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The Cult of KISS

There is a segment of shooters out there who assert that, for self-defense or SHTF, only a KISS (keep it simple stupid) rifle will do. Their definition of KISS usually equates to an AR-15 with iron sights only, usually with standard hand guards, possibly without a light, and sometimes without even a sling. You can hear them coming with phrases like “an optic will fail you at the worst time” and “weapon lights just giveaway your position and give your enemy something to shoot at.” These shooters often congregate in self-affirming internet forums where they can congratulate themselves for seeing the true path to enlightenment and tout their rifles as the ultimate in lightweight, easy to use, reliable self-defense tools.

Let’s just be honest for a moment… Many of these people are drawn to the KISS concept because they are cheap. The Cult of KISS allows them to have a rifle, spend as little as possible, and still feel like they are accepted in a cool guy club all while having a rifle that is the exact opposite of the principle of simplicity they are waving over everyone’s head.

Irons vs. Optics: One of these sighting systems is measurably better than the other…

The problem is not necessarily with the rifles themselves but rather with the attitude of those who are pushing the concept. If you are going to ignore the measurable improvements in functionality and simplicity that items like red dot scopes (RDS) provide, be honest as to why you are doing it. People who take these positions allow their own personal dogmas to dictate what is best, rather than basing those conclusions current state of the art and measurable data that is gathered on the range and in the field. They fixate on the gear or the cost of the gear, instead of the performance.

To be clear, this sort of blind adherence or marriage to gear is certainly not unique to the Cult of KISS. It isn’t even true about everyone who owns a KISS rifle. In fact, similar attitudes may be even more prevalent in the crowd that tends to have more accessories on their rifles.

Measurably Better

Optics have come a long way. Optics like those from Aimpoint have exceeded the reliability of iron sights in many ways – if you take a broader view of what reliability really means. They can take an incredible beating – in the case of Aimpoints, they can take the type of beating that would break or bend iron sights. In fact, I have seen more iron sights fail than Aimpoints. They have battery life that can be measured in years. They are more usable across a variety of shooting positions, environmental conditions, and lighting conditions. The old “they will fail on you at the worst time” is no longer valid.

Perhaps most importantly given the topic, red dot sights make rifles simpler to shoot! Take two shooters of equal skill and run them through a course of fire. One of them will use iron sights. One will use an Aimpoint (or other reliable RDS). Throw in some varying weather conditions, lighting conditions, mixed distances, and non-standard shooting positions and you will see a measurable difference in performance. The shooter with the RDS will be faster and more accurate. The RDS will be more usable across a wider range of shooting positions, lighting, and weather conditions.

You can’t (and shouldn’t) shoot, what you can’t see. A light is necessary on a defensive rifle.

Now, let’s run the course with the same shooters again. This time it will take place completely in the dark. One shooter will have a quality weapon light and an RDS. The other will have iron sights and no light. The performance difference will be staggering.

The use of free float hand guards are also often scoffed at by KISS adherents. They do this despite the facts. They will say that they are concerned about weight and yet there are numerous railed hand guards that actually weigh less than standard plastic hand guards. They also seem unaware that the lack of free floating can throw POI off by as much as 10 MOA (sometimes more, stay tuned for an article about this) under normal shooting conditions. While, I am not sure I would call a free float hand guard essential, it is a huge improvement and it does make the rifle simpler to shoot.

We could run the same course of fire mentioned above with 2 shooters. One would have a free float hand guard and the other would have standard hand guards. The one with the free float hand guard will have more consistent hits from a variety of shooting positions.

KISS 2.0

Can a skilled shooter utilize a KISS rifle effectively? Yes. Will they work a heck of a lot harder to do it? Yes.

The KISS rifle as it is currently thought of today on internet forums and gun store counters is anything but simple. How are you keeping it simple if you have to work harder to perform to any given standard? That is the exact opposite of KISS!

This is closer to the true concept of KISS than any iron sighted, light-less, sling-less rifle will ever be.

I propose a new idea for the KISS concept. A KISS rifle should be as simple as possible while still taking into account measurably better systems that actually do make rifles simpler to use. A RDS can make a good shooter better by virtue of its simpler sight picture. A light can make a good shooter safer by making it easier to see what they are shooting at in the dark. A sling makes it easier to carry the rifle. Free float hand guards make it easier to mount a light and easier to shoot accurately. Better, simpler, safer, easier –these are the concepts that truly equate to KISS.

KISS 2.0 = a quality AR-15, a quality RDS (and BUIS), a quality weapon light, a quality sling, and possibly a light weight free float hand guard.

Keep is Simple and Keep it Real

Call a spade, a spade. If you are using a so called KISS rifle because you like the concept, you want a shooting range plinker, you have lots of training time on similar rifles, or because you can’t (or won’t) spend on items like an RDS that is great but be able to accept that there is a measurably better way. If you can learn to think in terms of performance rather fixating on gear, you will find that it is harder to become married to any one piece of gear or concept. If your concept of gear doesn’t meet your performance standards, ditch it.

This isn’t an anti iron sight article. I am only trying to point out the inconsistencies in a “movement” that portends to value simplicity while ignoring the gear that has made carbine truly simpler to use. Let’s have truly simple rifles, not simple minds.

10 Responses to The Cult of KISS

  1. 032125 June 11, 2012 at 18:22 #

    You’ve encapsulated the phenomenon very, very well.Your KISS 2.0 section was spot-on.

  2. John @ UWGear June 11, 2012 at 19:13 #

    Couldnt agree more. I’d also add that the exact same issues are present, in folks who go to the polar opposite.

    • Matt June 11, 2012 at 19:37 #

      Agreed, and I did mention that.

  3. Big Indian June 11, 2012 at 20:48 #

    KISER (“Kisser” (Keep It Simple-r) How’s that?!

  4. Rob June 11, 2012 at 23:53 #

    Nice write up Matt.

  5. Bryan June 12, 2012 at 07:51 #

    Good wisdom Matt.

  6. Frago June 12, 2012 at 08:09 #

    Spot on, sir!

  7. george June 15, 2012 at 10:09 #

    I have to disagree. Simplicity, reliability, and light weight should be the goal. That said, a Aimpoint T-1 is simple, reliable, and lightweight. A surefire mini scout light (on a non-complex mount) fits all of those critera as well. A sling is nice, but not completly necessary. You have to put it on, it can catch on things, and unless you’re patrolling (which you won’t be because you’re not in Iraq) I don’t see it being a necessity. A forward grip is not a must-have for a usable rifle. A redi-mag is not a necesity. The point of a KISS rifle is not to build the cheapest rifle possible, it’s to make a minimalist, lightweight, simple rifle.

  8. Mike@AppalachianTraining June 17, 2012 at 20:49 #

    Matt,
    As usual great insight. The rub is always in the definition. The “2.0” approach made me realize that my definition of “KISS”…for arguments sake lets call it “minimum requirements”, is different than others in our community. However, mine is pretty close to your 2.0 (go figure). For me (again for ME, not anyone else) the minimum on my carbine is an Aimpoint, BUIS, light, and a sling. I prefer a VFG as a hand stop but don’t need it in the “Minimum Requirements” package. If the weapon is primarily HD and will not leave the house…the sling may be left off. But that is the only time that deletion will even be considered, and probably not even then. To each his own; I’ve been bested by guys shooting irons before. But I know through the process of thousands and thousands of rounds…I am better/ faster with my “Minimum Requirements” carbine. Great discussion.

  9. Mike July 5, 2012 at 21:27 #

    2.0 is the way to go. I feel a defensive weapon that does not have a weapons light is irresponsable. In my experience, you know movies and fiction novels, defensive shootings in the home happen at night.

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