When medieval Chinese engineers first figured out how to push projectiles out of a long metal tube to make the first guns, none of them could envision the day when men would take flameless lanterns or blinding rays of light in red and green to make them into attachments for the fire lance.
Now, in the 21st century, firearm owners all over the world are decking out their weapons with all sorts of mods that range from practical optics like red dot sights to crazy, nearly useless attachments like the Zip .22 or keychain holders.
People tend to forget guns are precision tools, and a gun owner who adds all the “cool” attachments he can to cover every single inch of picatinny rail will take the “precision” out of “precision tool” and end up with something resembling the Zorg ZF-1 from the Fifth Element.
This is not a good thing.
Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain. The more parts you put on your gun to make it “special” and “yours” the more you add weight and moving parts that fail. You should only buy attachments that you absolutely need. Doing so will not only make your gun lighter and easier to use but will also save you money in the long run.
Some people will just go to the gun store every week to buy something new to “accessorize” their rifles like they’re buying bobbleheads or fuzzy dice for their car’s dashboard. I’m sure at least one human being out there has fuzzy dice on his rifle. There would be nothing wrong with that if the rifle was a showpiece or a toy, but the fact is that it has the power to take lives away, including your own if you’re not careful, and it shouldn’t be treated like a decoration, especially when its various attachments could get stuck on objects or impair movement.
There are attachments meant specifically for long-range shooting that will have no place on a short-range sporting rifle. In the same way, accessories for short-range rifles are either useless or detrimental for long-range guns. Also, just because something is expensive and shiny doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for the job.
For example, a Swarovski Z8i 3.5-28×50 P is made of pristine European Schott glass, and the company has a legendary, untouchable reputation in the world of shooting. However, putting one of those scopes on a gun meant for CQC (Close Quarters Combat) like a CZ Scorpion or a Daniel Defense PDW would be like putting real Russian caviar on Applebee’s fiesta lime chicken. They’re both great by themselves but it’d be wrong to put them together.
No riflescope with a high base magnification, such as the Latitude 10-40×60 belongs on any weapon that’s meant to shoot targets within 200 yards. You don’t want to be using your scope to see every nose hair in your target’s nostril when you’re engaging at 50 yards. In the same way, a red dot optic has no business being on a long-range precision rifle. Even if the red dot in question is the greatest short-range optic ever designed by man, its permanent magnification of 1x won’t prevent it from seeing beyond the scope of the human eye.
Red dots are for shotguns, PDWs, carbines, and other short to mid-range weapons. Their single focal plane (the red dot) reticle is only visible to the shooter and encourages shooting with both eyes open to maximize one’s field of vision. A red dot’s design also allows for quick target acquisition and shooting from nonstandard positions like leaning out from cover or shooting under vehicles. Riflescopes, on the other hand, are meant to be placed on weapons intended to shoot consistently at long range, such as long-barreled rifles (hence the name rifle scope). If you’re worried that your weapon might have range schizophrenia, get an LPVO (Low Powered Variable Optic) like the Pinnacle 1-6×24 with its crystal clear Japanese glass. It offers the best of both worlds, using a 1x digital zoom for close targets with larger magnifications, sometimes 10x or higher, for targets further away. It allows both-eyes-open shooting like a red dot and, if you’re a good shot, it can pop steel at a little over 300 yards with no problem.
Many shooters like attaching bipods or foregrips to their weapons for added stability. An AR-15 with a 16-inch barrel can have either or both with a bipod/grip combo, simply because the AR-15 offers a versatile platform for short or medium range shooting. A Remington 700, however, has no need of a foregrip, since it’s never meant to be used in the same medium-range tactical situations as the AR-15. Foregrips are designed to give a user more control when rapidly switching positions, but when a hunter takes a long-range shot at a deer, he only moves his point of aim, not his whole body, hence the need for a bipod to stabilize a stationary rifle. There is no reason to put a bipod on a home defense weapon. Any shots fired within a house will be done either standing, sitting, or on the move. There are windowsills, couches, tables, and chairs to rest a rifle on for stability, and a regular foregrip is lighter anyway.
A lot of people think lasers are cool. However, some of these people have seen too many action movies and think a laser is a magical light marker with an infinite range that can be used for both short-range and long-range shooting. If a company says its laser system has a range of a thousand yards, they most likely mean the maximum range of the laser in complete darkness, in which case the laser will be painting a big red “here I am” sign on you. Daylight lasers usually have a range of 20 to 50 yards, since any light beyond that range floods out the lasers. Mid-range riflemen use lasers to shoot without aiming down their sights, to allow for quick target acquisition just like a red dot. For long-range shooters who still want to get the cool-looking “laser attachment,” an LRF (laser rangefinder) is best. These devices have invisible lasers that tell shooters how far away an object is, so the proper holdovers can be used to hit the target.
Then of course there are certain attachments with little to no purpose. These range from the harmless and ridiculous to the absolutely useless. Bayonets have no place in either hunting or self-defense. It would be better to have a good sidearm to engage a charging boar while fixing a bayonet to an AR-15 or even a milsurp rifle for home defense will just make your weapon longer, heavier, and harder to shoot with. In the 18th century, men wearing silk stockings and bright uniforms used bayonets because their muskets only had one round. The soldiers of World War I only used them because of peer pressure from dead people, and in World War II, armies only used bayonet charges when they had enough men to pull them off, and even then, only because they were scary and damaging to enemy morale. In fact, more people were killed with shovels than bayonets in both world wars, further cementing the bayonet’s uselessness.
People still like putting the bayonet on their rifles because it’s a “military attachment,” just like the M203. Yes, Scarface’s grenade launcher attachment is available to civilians. Sold at a price point below $1,000 the M203 drains your bank account and adds 3lbs to your rifle unloaded. If anyone can tell me what situation this thing can ever be used in, I would love to know. The versions legally available to civilians can only fire 37mm flare, smoke, or rubber ball rounds because real explosive ammo is only limited to the military and law enforcement, which means getting an M203 is just like buying an upgraded airsoft grenade launcher. It’s decorative, heavy, and serves no purpose other than “making your gun look cool.”
The Zip .22 is marginally more useful, but not by much. The Zip is essentially a .22 pistol used as an under-barrel attachment just like the M203. If it does the exact same thing as the weapon it’s attached to, you’d be better off with a pistol.
The coolest gun is the one you can shoot most proficiently with, and expensive gear isn’t a substitute for good training. If you can remember to put utility and lethality over aesthetics, then you’ll never have to worry about putting too many attachments on your gun.
The author would like to thank Paul Sneck for his contribution to this article.