From our resident firearms expert and Pramek researcher, Aaron Cowan – a great guide to weapon mounted lights. To discuss more, join Pramek forum and take the discussion to the firearms section! Enjoy!
Some thoughts on weapon mounted lights. – From Aaron Cowan
I wrote about lights for Pramek not too long ago and touched on weapon mounted lights, but I felt the topic deserved more in-depth attention.
Specifically, the handgun variety. Seems like every manufacturer out there worth their brand is producing handguns with accessory rails, (as if there was some never ending list of options one could mount to a handguns frame.aside from lights and lasers, there isnt much that can be done with a few inches of space, but I digress). As the quality of lights has improved, so too has the affordability and ergonomics (the Surefire X300 is a genetically superior marvel compared to its Laser Products ancestors), anyone with an extra hundred+ dollars to spare can pick up a quality weapon light and without so much as a set of directions, have it mounted to their rail equipped weapon of choice in little time (again, unlike the infuriating installation process of some earlier weapon lights)
But is a weapon mounted light, (again, focusing on handguns) a good thing?
And an explanation.
When the weapon light was still almost exclusively in the realm of the professional shooter, the civilian self-defense side was blissfully happy with a handheld light and a set of quality night sights. Serious CCW shooters trained with the time-tested flashlight methods like Ayoob, Neck Index, FBI, and later, Harris. Proficiency was pursued and little lip service was paid to ‘Gucci’ gear like the first Surefire weapon lights. Insight (Streamlight) changed all that with the M3 polymer body weapon light. It was bright (90 lumens, pretty impressive for the time), durable and affordable (retailed out the gate for just under $200) It really was the first mainstream weapon light aimed at the civilian market. I bought two of them, one was smartly mounted to my carry gun at the time, a USP .45, the second found a home on the 870 pump I had at the time. I fiddled with both constantly and burned through hundreds of dollars in batteries (Surefire was not producing batteries at the time, so I was dropping damn near $14 at a time on a pair of 3vs. After hundreds of rounds, both lights kept right on ticking and I still have one of them to this day (the shotgun light went with me to a far away land and didnt make it back.) What I learned from the early days of weapon light proliferation was something I already knew, but it seemed like anyone else I met (outside of professional shooters) didnt grasp.
Never point your weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot, kill, or destroy. Paraphrase it however you like, its one of the four Cardinal rules and it doesnt have an ‘unless you have a weapon mounted light’ caveat. If you equip your handgun with a light and rely only on the weapon light to conduct a search, you are damning yourself to violating this rule. No way around it.
Weapon lights are a critical force multiplier, they shave tenths of seconds off your OODA loop cycle, they increase the intimidation factor, safety, accuracy and survivability, but they also seem to make people negate the basic rules.
Weapon lights are for violent encounters, not searching in the ‘bump in the night’ sense of the term.
Searching for a known hostile? Yes.
Searching for a light switch? No
Searching for a secondary shooter? Yes
Searching for that muffled banging sound out back? Fuck no.
Weapon lights are for searching and confronting KNOWN threats. Everything else gets the handheld light. Why? Well, aside from the obvious, it comes down to (1)training, (2)OODA and (3)telegraphing.
(1)If I train with the light mounted, I build in (to one degree or another) the habit of target/light association. Light will equal target, which equals smooth and even pressure to the rear, which almost always results in a loud bang. If I train to illuminate then fire, illuminate then fire, I am damning myself to possibly shooting an innocent person under stress when I paint them with the light. If I train to search with a handheld, I can try as hard as I want and wont be able to shoot anyone with it. Think of it like target lock; The handheld paints the target, the weapon pulls into the handheld, sight alignment, sight picture, weapon light on and the bad guy sees two headlights right before he sees nothing. Sound complicated? Sure, so was walking when you first tried it.
The point is; we sometimes have to make things a little more complicated in order to prevent needless violence. I have a weapon light for every weapon I own. I carry one at work, I also have a handheld light right there with it. I train to shoot with both and with neither. I train this way to avoid dependency…I train all my officers this way. I have been known to take the batteries out of officers lights during range training to reinforce the point.
(2)I can shoot just fine without the light, I dont rely on it, I appreciate it being there like an old friend, but I know it was designed by man and assembled by Murphy. If I train to rely on the light and it fails, I may just get stuck in a momentary feedback loop, OODA will pass me by and I will be certified screwed.
(3)Telegraphing is also a major concern. If my only light is my weapon light, I am forced to telegraph the presence and direction of aim each time I turn the light on. After god knows how many hours of running low/no-light force on force, I can say with fair accuracy that if you are sulking about with a handgun or rifle mounted light, I can tell and tell the difference between the two just by the way the light is wielded. Handgun lights are quick, jerky and sporadic. Rifle lights move like they are on rails, like a passing car. Both weapon mounted lights have a tendency to remain at the horizontal, scanning eye level with the occasional sky and ground check. Handheld lights pulse all over the damn place and if the operator/officer is performing as instructed, it will be incredibly hard for me to figure out which way they are headed, or even where they actually are.
Having covered, if only pointedly, the technical, now I can address the lights themselves. How bright? No more than 110 lumens, LED preferred. The reason for this is multi-pointed. A light brighter than 110 will wash out night sights, LEDs tend to be more forgiving on glowing tritium than incandescent and a brighter light may cast irregular shadows at the edge of the light cone, causing movement illusions. Also, a bright, focused light may give the shooter a target he/she is confident of hitting but perhaps one they are not able to readily identify. Lastly, the brighter the light, the more backsplash one is going to get off of flat surfaces.
Pressure pads: yes and no. The pressure pad is a wonderful tool that allows the shooter to turn the light on by applying pressure to either the side grip of the gun or (as with surefire) with the middle finger just under the trigger guard. The problem with this is that when unholstering, especially under stress, its almost impossible to NOT have a light discharge. I only want the light to come on when I want it to and having my weapon pulse each time I draw it is simply unacceptable. Of course if the handgun is strictly for home defense, I would recommend a pressure pad so long as the user trains with it also trains for when it fails.
Lights: As far as im concerned, there are only two manufacturers worth a damn when it comes to handgun lights; Surefire and Streamlight. I have seen the Blackhawk Zyphos light fail first-hand on repeated occasions and would only recommend it to the Taliban.
-Surefire. The X300 (dont waste the money on the X400) is a 110+ lumen LED that is stupid durable and has an excellent battery life. An added and ingenious feature is that the monetary switch is simply pressing forward, towards the bezel of the light, on the rocker switch as opposed to the up is on, down is monetary or vice-versa. This nifty feature makes it easy to pulse the light and to keep it on when firing and have it go off right when you want it to.
-Streamlight. The TLR-1 is inexpensive and just as bright as the Surefire. It lacks the intuitive built-in pressure switch of the X300, but the momentary rocker activation is manageable and wont stick. The TLR-1 is also available in strobe.
Holsters: For CCW, go Kydex, Raven Concealment (4+ month wait) Kaluban Cloak ( a few weeks at the most) or give Walter with Spetzgear a call and get a holster just as good or better much faster than both. If its for duty, Safariland is all she wrote.
Bona fides: For those of you that dont know; I am a NRA LE firearms instructor, Active Shooter Response instructor, Simunitions Instructor, Police Officer and SRT (SWAT) officer. I put in at least 20 hours a month of live fire and am responsible for the firearms training of 30+ sworn Police Officers and 8 tactical medics.
Aside from that, I have spent thousands of dollars of my own money and three times that of your tax dollars buying, evaluating and then breaking flashlights. If a flashlight makes a claim, I have tested it.
Caveat Emptor: Despite my resume, dont take my word for it. I offer it only as a justification of my advice and conclusions. I do not know everything and am not the greatest at anything. I just do this for a living and like to share my experiences. Feel free to offer opinions, debates or arguments.