Pistol Mounted Optics – The Future Is Now

3 weapons on display

Todd Fletcher

There was no doubt in my mind that uniformed officers would be carrying handguns with optics in their duty holsters as soon as durability and battery life were improved. Now, the future has arrived with an outstanding selection of duty ready handgun optics.

These new Mini Red Dot Sights (MRDS) are durable and ready for officers to carry on a regular basis. Let’s face it: Most officers don’t take good care of their equipment (handguns are a perfect example). Too many officers do not regularly check their pistols to ensure that they are clean and properly lubricated. Consequently, any MRDS mounted to their pistols has to be rugged and its battery life has to be exceptional. Trijicon® and Sightmark® are two MRDS manufacturers who have stepped up to the challenge of making duty handgun optics ready for the rigors of law enforcement. 

If you have any remaining doubt regarding optics mounted to duty pistols, the most preferred law enforcement handguns which accept MRDS are now available directly from the manufacturer. GLOCK® offers the Modular Optic System (MOS) line of pistols which are available in Gen 4 and Gen 5 configurations. Smith & Wesson® offers two lines of duty capable handguns with the M&P® M2.0 Optics Ready Law Enforcement Only line, as well as the Performance Center® M&P M2.0 C.O.R.E. Pro Series® pistols. SIG SAUER® has upped the ante with a complete line of MRDS pistols which includes the P320RXP and P226 RX. The Beretta® APX and Heckler & Koch (HK®) VP9 are also vying to be contenders in this market.

The Test

For this article, I had the opportunity to test two different MRDS optics. In spite of recent difficulties with product supply and demand, both Trijicon and Sightmark were able to get me their duty capable MRDS and I had a great time wringing them out. To compare apples to apples, these optics were mounted and tested on the same GLOCK 17 Gen 5 MOS.

Testing and evaluation of the two sights included zeroing each optic before conducting a test. There were no surprises during accuracy testing. I was able to shoot tighter groups with the MRDS optics compared to using iron sights. After testing for accuracy, we ran them through several drills which verified our ability to see and track the reticles between shots. In addition, I used each of these sights on the same handgun to demonstrate drills during one of our instructor development classes.


To help with this evaluation, I was also sent two different holsters which represent the needs of most law enforcement officers. Safariland® has been a driving force within the duty holster market for quite some time and they sent me their new Safariland 7360RDS 7TS Mid-ride duty holster. This duty holster is specifically designed to fit and protect weapons with red dot optics. It features the intuitive ALS® (Automatic Locking System) retention system and the straight-up draw makes them very instinctive to use. 

I’ve been carrying a Safariland holster with their ALS retention system for over ten years and, as expected, the 7360RDS 7TS was quick and simple to learn, so there was virtually no learning curve before my draw felt natural and smooth. I was a little concerned the protective covering over the MRDS would be bulky and could get in the way during the draw. However, it never did interfere and went completely unnoticed during testing. This cover is an important part of the holster design, keeping your optic protected from the elements and damage.

I also received a DeSantis Speed Scabbard® which is designed for plainclothes officers who prefer a holster without a thumb break while still providing good retention.   This is accomplished through precise molding and a tension screw device which fits the GLOCK 17 Gen 5 MOS like the proverbial bug in a rug.

The Speed Scabbard is a pancake, outside the waistband holster which carries the pistol very close to the body. It does a fantastic job of comfortably concealing the full-size GLOCK 17 and nearly eliminates “printing,” making it a very good choice for concealed carry. Even when wearing a T-shirt or polo shirt, the holster made the GLOCK 17 Gen 5 MOS (with an optic) disappear.   

Trijicon RMR® Type 2 Adjustable LED with 3.25 MOA Dot

The Trijicon RMR Type 2 is designed with a forged aluminum housing in a shape which absorbs impacts and diverts stresses away from the lens. This MRDS features control buttons on the sides of the optic which allow access to adjust the illumination brightness; toggle between manual and automatic modes; and power down for storage.

The Trijicon Type 2 adjustable LED incorporates a sensor which automatically adjusts the brightness of the illuminated red dot based on ambient lighting conditions. This proved to be very effective and is a feature I grew to appreciate when going from bright daylight into a dark building during a building search. Alternately, if the manual mode is selected, the RMR will remain in manual mode for 16.5 hours following the last push of a button. After 16.5 hours, the optic will default back to the automatic mode so the RMR will be ready for any condition in which it may be needed. Additionally, the user can lock out the buttons so the RMR functions in automatic mode only.

In my opinion, the 3.25 MOA dot is the most versatile of all RMR dot sizes. The dot is small enough to allow accurate shooting at distance while also being big enough to locate quickly.

Sightmark Mini Shot M-Spec FMS

Sightmark sent their excellent Mini Shot M-Spec FMS. This MRDS proved to be versatile and effective in a variety of shooting environments. I mounted this optic on my GLOCK 17 Gen 5 MOS, a patrol rifle and my 12-gauge shotgun. It worked equally well across each of these weapon platforms. While I didn’t get a chance to evaluate the optic on the competitive range, I did set up some speed steel stages and tested it. Quick target acquisition is paramount when shooting speed steel. It’s even more important if you’re using a firearm to defend your life or the life of another. The M-Spec FMS comes with a 3 MOA red dot which got me on target swiftly and accurately.

The M-Spec FMS has on/off control buttons on the side which double as brightness controls. The reticle brightness has ten different settings which proved to be perfect for any low light through bright outdoor environments. To preserve battery life, it has an auto shut-off feature which engages at 12 hours. The M-Spec FMS looked to be a very rugged unit. The objective lens is mounted in a waterproof and dustproof aluminum housing. The windage and elevation are adjustable in 1 MOA increments and are located on the housing. Best of all, the battery compartment is positioned on top of the aluminum housing which allows full access to the battery without having to remove the optic from the firearm.

The Results

Overall, I understand why many folks believe that the 3 MOA dot is the most popular choice for handgun use. The reticle is big enough to pick up quickly on the draw and presentation, but small enough for precision shooting at reasonable distances. The Sightmark Mini Shot M-Spec FMS and the Trijicon RMR Type 2 Adjustable LED were both capable of making 25+ yard head shots as long as I did my part. 

The window on the M-Spec FMS is slightly larger than the Type 2 Adjustable LED. I found this made it easier to pick up the red dot when my presentation was slightly off due to drawing from an awkward position.

Testing each MRDS demonstrated more similarities than differences. Both were rugged and withstood the pounding of using the optics to manipulate the slide. I conducted numerous one-hand reloads and found that using the optic was a fast and easy method of running the slide to the rear when chambering a fresh round. Whether I hooked the optic on my belt or boot heel, both sights proved to be durable and just kept working. And, just as importantly, both maintained their zero after dozens of repetitions.

On the range, each sight was easily adjusted using the side mounted controls. There were no issues whatsoever with either of these optics. When it came to the brightness controls, I did prefer leaving the Type 2 in automatic mode to adjust the brightness of the red dot based on the lighting conditions. Manually adjusting the intensity of the red dot was simple and quick on both sights, but the automatic mode made it even easier.

During this evaluation, I didn’t need to change the batteries in order to complete my testing. However, this is a regular part of maintaining a MRDS for duty use to ensure it’s ready to go whenever needed. So, I did remove the batteries from each optic to simulate a battery change. I was pleased with the location of the battery compartment on the M-Spec FMS. It was a simple matter of unscrewing the battery cap, changing the battery and screwing the cap back on. There was no need to remove the optic from the handgun.

When it comes to batteries, keep in mind that manufacturers may determine battery life using a predetermined ideal condition selected to maximize the longevity of their advertised battery life. Law enforcement personnel work in a variety of lighting conditions from indoors to bright and sunny conditions to low light night shift environments. Each of these conditions will change the amount of energy used by any MRDS. As a result, regularly changing batteries will ensure your optic is properly functioning when you need it most. I recommend changing the batteries in all your optics at least twice a year. If you have any doubt as to the longevity of the batteries, simply change them more often. The few extra dollars you spend each year are worth the investment.

Ready for Duty

After investing in some ballistic therapy with the M-Spec FMS and the Type 2 Adjustable optics, I am a believer that every law enforcement duty holster should be occupied with a pistol equipped with an MRDS. While it’s true a red dot optic won’t miraculously turn a bad shooter into a USPSA champion, these optics help to reinforce good fundamental marksmanship skills. Training with a red dot allows the shooter to see mistakes more easily which should help the shooter self-diagnose and correct his/her own shooting errors.

As for any of the naysayers who don’t believe the future has arrived, start training with an MRDS on your duty pistol and see for yourself. It won’t take long to see how an optic can make officers become more accurate. 

Todd Fletcher has over 25 years of law enforcement experience, with assignments to patrol, criminal investigations and training. He has presented instructor development training nationwide and at multiple regional, national and international conferences. He owns Combative Firearms Training, LLC which provides firearms training and instructor development classes to law enforcement, military, private security, and armed citizens. He can be contacted at todd@combativefirearms.com.