Do You Need A Rail Gun?

Glock 35 with M3 Tactical Illuminator

Among the decisions to be made when purchasing a personal defense handgun are caliber, action type, and size and weight. Among the options to be considered is the light rail. A rail gun is common parlance for a handgun with an accessory rail, but some just consider it common sense.

Glock 35 with M3 Tactical Illuminator
The author feels the Glock 35 and Insights M3 are a good combination.

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 CZ 75 is another pistol 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 a good fit or 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 Range Officer Operator and the Rock Island 2011 Tactical have different light rails and demand different holsters. Many prefer a simple workmanlike design with fewer bells and whistles the better. There is much merit in this opinion.

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 had 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. The pistol is drawn in response to an attack.

Rail guns top to bottom - CZ with Lasermax laser, Springfield with Viridian light and Glock with Insights light.
Rail guns top to bottom – CZ with Lasermax laser, Springfield with Viridian light and Glock with Insights light.

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?”

Practical Concerns

The 1911 pistol balances well. There is nothing that 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 the weigh 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 the rail gun.

Home Defense

The best place for the rail gun is home defense. No handgun is too large to keep at home and ready. As an example, one of my personal favorite handguns for ‘just shooting’ is the Glock Model 35 .40 caliber. This long barrel Glock 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 the Insight’s M3 combat light, there isn’t anything better as a home defense handgun.

Woman pointing gun over a bed with a light attached and on
Wait until you need the light- then light them up!

This brings us to another consideration. When choosing a combat light, ensure it is appropriate for the application. A neat compact combat light such as the Viridian types seem ideal for the Glock 23 class of handgun. 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 combat lights—I like 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 and these are not available for every handgun. The rail gun should also be proofed with the light attached. On occasion, handguns have had their cycle reliability affected with the light attached. I think this is less likely with steel frame guns.

Handguns with frames that give a little in recoil are most susceptible to this problem. This is simply another consideration when you deploy the rail gun. As 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… and you should too!

Do you have a rail gun? Do you run any accessories on it? Share the details of your setup in the comment section.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (28)

  1. So having an attachment-point built into the firearm now allows pistols to have a custom name? What’s next, a scope rifle or sling gun? I am hoping the term rail gun does not catch on. Seriously.
    Maybe the reverse: gun rail.

  2. I read an article a few years ago about Police officers who have shot suspects while weapons were drawn, either during initial contact or while in the process of arrest. The officers claimed accidental discharge on some of these Cases while weapons were drawn at night . During the investigation of these shootings , it was determined that the Officers accidentally pulled the trigger while attempting to switch the light on the pistol . It was also determined that tactical lights were designed for special operations units of the military forces . These military units also receive countless hours of training as where your average Police officer does not receive the training . This report was written years ago . But i believe the impact of a tactical light and what the lack of training once on is installed can possibly cause .

  3. Rail Gun?! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHA!!!!!!!!!!! It is a built in accessory attachment, not a Rail Gun! Please change this, you sound like a gun grabber, ignorant as all hell. As for attachments, just remember they work both ways and give your opponent a target clear as day. Just the thoughts of an Infantry Combat DV

  4. Heh, when I saw the title to the article I thought you actually meant a rail gun. I wondered why you wanted something that had to be mounted on a ship or possibly a tank to move.
    It would be right up there with a conversation I remember between a US soldier and an Afghani regarding him keeping a RPG for personal defense.

  5. H&K VP9 with a Streamlight TLR-I HL for home defense. The light extends an inch or so past the end of the barrel, but it doesnt seem to affect accuracy at the range. And at 800 lumens it lights up the room like its high noon.

  6. I like having an accessory rail on my weapons BUT I have a problem with Colt. Their Mustang XSP has a trail BUT it’s so small that no one has a laser or light that will fit. Why put a rail on a weapon and not produce an accessory for it? Otherwise it’s a great pistol. Therefore I’m probably going to sell it.

  7. I have a rail-less glock 27 that is my EDC and I’m thinking real hard about the streamlight TLR-6. It gives you a light and laser combo that can be used separately or together and mounts on the front of the trigger guard,
    Reviews are good as far as maintaining zero but the only challenge is finding a holster.
    Also have a sig 2022 with a surefire X-300 and a 15 round magazine that stays by the bed.
    Anyone have feedback on the TLR-6?

  8. I do carry a rail gun on me,it is a fnh 40 cal. and i have a red laser mounted on the underside of home defence firearm is a fnx 45 cal. rail gun as well.i do have a tactical light mounted on it with trijicon night sites.i load it up with the gold dot FMJHP.

  9. I think Shayla was referring to something altogether different, less dangerous and a lot more fun, if she invited you over to her place for a romantic evening …

  10. Um, the CZ75 comes with a rail? I eat and sleep CZ firearms and that’s the first I’ve ever heard of that… Now if you’re talking P-series (poly or alloy) there are those. The SP07 does too. Are we calling those 75s?

    1. Me too. Like the gun that magnetically fires a projectile to near the speed of light. Now that I would love to have in my arsenal. That would be just too sweet.

    2. @ Dark Angel.

      More like 2,382.03m/s. (7,815.06 ft/sec)!/? Projectile travel at SOL in Atmosphere would Most Likely VAPORIZE and YOU With It…

    3. Was going off of old info. Original est. of projectile speed of a rail gun, or coil gun was thought to be somewhere near light speed. The original thoughts on either, rail or coil gun was that the projectile speed would be so great that it would in fact vaporize the target, doing away with the need of explosive projectiles. Either way, at the speeds you have quoted, at original estimated speeds, or at any speed, I wouldn’t want to be the intended target.

    4. Same here. I was hoping for a video link showing a small portable version of the Navy’s ship mounted giga-joule energy gobbling version.

      Someone needs to build one (maybe I will) that uses a heart defibrillator for the sudden burst of energy required to move, say a 647 grain projectile (like for a 50 BMG round) to Mach 10. I wonder how effective it would be against…..say….a federal goon filled MRAP?

      Oh I can see it now….the shrill calls from the left for “Defibrillator Control!”

    5. Yeah it’s not exactly the proper heading to use on my opinion as I also was thinking along the same lines as the magnetic type that’s existence is still denied in use when asked of our militaries current arsenal. Anywho I hope oir nation is smart enough to figure out that Hilary is the absolute worse choice for office and a complete lair who should be in prison not up for election. When is Julian Asange going to announce her deleted docs are on wiki leaks for all to see? Liar liar pants on fire!

    6. I don’t think either candidate is worthy of the office they seek. Trump doesn’t have the temperament and acts like a man child when criticized. Imagine what he would do with access to America’s military. World War 3. We need to scrap the whole primaries and have a do over.

    7. Okay, way off topic, but ‘sen-loi’. Who would you suggest? Anyone would be better than the two we have, but if you are a gun owner, military veteran, et al; you know Hillary is not your friend. And, now, referencing a reply to you 1st rail-gun comment, I apologize for the entire male species. You were obviously referring to magnetic guns and anyone thinking otherwise has s**t-for-brains. Respectfully yours, D.A.

    8. Shayla, You have posted the best comment in a long time. They (the 2 party system) give us a choice between Bad &Worse. That’s like asking me “What hand you want cut off, left or right?” F ing unbelievable. But yeah a lot saw Rail Gun and thought Electronic. I saw the Glock with rail in picture. But the topic, I got the Crimson Trace grips in 2001 for my Colt Commander and it was expensive and button very hard to contact, but of course they improved and my 3 1st Gen glocks have no rail so it would be a trigger guard mounted, but as another poster said about holding zero, that is a concern. Buying a new Glock is not a option and I am no good with the Dremel.

  11. I think that ‘railguns’ are the ‘beeknees’, but unfortunately, hardly any of the manufacturers of .45s put them on their weapons. EAA does, but their barrel is 4.5 inches and I’m a dyed in the wool kind of guy that will not use anything shorter than 5 inches. IF i had one, I’d mount a green laser on it.
    A light? What? Are you nuts? What do you think your adversary is gonna aim at? I carry a tactical spot light, but I, surely, don’t hold it in front of my body!

    1. If you’re wanting a laser for your .45, check out potential guide rod replacement lasers – I installed one in my Colt 1911 w/o need for a rail

    2. Nah. The only truly effective rail gun around right now is the one that the U.S. Navy is working on. Takes all the power a battleship can produce to power it. However: if you are a ‘techie’ ,plans can be found on the web for a rail gun that will actually fire a projectile, not fast, not far, but it does work. Might even give someone a nasty bruise, should you shoot them with it. Okay, slightly off topic. My bad.

  12. I can see mounting a laser on a pistol rail, but not a light. Besides the effect on holster options, there’s two major (and much bigger) problems with pistol-mounted lights.

    1) You need to point the pistol at anything you’re trying to illuminate.
    2) Someone shooting at you will tend to aim at the light source.

    It’s better than having no light at all, but for those two reasons a handheld light will almost always be a much better option.

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