Do You Need A Rail Gun?

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Maybe yes and maybe no, but if you do need a rail gun you will need it badly!


By Bob Campbell


rail gun light
Tactical illumination is a great advantage best utilized with the rail gun. When you have a rail gun with mounted light in the home-you can light them up! A rail gun and light can give a homeowner a great deal of confidence, and also avoid an unforgivable mistake… See your target, know your target!

Among the decisions to be made when purchasing a personal defense handgun is caliber, action type, and size and weight. Also now among the options to be considered is the light rail. A “rail gun” is common parlance for a handgun with an accessory rail. The rail is there to mount a flashlight bracket or a laser sight. Some handguns leave the buyer no choice. All modern Glock pistols, save for the very smallest such as the Glock 42 and Glock 43, have light rails. The Colt 1911 may be had with or without a rail, and the popular CZ75 is another available in both versions.

An important part of owning a handgun is pride of ownership. You have to be happy with the handgun.

Some feel that a light rail isn’t fitting on a traditional design such as the 1911. Others feel that the added weight and the possibility of snagging on the holster are real problems. There are also difficulties in finding a proper holster for a rail gun. As an example, the Springfield Armory Range Officer Operator and the Rock Island 2011 Tactical have different light rail designs and demand different holsters.

1911 rail gun
Some don’t think a rail is a good “fit” with a traditional handgun design, but the rail on this 1911 Springfied Armory Range Officer Operator adds great utility in a defensive application, and it’s not obtrusive or awkward in this instance.

But then there are those who like the light rail and some have been in a position where white light has been beneficial to their survival or in situations where they wish they’d had the light. Many handguns feature the technical over the tactical, but the light rail is a tactical improvement. The catch is the pistol is a reactive weapon, when the pistol is drawn in response to an attack. Few, if any, concealed carry permit holsters will carry a handgun with the light attached. They may carry a light in their pocket, but very few will practice quickly attaching the light to the handgun. If you can anticipate a fight, then you had best avoid it or at least get to cover. It is better to have the rail and not need it than to need it and not have it of course. You just have to ask yourself, “Are you are willing to embrace the rail and obtain a suitable light or laser and learn to use it properly?”

rail guns with lights
Rail guns top to bottom: CZ P-01 with Lasermax laser, Springfield Range Officer Operator with Viridian light, and Glock 35 with Insights light.

Practical Concerns
The 1911 pistol balances well. Nothing feels better in my hand. Some 1911 rail guns are neutral.  The new Rock Island 2011 with its monolithic rail is very well balanced. It isn’t quite muzzle-heavy but it certainly dampens recoil due to extra weight out front. The Colt Rail Gun may be an improvement in balance over the Colt Government Model. The CZ 75 is among my favorite handguns. But after a hard test and firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition I find the CZ P-01 a great compact 9mm that is very well balanced. I can fire the pistol more accurately than the full-size CZ. The P-01 features a light rail on its long dust cover. I like this a lot. Keep an open mind when considering a rail gun.

Home defense
The best place for a rail gun is home defense. No handgun is too large to keep at home ready! As an example, one of my personal favorite handguns for “just shooting” is the Glock Model 35 .40 caliber. This long-barrel pistol balances well and it is plenty accurate. The accuracy load, the Hornady 155 grain XTP, breaks over 1180 fps from the Glock 35. The pistol has factory night sights, and with an Insights M3 combat light I don’t think there is anything better as a home defense handgun. This brings us to another consideration.

CZ P-01
The CZ P-01 is a good fit with the Lasermax laser. This stays behind the muzzle even on a pistol this short.

When choosing a combat light make the choice one that is appropriate for the application. A neat compact light such as the Viridian types seem ideal for the Glock 23 class of handguns. No need in having a light protruding past the muzzle. With the Glock 35 this isn’t a consideration but with my compact CZ pistols the smaller lights are best. And it isn’t always lights: it might be the Lasermax Spartan laser for some applications. This is a handy, affordable, and well-designed laser that gives the user a sharp point of reference when the sights cannot be seen. If you do not have a rail gun you would have to purchase expensive laser grips, which are are not available for every handgun.

The rail gun should also be proofed with its attachment in place. On occasion handguns have had their cycle reliability affected with the light attached. I think that this is less likely with steel frame guns. Handguns with frames that give or flex a little in recoil are most susceptible to this problem. This is simply another consideration when you deploy the rail gun, and the answer is simple: test it!

For myself I continue to deploy standard handguns for the most part, usually a Commander .45 or a CZ 75 variant. But I am not blind to genuine progress. I keep a rail gun with light attached and ready to go in the home. Just in case.


Bob Campbell is an established and well-respected outdoors writer, contributing regularly to many publications ranging from SWAT Magazine to Knifeworld. Bob has also authored three books: Holsters For Combat and Concealed Carry (Paladin Press), The 1911 Semi Auto (Stoeger Publishing), and The Handgun In Personal Defense (The Second Amendment Foundation).


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2 thoughts on “Do You Need A Rail Gun?”

  1. I agree with most of this except that using a light on the gun, pinpoints your location. Yea, I know the light is super bright, etc.
    A separate light allows you to “decoy” an assailants first shot or two while you get him in your sights and make a deliberate shot.
    I also don’t want my neighbor “helping” me by waving a pistol around so they can use the light to see, again a separate light nullifies this exposure, IMHO.

  2. A pistol with an accessory rail is not a ‘rail gun’. Silly author should revise the article. Next you’ll be talking about a pistol with a clip.

    A railgun is an electromagnetic projectile launcher based on principles similar to those of the homopolar motor. … Railguns are being researched as weapons that would use neither explosives nor propellant, but rather rely on electromagnetic forces to impart a very high kinetic energy to a projectile.

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