

Why?

There are two significant points about having too much junk on your gun: dependability and usability. First and foremost is the reliability factor.

The more complex you make any system, the more possible points of failure, especially if you are adding 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, energy levels and velocity. If you add stuff to change the complex engineering equations, the likely outcome is failure, usually at the worst possible moment.

Keep in mind even reputable accessories are designed with the “optimum” weapon in mind. A factory-new Masterthump 5000 rifle — clean, properly lubricated at standard temperature, humidity and air pressure — will probably work with your new gimcrack operating handle or magazine spring. However, when Mr. Murphy comes calling, you’ll realize too late there’s a speck of sand in your gun from the last range session, or it’s freezing, or it’s over 100 degrees — and you’re having a bad hair day. Are you now willing to bet your life the nifty new “dealie” will actually work under these conditions?

The other big issue is carry and usage. I’ve seen civilian weapons so fore-end 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 of dozen additional protrusions to catch passing obstructions, make some of these guns only suitable for benchrest competitions.

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 rails on .22LR rifles are common and I’ve even seen such a rail on a Single-Action .45 Colt. Seriously.

Now, armed with only a stout credit card, you can hang a scope or heads-up sighting device, white light, backup white light, IR laser aiming module, vertical grip, extra magazine, fore-end grip, breaching device, backup iron sights and bipod to your rifle. You could probably even find a STANAG-compatible coyote-brown tactical partridge-in-a-pear-tree if you check the farthest corners of the Interwebs.

Okay, so the fancy-pants Editor has made fun of all the stuff hanging off rifles. What does he think should actually be there?

My Recipe

Sights are obviously first and foremost, and there isn’t much debate on the idea you should be using a red dot sight on your “social” gun. If you think your particular unpleasantness might take place at 100+ yards, a glass optic might be a better choice — though I hasten to add it’s mighty difficult to prove to a civilian court you were in grave personal danger when you zapped somebody out at 400 yards or more.

What about backup sights? I’m torn. For most non-military users, I see little use for backup iron sights. Hear me out while you sharpen your poison pencil.

If you are in true combat and your sighting system could 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 such a dire situation. Maybe it’s just overabundant clumsiness but for my money, the fewer things to snag on door frames, clothing and passing branches, the better.

In a cost-benefit analysis, the likelihood of the backup sights snagging on something greatly outweighs the possibility of your sighting system “taking a download” at a most inopportune moment. Furthermore, in a close-up domestic defensive situation, you could still likely put rounds on target semi-effectively even if the primary sight is down.

Having said all this — I carry backup iron sights on my rifle. Your mileage may vary.

A weapon light is certainly important. A backup light is certainly 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?

I used to say lasers were completely pointless unless you are operating in a military environment or regularly use night vision devices. I’m grudgingly changing my viewpoint regarding pistols, so maybe rifles are next.

Other “fun” stuff, such as a bayonet or target designator might make sense if you plan on 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 not only pointless but potentially dangerous to your health.

Just like everything else in the tactical world, it’s a matter of trade-off. Added gee-whiz functionality also increases the chance something will break, catch a passing handrail or make the gun so unwieldy you aren’t pointing at a danger door the moment a miscreant decides to go out in a blaze of glory.

It’s your call. Though I’ll never be accused of being “high-speed, low-drag,” I do try to make sure at least my weapons fit into said category.

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