May 21, 2022

Red Dots vs. Lasers – Handgun Sighting Options

As most modern gun owners know, iron sights might be where sighting systems begin, but it’s not where they end. Two of the big options on the market involve little red dots but do so in a much different way. Today, we discuss the merits of red dot optics and visible laser aiming devices on handguns. To keep it short, it’s time for a red dot vs. laser showdown. Let’s start by making sure we are all on the sign side of the coin in terms of these two aiming devices.

What’s a Red Dot Optic?

Red dots are nothing new, but what’s new is how small they have gotten as of late. They are tiny compared to what they were in 1975. Red dots have been on competition guns for decades, but recently they’ve shrunk even more and have become acceptable on duty, concealed carry, and home defense guns.

Red dot optics on handguns have become the norm. Well, they are well on their way to becoming the norm. Most handgun companies produce optics-ready guns and some companies are even including optics with their handguns. These small optics utilize a simple dot-style reticle that allows the user to aim their handgun.

What’s a Laser

When I say laser in reference to firearms you either picture two things. First, you might be picturing the weapons Stormtroopers wield and wondering, wait, are those real now? Sadly no, today we are talking about laser aiming devices. Specifically, devices intended to be used on handguns that produce a visible laser.

Lasers have also been around for decades, but have shrunken considerably. What used to be this massive device (See the Film Tango and Cash) has now shrunk to a teeny tiny laser. These can be mounted to Picatinny rails, into grips, and heck even rear sights can be turned into lasers. They are small enough that they are often combined with weapon lights. The small lasers emit a visible dot on their target to make aiming easy.

Finding the Dot

Both red dots and ulcers encourage a target focus mentality. You are looking at the target and seeing the laser with a laser. With a red dot, you look at the target and bring your red up to it. Neither requires you to focus on your sighting system, you just find the respective dot.

Finding the dots is different, but the idea is the same. Both can be much faster than iron sights, and both work in various environments. Predictably, both use batteries, but both tend to be battery-sipping devices with long lives. They do have some very similar modes of use for two very different devices. Let’s see what’s makes them different though.

Effective Range

Lasers have a natural enemy that drastically affects their range and is known as bright light. Bright lights, sunlight, in particular, will drown a laser out and make it impossible to see. The max effective range is typically around only ten yards in a bright environment. It’s still tough to stand out in a bright daylight scenario.

You can very easily see the dot in a lower light or even a moderate environment. Even in a home with the lights on these lasers tend to glow brightly making them well suited for indoor’s use.

Red dots on handguns don’t necessarily have a limited range. They increase the range of most handguns because the smaller dot makes it easier to see targets at a greater distance. Modern pistol red dots have an adjustable brightness level to deal with the brightest environments.

In that respect, it’s easy to see that red dots offer a much longer effective range than lasers.


No one wants to fumble with a gadget or gizmo when the crap hits the fan. Being able to rapidly use your chosen aiming device matters. Both lasers and red dots are both rather intuitive in their activation. Modern mini red dots are designed to be left on while carried and forgotten about. When you draw the red dot is already on and ready to rock and roll.

Lasers vary a fair bit more than red dots. That being said most ar every intuitive. When built into lights they use the light’s controls. Crimson Trace does a fantastic job of designing laser grips and laser guards that activate the laser as soon as the gun’s gripped. Lasers tend to be intuitive and ultimately this section is a tie.

In Use

With a laser, you can fire from essentially any position without needing to raise your gun to eye level. If you’re stuck in a tough position where you can’t bring the gun fully to bear the laser makes it possible to aim the weapon. At the same time, the dot is visible to anyone and everyone.

Red dots require you to raise the weapon to eye level but tend to be faster. With a laser, you might find yourself trying to locate the dot on the target. With a red dot optic, it’s insanely easy to see and find the dot by just using a proper presentation. Getting on target and transitioning between targets is much easier with a red dot than a laser

Red dots can be affected by shooters with astigmatism and could star out so much they are nearly useless. Lasers don’t present that same issue, which might be a consideration. Both optics and lasers can help when you are cross-eye dominant. However, red dots work considerably better for this issue.

How They Change the Gun

Lasers have the ability to be built into the grip and to affect the design and shape of the gun very little. Although this doesn’t apply to all lasers and all guns the lasers can be just a simple set of grip panels. That keeps things very small.

Red dots tend to be larger and add some height and weight to the gun. But they are mini red dots. It’s not like adding an Eotech to your Glock.

Which Is Better?

In general, red dots are the superior option. They make it easier for shooters to shoot faster, further, and with greater accuracy. Lasers are hampered by their short effective range, and how you may need to chase the dot. Although lasers do make odd positional shooting much simpler, that small advantage doesn’t get them gold. Got with a red dot and don’t look back.

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