Firearm evolution is a slow, tedious matter at times, with breakthroughs and improvements coming in bits and pieces. It is influenced by a multitude of factors, such as manufacturing techniques, metallurgy, cartridge improvements, technology, market forces (i.e., capitalism) and countless other factors, as experienced in individual countries and cultures.
The firearm development path covers centuries. One of the most basic concepts that has remained constant (or stagnant, depending on point of view), is handgun sights. The earliest muzzle-loading pistols feature sights we can recognize today in the form of a front post and some sort of rear notch with which it is aligned.
Yes, modern open sights are more refined, but the basic form is the same—align the front post within the rear notch. This is now undergoing a change with the advent of red-dot sights (RDS) in lieu of the traditional iron open sights used for everyday personal defense weapons, law enforcement and military weapons.
HANDGUN EVOLUTION BREAKTHROUGH
Competition handguns have sported enhanced sights such as red-dots or magnified optics for decades now. However, a subtle movement is underway to incorporate red-dots into everyday concealed-carry or personal-defense handguns. The previously applied red-dots were big and ungainly affairs, with complex custom mounts utilized for a “gaming” application and less than suitable for everyday carry.
This is not the case with the current RDS offerings coming on line. The ever-rising groundswell of RDS on handguns is evident, with multiple manufacturers offering options of mounting RDS to the frames of their semiautomatic handguns.
A leader driving the RDS concept, both in theory and application, is Suarez International (SI). SI also encompasses a worldwide training organization. This assists in proofing concepts and providing real-world feedback. Gabe Suarez is the driving force behind all SI endeavors.
Recent events illustrate what a dangerous world we inhabit—with terrorist attacks growing in frequency and coming closer to home. If a hostile situation is encountered, the civilian will most likely be defending himself with a handgun. A handgun is definitely not the optimum choice, especially when compared to a rifle, and is a compromise between portability and performance.
SI first began work on the RDS concept when seeking an answer to questions posed by many of its students regarding how best to enhance the handgun—the primary weapon for many.
Proficiency with a handgun is one of the most perishable weapon skills. It is impacted as we get older as a result of changes in our vision, which can cause difficulty seeing iron sights and the target at the same time or difficulty transitioning focus between the front sight and the target.
The solution was the same as most had already opted for with their rifles: Add a red-dot sight. That solution, with trial and error in product development, not only assisted SI’s students, but also enhanced the basic ability of the personal-defense handgun platform as a whole. The Suarez Guttersnipe 17 9mm is an excellent example of this. It is one of the company’s most popular RDS handgun upgrade offerings.
CUSTOM WITH A PURPOSE
The Suarez use of the term, “Guttersnipe,” harkens back to the custom ASP handgun from the 1970s. The ASP was based on the S&W Model 39, with gunsmith Paris Theodore totally reworking it to excel in close-quarter encounters. The unique sighting system on the ASP, referred to as a “Guttersnipe” sight, was a narrowing U-channel with fluorescent-yellow panels that would form three triangles, all pointed at the target when the sight was properly aligned.
Advances with red-dot sights now supplant the role of the original Guttersnipe sight.
The Suarez International Guttersnipe 17 begins with a customer-provided Glock G17 frame. Two customization areas that are immediately noticed are the grip frame and the Suarez V3 SI317 red-dot-ready slide. SI starts by reducing the G17 frame to G19 dimensions. This is a reflection of the grip being the most problematic portion to conceal; because the slide doesn’t print, it is most likely in the waistband and in line with the hip/leg if practicing concealed carry. The longer G17 slide, combined with customized grip, improves concealability but also contributes to a superior-feeling handgun with better balance.
The SI 317 slide is specifically designed and built to function with the Trijicon RMR. An adjustable LED 6.5 MOA-dot Trijicon RMR was chosen.
Suarez technicians consult with each end user about the profile and texture desired. I chose not to go with finger grooves on the grip, and I had an extended beavertail molded into place, as well. Multiple frame colors and slide finishes are available.
While the grip frame and mounted RMR grab your attention esthetically, SI continues with significant upgrades, such as co-witnessing suppressor-height sights, along with a Suarez match-grade barrel. Suarez barrels are created from LotharWalther chrome-moly match blanks and feature 1:10-inchtwist rifling. The barrels are black-Melonite finished.
Suarez then adds its own SI “flat and straight” patrol-grade trigger (other trigger types are available).
Geometrically flat and straight triggers improve mechanical leverage and allow you to consistently place your shooting finger in the most advantageous location for manipulation. The Guttersnipe’s entire action is polished and tuned. All of this creates a superior carry handgun that excels in gun fighting and not just reactive defense.
RANGE TIME—TIME TO PROVE SOMETHING
Range-testing of the Suarez Guttersnipe 17 took place at Echo Valley Training Center (Winchester, Virginia) and Defender Tactical (Wardensville, West Virginia).
Initial testing priorities were making sure that Glock reliability was not compromised and that the Trijicon RMR red-dot proves to be a worthy addition by increasing capability beyond what was expected from a normal iron-sighted Glock. A concern based on brief handling of other red-dot-equipped handguns was being able to find the RMR’s dot just as quickly as traditional iron sights, especially in quick/fast close-range affairs.
Suarez’s orientation of the suppressor-style iron sights around the red-dot acts as both backup sights and quickly fixes the shooter’s eye to the red dot stationed above the front post. I found the use of the red-dot sight easy to learn and, after just a short time, I was able to put the dot on target quickly.
Point-shooting with the Suarez Guttersnipe is still very possible using the RMR’s window as a ghost ring— albeit a large ghost ring—if the shooter is forced to react spontaneously to a threat. The RMR red dot was easy to pick up, and the sight assisted in engaging targets quickly. Both eyes open is strongly suggested; it is a must to get the most out of the RDS concept.
The RMR offered the capability to engage multiple targets in rapid sequence with faster transition between targets compared to open sights, because there’s no need to align front and rear irons—you just place the dot on the plate. It also helps that the Trijicon RMR’s 6.5 MOA dot doesn’t obscure the target.
Speed drills involving plate racks and dueling trees were run with times more similar to a pistol-caliber carbine than a handgun. The advantage offered by the use of red-dot sights in the competition environment is well-known.
The Trijicon RMR sight withstood the recoil and heat generated by repeatedly long strings of fire. The RMR weighs 1.2 ounces, which aids its ability to withstand the inertial forces experienced as a slide reciprocates.
As many “maturing” shooters can confirm, the single-focus plane with the red-dot sight is easier to shoot accurately than coordinating front and rear sights. These shooters can now do as nature intends for them to do: focus on the threat. Moreover, because the indexing of a red-dot sight is far easier than pieces of steel, shooters find they can perform beyond what was considered possible with iron sights … all simply because the concept uses the eyes in a more normal manner.
I invited David Altenburg of Defender Tactical to attend an initial range session with the Suarez Guttersnipe 17. David’s career credentials as a Marine and FBI special agent speak for themselves. He is an active participant in various regional IDPA/IPSC matches and also attends training seminars given by the best instructors in the country who visit Echo Valley Training Center during the year. This allows him to maintain the proficiency levels he has worked so hard to achieve.
David’s familiarity with the Glock, a formerly issued FBI sidearm, allowed for a quick comparison with the Suarez variant. David, himself, has been exploring the RDS concept, and I appreciated getting his guidance regarding how best to maximize the Suarez Guttersnipe 17. I quickly sensed that the Guttersnipe 17 possessed inherent accuracy superior to what I was capable of; this was very reassuring and instills confidence in a handgun.
Range-testing purposely included DeSantis, Comp-Tac, BlackHawk and Galco holsters in order to determine if the Suarez Guttersnipe 17 was worthy of being considered for everyday concealed-carry duties. Holsters with generous, open-cut tops were the easiest to use with the RMR-topped slide.
Drills consisted of drawing from concealment to see if the red-dot sight was easy to obtain when operating in haste. Various scenarios engaging targets from behind cover or on the move were also utilized. Magazine change drills were done for the dual purpose of getting a feel of manipulating the Guttersnipe with the RMR installed and making sure the red dot was seamlessly picked up after reload and back on target.
A Suarez magazine guide is hand fitted on the Guttersnipe’s reduced G17 frame. The Suarez guide not only funnels the magazine into the grip smoothly during reloads, it also serves to keep the firing hand in place and orientated correctly, no matter the rate of fire. It didn’t take long to figure out that the Suarez Guttersnipe 17 has great potential in terms of accuracy, speed and extending effective engagement distances.
PUSHING THE ENVELOPE
What sets the Suarez Guttersnipe 17 apart is the amount of product development and field trials it received from Suarez International. Gabe’s videos discussing the RDS concept (these can be found on the SI website) are excellent resources for understanding best practices to use to maximize skill with an RDS-equipped handgun. This kind of support is not typical of 99 percent of other providers of RDS handguns.
For example, a key part of the Suarez red-dot system stressed repeatedly in Gabe Suarez’s writing and videos is to have the red dot co-witnessing with the handgun’s iron sights. There are many reasons for this: Anything electronic can fail, no matter how rugged. Thus, it’s important to have backup sights ready. Another advantage of the Suarez decision to retain elevated irons around the red dot is that it provides instant verification of zero; and, if not zeroed, there’s instant backup. Lastly, the co-witness sights assist in initial orientating to the red dot, especially during a shooter’s first exposure to the RDS format.
The use of the Suarez Guttersnipe 17 as an everyday-carry handgun is what sets it apart from other endeavors incorporating red-dot sights on pistols.
The Suarez Guttersnipe 17 is a handgun that pushes the envelope past “safe” norms while still maintaining real-world fighting application. The Guttersnipe increases the effectiveness of a concealed-carry handgun beyond what many thought possible with the platform.
ACTION: Glock DAO
SLIDE: Heat-treated 17-4 aerospace stainless steel (Suarez V3 SI-319)
FRAME: Glock G17, polymer
FRAME FINISH: Covert Grey frame (other options available)
GRIPS: Custom textured
BARREL: Suarez match grade, 4.5 inches (threaded)
OVERALL LENGTH: 7.75 inches
WEIGHT: 20.2 ounces (unloaded)
SIGHTS: Suarez Elevated Suppressor Sights and Trijicon RMR 6.5 MOA red-dot
CAPACITY: Uses 15-, 17- and 33-round Glock magazines
MSRP: $750 (starting price, with options available)
SUAREZ INTERNATIONAL SuarezInternational.com
DEFENDER TACTICAL DefenderTactical.net
ECHO VALLEY TRAINING CENTER EchoValleyTraining.com
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.