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Reader Joshua asks (nearly a year ago now):

Can you tell me how useful a Crimson Trace laser system would be for a beginner?

A red laser sounds pretty cool. Green laser sounds cool too, but given physics, is going to have more powerplant issues, and buying batteries is annoying, and replacing them often is annoying. The whole option itself gets this new shooter wondering: how important is a laser sight at all? Is it a supplement for dark environs? Is it to make things easier in a chaotic combat situation, day or night? How hard are red lasers to see, how easy are green ones? . . .

So let’s say three questions:

1. How important are laser grips for a beginner?
2. What can laser grips do for someone who is not a beginner?
3. How do those specific benefits translate into weighing the benefits between a green laser and a red laser?

I guess I can conclude with this: I don’t think any gun magically gets better by putting a laser on it. Operators are not obviated from the need to operate the trigger and handle recoil and aim properly, they just get some visual feedback if they are doing it wrong. So, how important is that? Is it more important the more of a beginner you are, or something an intermediate shooter should only then begin to think about incorporating into their shooting?

Anyway, I love your blog.

A laser is quite possibly the most useful thing you can put on a self defense firearm. But you have to understand its limitations, and practice with it.

In terms of a home defense situation, lasers are downright essential. When properly aimed, they give you a visual reference point as to where your round is going to land even in the pitch black of an Oregon night. Take it from someone who’s done a bit of competition shooting in that inky blackness: everything you intend to fire at night needs a laser. While you might think that a flashlight is good enough to let you see your sights, the reality is that under the dump of adrenaline, you’re going to feel they’re impossible to use.

Lasers also can have an almost instant behavioral modification effect on attackers. The psychological impact of seeing a laser pointed at your chest, especially one attached to a gun, has been known to make attackers think twice about going after people. Its comforting to know that I have one more option in my arsenal before I need to take that step to using lethal force.

But I get the feeling that you’re looking for the usefulness of lasers in terms of training.

For live fire training, lasers are marginally useful. You can kind of see where your shot is going to end up and watch how your muzzle moves as you start to squeeze the trigger. It’ll let you know if you’re flinching, and what your muzzle is doing, but the actual moment of recoil is still so overpowering that the laser isn’t really useful.

Where the laser really shines is in dry fire training. When I’m sitting at home watching TV, I have a bunch of pictures on my wall that I practice shooting again and again with the laser on my pistol turned on. I can see how the muzzle moves as I take up the slack in the trigger, and I can see any flinching or other nasty habits going on and correct them. It also aides in my point shooting practice, getting to the point where I don’t really need to use the targets to hit a man-sized object. In fact, there are a number of training aides on the market that perform the same function using lasers, but I prefer to use one attached to the pistol I’m actually using (as opposed to a facsimile of some sort).

So, to answer your questions, lasers are helpful for both beginners and those with some firearms experience. In a home defense or low light shooting situation, they make life MUCH easier and I cannot recommend them enough. Which is why my nightstand gun has a light as well as a set of CT lasergrips. But even for training purposes, using a laser for dry fire practice is a fantastic idea and highly recommended.

As for the green laser / red laser question, the answer used to be that reds are smaller and cheaper while greens are brighter, bigger and more expensive. However, Crimson Trace has done such a good job in creating low-cost and tiny green lasers that there really isn’t that big of a difference in price anymore. The question comes down to which one you’d prefer. Humans see green much better in the dark than red, but red is the color people usually associate with lasers and would be better if you’re wanting that “behavior modification” ability.

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via [email protected]. Click here to browse previous posts]

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  1. “The psychological impact of seeing a laser pointed at your chest, especially one attached to a gun, has been known to make attackers think twice about going after people.”

    Is this gonna be the “racking of a shotgun will scare ’em away” meme for 2013?

    • ME! I KNOW!! I KNOW!!!

      Ahem. Yes, the sound of a twelve-gauge shotgun racking a shell into the shooting wigwam is INDEED a sign of SERIOUS intent to self-defend. It will make the criminal hesitate, at the very least.

      Therefore, double-plus good.

    • The difference is that the “racking of the pump gun” means there wasn’t a round in the chamber — gun wasn’t ready to go. It requires me to make one move before I have s usable tool.

      The spot of the laser is on when I grip the gun (I use Crimson Trace). I don’t have to do anything. And yes, there is a round in the chamber. I see the behavioral effect as being a no-cost possible bonus.

      • If you want to scare someone, get a DiFi mask (glow in the dark for night ops). If you are in a defensive situation, squeeze the f’n trigger. And BTW I’m in George’s camp. (no kids or relatives except the wife in the house. no visitors to areas with weapons) I keep one in the tube, so the sound of racking (after the first shot, though Joe recommends two) will be to scare the second guy.

    • Twice in Iraq, I used a visible laser to scare off someone approaching who couldn’t see us, even though we could see them. They were investigating sound. No language issues, no misunderstanding… Haji perfectly understood exactly what was about to happen and it worked very well as an escalation of force tool. Last opportunity not to have to kill. When they failed to heed the warning, we switched the laser to infrared and used the lasers to aim 100% of the time at night with night vision. I have a hard time using an EoTech at night even at lowest setting. With a laser I am much more accurate.

      I know many will think it stupid, like the sound of a shotgun pump. But how many stories on this web sight are of self-defense gun use where the gun owner never fired a shot, but just scared off the would be attacker. Your attacker can’t see your 357 revolver at night, but they can see the laser. True lasers work both ways….but if you laz someone, to me that is the same as shooting them except the trigger hasn’t depressed fully. If the would-be home invader doesn’t immediately stop and retreat, I increase the pressure on the trigger. At night it is very hard to see. Unless you have night sights, you won’t see the front sight post, and even if you could focus on the front sight… Then you couldn’t see the blurry shadowy target.

  2. For real-life situations they are useful if you have no way of getting a sight picture, such as defending yourself while in an automobile.

  3. I think you meant aids and sights not targets.

    It also aid[e]s in my point shooting practice, getting to the point where I don’t really need to use the targets [sights?] to hit a man-sized object.

  4. One other factor with lasers is they tend to be blinding when pointed at the face. I have several red laser, and just got two green ones. Love em!

  5. I must disagree, Lasers have a very narrow useful light range and work horribly in the area you say they excel at (weapons intended to be shot in the dark). In a dark room, even a TLR-1 will almost completely wash out green laser, and will without question wash out a red laser. outside where the intensity of your light is less because of greater distances, they may be effective as in your video, but once again, the lasers that 80% of people use wouldn’t be visible (red lasers).

    If they have any benefit, it is in standard interior lighting conditions. I think its really funny that proponents of lasers talk about dark conditions when lasers are about as functional in pure dark conditions (which require a light to illuminate the target) as they are in bright sunlight

    That being said, if I got them for free from crimson trace and ran them in a range set up by CT to show the strengths of the laser, I would probably like them too. But I personally don’t find them to be worth the additional cost.

    Just my opinions

    • And yet, at no training penalty, it is useful in enough situations, including daylight in my experience, why not? If the downside is economy, there are many arguments all around.

      Surely there must be a CT federal subsidy, it being the postal abbrev. for Connecticut, right?

    • In true darkness, you could be correct. But it has been many years since I saw true darkness. My house has so many power lights, lighted clocks, etc that I can still see dim shapes with all the house lights off. I have a red laser which I can see at least 300 feet at night. At that range I am so shaky I can’t hold the dot on a man size object holding my 9mm.
      Also, I need reading glasses which I usually have on in the house. With the glasses on objects 20 feet away are hard to define. Without the glasses I can not focus on the sights. The laser solves that problem.
      The 22 I use for target practice does not have a laser, so I’m fairly confident if the laser fails when I need it, I will still be able to fire with reasonable confidence of hitting my target.

  6. In terms of day time shooting self defense ect. No there not needed or any advantage. At night they are helpful in low light. So depends on your situation they can help alot or in the day be near worthless.

  7. Noobs should first learn to shoot well with iron sights, never with lasers. I’ve watched too many new shooters “chasing the dot” all over the paper when they should have been learning how to line up a good sight picture.

    • If they’re using them correctly, the dot is but a halo around the front sight. But then, as I note elsewhere, it is kind of mesmerizing.

    • The owner of the range I go to and the instructor for a class I took told a wonderful story of an older lady practicing using a laser on her revolver. The laser only clipped to the trigger guard, however, and started sliding down, pointing the laser lower and lower the longer she shot. After she got more and more frustrated, the range owner politely asked the nice lady why she was shooting his ceiling. You can imagine the look on her face when she figured out why she wasn’t hitting the paper.

    • +1

      Learn everything low tech first to better understand how a firearm works as well as basic marksmenship and then add optics, scopes, lasers, and whatever other goodies.

  8. I only have a mid-grade laser on one gun, a SBR AK, it’s connected to the left side of a quad rail and a flashlight is in the right side, both have pressure switches attached to a mako vertical grip on bottom rail and the top of rail is empty allowing me a full view of the accurate irons.
    The only purpose for this gun is CQC. The irons are accurate out to 200+ yards on a 12″ barrel. I do have a true Russian mount plate to attach a side scope mount but I don’t use a scope on this gun, but the laser is specifically for say 5-50 max yards.
    In certain situations especially in dim or dark, more so indoors but outdoors as well, this laser on my AK helps me tremendously with both accuracy and more so with speed.
    We have multiple combat shooting set-ups at our range and the indoor “room to room” is one of my favorites with this gun.

    I’m sure there are other types of uses for lasers but I have only the one for the sole purpose of CQC. The key is grabbing one that can keep it’s zero for a decent amount of shots.

    I agree with the very first post, the psychological effect a laser has on a person it’s being used on, or even the effect on someone just witnessing it being used is heavy. The first time I remember seeing a laser sold stock with a firearm was when I was like 13 and Mossberg came out with the 410 shotgun with a laser called the Imtimidator, and it looked intimidating.

  9. What do they say? Tracer rounds work both ways. Same goes for lasers.
    If it’s dark, don’t give yourself, or your position away before you need to. Also, the LaserMax site has testimonials to the behavior-altering deterrence of a red laser pointed at someone’s center-mass. I think it’s universally understood, that yellow is a color that implies caution, to be alert, while red is a color that implies danger, govern yourself accordingly, or you may never live long enough to regret it.

    For dry fire training? Absolutely. Use a snap cap when dry-firing. Watch the laser dance. I dry-fire at 1″ and 2″ round stickers on the walls. Office Depot sells them. Stay within the sticker through to hammer strike. Muscle memory. Your grouping will noticeably improve, without having to spend thousands of rounds at the range. With ammo being scarce and expensive, it’s a good cost effective way to achieve real improvement, while saving your ammo for the day you really need it.

    I chose LaserMax mostly so I didn’t have to buy a new raft of holsters just to accommodate an external laser. The laser is hidden in the guide rod of my Sig 226 and 228. The ambidextrous on/off is in the pin of the replacement slide lock. Genius.

    • I’ve had my eye on one of those. Just wish it wasn’t 400 bucks….

      Have you had any problems with the gun cycling since you’ve replaced the spring? That’s one of my concerns.

      • “Just wish it wasn’t 400 bucks….”

        I’m with you. But sometimes, good ideas are worth it.
        IMHO, this is one of them. I only wish I had thought of it.

        The replacement spring is not an issue. No Problemo.
        The only problem was my one Kydex holster. The replacement slide lock tab is a tad thicker than OEM.
        It caused friction and was binding a little on the draw.
        A little Dremel action(on the Kydex!) it’s all good again.

  10. Lasers are particularly useful for DA revolver dry-fire practice. I have CT grips on my three carry/HD guns – two 1911s (officer/full size) and an S&W m60 snub. At the range I practice about 25% with lasers, 75% iron.

  11. I have lasers on my weapons, along with lights, but i would never totally rely on any aid. Academy training included night fire w/o lights. At reasonable ranges, you get a sight pic from muzzle flash.

    As to racking a 12 gauge, I prefer the safety of an empty chamber and no need to put on the safety before employing it.

    A loaded chamber is just a little too accident prone for my tastes.

    that being said, its a personal preference

  12. And here I was thinking that I was the only one that practiced dry firing while watching TV.

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