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Newbie John H. is a recent convert to the way of the gun, having only played video games and engaged in a little paintball from time to time. Now, being a new gun owner, he was surprised by how much of a nickel-and-dime situation firearm accessories can be.

Talking with him in a local gun store he had this question . . .

How come these (pistol) lights are so expensive? I get them for police, but what am I really getting with them? Wouldn’t it be better to have a pistol and carry a light? Like what if there was something in the dark and I had to point my gun at it to see it and it was not something I wanted to have a gun pointed at?

That’s a good question and there are some varying schools of thought here.

The Expense of Weapon Lights

As you can see in the photos, my own guns have some decent quality lights from Surefire and Streamlight. As I feel like I constantly say in my articles, you get what you pay for and that’s no different with weapon lights.

Luckily we live in a capitalist environment (at least for the time being) and there are many spectrums of what expensive looks like. I know guys who love their Natty Lite and others who spend $20 a bottle on some short run IPA.

When we’re talking weapon lights, it really comes down to what these things are worth to you and the value you put on them depends on how reliable, bright, and rugged you need your light of choice to be.

Sure, the ones that I have here retail for a fairly pretty penny, but it’s what I prefer for the hardest possible use. Many people out there are gun collectors, but I am most assuredly not. The stuff I build for my articles and field use gets badly thrown about. That’s why on my custom 1911 you see a Trijicon RMR and a Surefire X300U-B.

That gun is a multi-use weapon for carry, hunting, and targets and it does all without breaking a a sweat. The gun sees its hardest use while hunting, and I have been successful with it.

I need the best optics, best ammo, and best light for heavy brush, fast-moving deer, and fading light at dusk. I could have put other less expensive accessories on it, but they wouldn’t hold up to the use and abuse I’m going to give them.

Police Use Of Lights

John H. is right that police have a real need for lights on their duty weapons. Police officers should have lights on their guns. They should also have body and car cameras. Those things, among others, need to be in place to ensure public trust in their officers (and for their own protection).

It is very important for cops to correctly identify suspects with weapons and be able to protect themselves and others in all lighting conditions.

Civilian Light Use

Our newbie brings up an interesting point about using your pistol-mounted flashlight to illuminate a suspected danger area, one that’s perhaps harboring a bad guy. I would personally not do this in general and I usually carry a separate handheld flashlight. What do I mean I don’t do this in general?

The fact of the matter is, I am often in sparsely populated, very remote areas. Occasionally I’m alone in areas that have bears, cougar, and crackheads. I’ve been in a seedy roadside motel more than once when the doorknob starts to jiggle. I doubt Smokey is out late seeing who’s got a light.

I know what you’re thinking; ‘Hey idiot, don’t go to those places.’ Fair enough. But the reality of life is that you’re not always in control of that and sometimes you end up places you are just passing through.

Having a gun-mounted light is very, very handy when you are in doubt about a source of possible danger. Pointing a light in any direction will give away your position instantly, even inside a room. The knowledge that you can illuminate and surprise any unwelcome guest is very reassuring.

However, I would not use this method in populated areas unless I were in immediate danger and needed to blind an attacker in the hopes of getting away without firing. By that point, of course, the threat is real and survival is the intention. Pulling out my gun in a mall parking lot to check where I dropped my keys isn’t a good look and I’d stay away from using a gun-mounted light for everyday illumination.

There are many times where I am in populated areas where I carry various options and configurations of light and gun. I will almost always carry a handheld flashlight with me. This is a general tool I use daily (mine is a rechargeable Surefire).

My typical carry guns in mild weather are either a P365 or a Glock 19 Gen5. My P365 has no light and I usually carry it IWB. My G19 is larger, of course, and I usually OWB carry it in a BlackPoint Tactical light-bearing holster.

The light I use on this gun is a Surefire X300U-A for easy removal. I have another BlackPoint holster that’s meant for the gun with no light attached.

In the winter and while hunting, I carry an M17 or a 1911, both of which will have lights on them. The lights don’t add much weight, so it’s nice to have when you’ve already got a bigger gun.

Having a light on your gun as well as a spare light in your pocket is quite practical if you have the ability. I’ll be talking custom holsters and such for lights in an upcoming article and this will hopefully shed some light on the state of where the industry is as far as light-bearing holsters and guns.

If you can put a light on your carry pistol, I would recommend you do so. Shooting at a threat in the dark isn’t great and it really helps to know what lurks beyond your immediate senses. This may mean you need to get a special holster for your exact light and gun combo, which can take a while on a custom order.

The more angles you can cover, the more you can reduce liability in your daily life. Again, no matter how hard you try or how you perceive the world, you are never, ever fully in control of what’s happening around you. You can, however, prepare yourself the best you can, day or night, pray to God, and hope for the best.

Having a light on your gun may indeed be a matter of life and death in some cases, and I think that the price you pay for that extra bit of surety is worth it in the long run.

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64 COMMENTS

  1. I use a hand held light. I won’t use a weapons light.

    The idea of muzzling everyone and everything fails in my rule book.

    • Counterpoint- a weapon light frees your off-hand when you need it, and also permits a full two handed grip when you need that. You don’t have to muzzle anyone, or even use it like a “regular” flashlight. (Your phone probably already has a utility flashlight.) But if you do end up needing to point your gun at someone/thing in the dark, nothing else compares.

      • I run several of my guns (not all) with weapon lights. I carry at least two flashlights at all time, usually three. One is a bright semi-tactical light from Streamlight. The other(s) are smaller emergency lights like a keychain flashlight, pen light, etc.

        As the old saying goes, two is one and one is none.

    • standard technique is to hold the light off to the side….instead of having it give your location away…

    • You don’t have to muzzle anyone. Point the weapon down (or up if indoors) and the spill will illuminate a large area. You don’t have to point directly at something to illuminate it. Counter point: If you do have to engage the weapon light make it 1000% easier to shoot than any off hand flashlight technique. A separate hand held light should always be carried for times you don’t want to have you gun out at all.

      Public service advisory: Buy stream light not surefire. The only weapon light i ever saw fail was a surefire x300, they use polymer for part of their clamp. Surefire used to be worth it when they were the only high end tac light manufacturer. Stream light is just as good for a fraction of the price and the stream light TLR-1-HL is all aluminum construction.

  2. Negative on the weapons mounted light on a pistol. I do not want to muzzle people so I can use the light and I do not want to carry two lights. A hand held light works really well and there are many ways to deploy it with a pistol.

    Other advantages….cheaper/smaller holster, and it makes concealing the weapon just easier over all, with less bulk.

    • Mounted light on my home nightstand gun. Hand held for the EDC.

      I don’t know why people put such huge lights on their handguns. The Olight PL Mini is a perfect fit for Glocks, for example, and matches the frame’s profile while putting out 400 lumens.

    • One is none and two is one. Carry both and you won’t be left in the dark. (not to mention you can illuminate an area/target with the spill of the light without muzzeling)

  3. Good write-up about lights. We use Klarus lights with strobe function for home. At high lumens the strobe is very, very effective. We don’t use lights on EDC though.
    One thing I want to constructively criticize is the use of the word ‘newbie’. Maybe that could be changed to something such as ‘new owner, ‘novice’ or similar. I think the word ‘newbie’ has negative connotations, however that’s just my opinion.

    • Newbie works just fine for me or novice or virgin or whatever. Getting hung up on what something/one is called is how the PC Culture got it’s start. Which has now morphed into Cancel Culture if you don’t follow the Prescribed Dogma. As my grand father always said: “You can call me anything you like. Just don’t call me late to dinner.

  4. You need a light. Hand held or mounted. Your shotgun and your rifle needs a light too. I’ll never get a laser…talk about muzzling!

  5. Once again….its presented as either, or.

    You can have a weapon light ( extremely handy in a gunfight at night).

    But since this still america, you can also have an EDC light alone from your firearm.

    And there is also the “muh phone” camp.

    So we can have both, or one, or none. Your choice.

    Using a weapon light for general lighting needs is STUPID.
    Not ignorant…..STUPID.

    So weapon lights…..good. Using them improperly ……bad.

    Now cue the nathering nabobs who believe you should shoot in the dark because everyone and their fat dog will shoot you when you turn on your light. Better to run around in the dark than to actually identify threats before shooting.

  6. San Francisco, Bronx New York, Plano TX, Camden County NJ, Denver — all and many others have had officer involved shootings that occurred when the cop was trying to activate his weapon mounted light and activated his pistol instead.

    No, cops don’t need WMLs and shouldn’t have them. Every one is a killing waiting to happen.

    • That is not the fault of the WML. That is the fault of individual who fails to train and the agency that fails to mandate training and require competent qualification with said accessory.

    • I am interested in the likelihood of my handheld giving away my position once I have toggled it to 1100 lumens, I do not believe anyone could look at it at noon on a clear day, never mind at night. I have a WML because the laser I ordered was accidentally shipped as the laser/light version (ie, I did not pay for the light), but I keep it turned off. I am much happier with a handheld, although I am not certain of my capabilities with one, practice seems near impossible..

  7. This question has been asked many times and the best answer is: GET TRAINING. With training you’ll know why, or why not, to carry a weapon light. In the force-on-force training I’ve participated in, getting hit with a weapon light throws people out of their OODA loop. Use a 1k lumen plus light. Also carry a separate flashlight. A good hand held, like a surefire tactician, can create temporary concealment. You can also turn it on and stick it in a doorway to blind those outside of what’s happening in the room behind it.
    This is a gear related website but there is so much value in good training. In order of priority: Mindset, Tactics, Skill, Gear. Note that gear is the least important on the list.

    • A hand held light comes in very handy when clearing a dark room. Where a mounted light makes a target out of you. We train to toss the light onto the floor of the dark room to illuminate it. This will often elicit a response from anyone inside the room thus giving away their presence. If the room is clear simply pick up your light and proceed with clearing operations.

    • Please rewrite your comment. It looks like it may contain particularly helpful points that might actually keep us from getting shot, but people…several of us, not just me…can’t understand more than half of it.
      a) Plain English, please.
      b) No acronyms, ex.: “OODA loop”.
      c) Without meaning left to the imagination; ex.: “stick it in a doorway”, and “can create temporary concealment.”. Well, how? Another half-sentence is all these phrases need to be intelligible.

      • Again- training. Check out the search feature of your browser for details on the OODA loop (defined by Col. John Boyd).

        @Darkman – that drop on the floor, set on a surface tactic is exactly what I am describing. The WML is just another tool that gives you more options.

  8. Pistol mounted lights require training, and means you “sweep” someone when you use your pistol mounted light. For most people, a pistol mounted LASER may be a better option. Either way, everyone reverts to their training when the Fit hits the Shan. Wonder why, with police firearm training cut-backs, so many shots are fired by the police that DON’T hit their intended target??? Make your choice, (Light or Laser), and practice practice practice!

      • “Why a laser? That serves a completely different role, doesn’t it?”

        Yeah, it draws a perfectly straight line leading right to the muzzle of your boom-stick, and *you*, and your personal body parts that don’t respond well to gunshot wounds…

        • Only if high powered green laser. The cheapie red dots don’t telegraph your position like a green one does, but your point is taken.

  9. TWO SIDES TO THE COIN . I HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT A GUN LIGHT , ITS JUST DO I GIVE AWAY MY POSTION , AND GIVE INTRUDER SOMETHING TO SHOOT AT , THE LIGHT , THEN ME BEHIND THE LIGHT ?

    • Until you shoot a family member because you didn’t ID your target. A weapon light can be activated before shooting after shooting turn off the light and off line. If they try to return fire where they saw the light they will miss.

  10. Nice write up. Personally I’ll use a hand-held light. Rather have a laser on the pistol and not light up anything am pointing a gun at that I’m not ready to shoot. Drills I’ve seen the very skilled do on videos like ‘Honest Outlaw’s, quickly flash a light on a prospective target followed by a quick shot. That’s too rare a situation for me as a civilian to take a chance on. If such a situation arises, the laser will do fine.
    Flashlight on a gun for the non-professional is like what a hunting safety instructor, DWR officer related once. How he hated hunters he was checking on in the field using their mounted scopes to check him out as well.

    For those who prefer having expensive ultra dependable artisan tactical hardware at the ready for that rare tactical situation. Final word for me was a story a Vietnam war tunnel rat related. Short of night vision (which they didn’t have) he explored area with what I imagine was a big old ‘D’ cell hand held flashlight. Only encounter he had, flashlight got shot out of his hand. The muzzle flash from his 1911 in the other hand lit things up plenty well enough for him to survive.

  11. there are cheaper lights than surefire and streamlight…i’m not a fan of streamlights, prefer the surefire…just got a brand new x300 for my broken x200 from surefire for free…olight makes a decent gun light, cheaper than both stream and sure…you can use the light on your pistol without muzzling someone…these new lights are so damn bright you can light up a whole room and not point your gun at anyone…the advantage to the gun light is one draw…you don’t have to draw 2 diff objects…put 2 diff objects away…and if your finger isn’t on the trigger (which it shouldn’t be) the danger is minimal…if the situation is that bad you have to pull your gun, you better be ready to muzzle someone…

    • Why would you prefer a surefire that breaks? The one weapon light i saw fail at the range was a surefire since they use plastic for part of the clamp. Streamlight is all metal construction.

      • I prefer Sreamlight because they cost less than Surefire and are quality made. Either is a good choice, IMHO. Both companies stand by their products if there is a failure.

      • sfDosperuh , that is plain English to most of us. WML = Weapon Mounted Light. Sure WML can mean many things, but please apply the context of what is being discussed in this thread.

        If you see an acronym or term that is unfamiliar, do a search online or just ask politely. Many of us are here to share knowledge and experience.

    • As much as a handheld flashlight does. Practice switching the light on to ID your target then after you shoot (or don’t shoot if there is no threat) switching your light off and off lining by stepping to the side.

  12. What the hell cheap ass fisher-price lights do you guys use? TLR 1 (regular) or even a cheap home depot handheld will splash so much light you can fill up most rooms even when pointed at the floor, opposite wall, or ceiling. Muzzling is not even an issue since you wont even need to move the gun up from low ready or whatever you call not aiming. Unless it turns out I live and work in chrome plated hobbit holes and everyone else paints their rooms with vanta black or clear out abandoned steel mills and hangars regularly. Gun lights making you an easier target is hard to believe since most everything I’ve seen says to light up, look around, turn off, move, then fire assuming there’s something that needs fixing and that’s for both mounted and handhelds. The only good light hold that gives an advantage for hand lights is the fbi style where you make like a manlet reaching for the top shelf while all the others put the light near your head or at your gun. Either way stop being poor (this coming from someone who will white knight for palmetto state armory) and save your pennies to get both types of lights that don’t say “tacticool”, “Speshuul”, or “atomic” on the side and learn to use both lights mounted on home defense long guns and a handheld for CC or as a back up to a pistol mounted light. “but I don’t want to carry one/both!” then don’t and while you’re at it stop carrying a spare mag/strip, and your wallet, and keys, and cellphone, and fidget spinner, and pocket knife, and lighter, and multitool etc. If you can carry a pen you can carry a light and if you can’t then you can make a decision on what’s actually useful, thin light emitting aluminum tube? Or thin aluminum spinning thing?

    • My plan for examination is gun in holster, light in hand, until I perceive a threat, then one hand switch light from 200 to 1100 lumen while other hand draws, does not seem that complex.

  13. I have lights on most of my carry guns. From everything I’ve seen, tried, or been “trained” to use a handgun with a light in your offhand, its awkward and totally inferior to a weapon mounted light. To the constant complaint of muzzling an unknown target to use it, keeping the gun at a low ready with the muzzle angled toward the ground will illuminate anything ahead of you to a more than adequate degree, if we’re talking home defense scenarios, without actually muzzling an unintended target. But yes, as a “general use” light theyre not a great option, and I carry a streamlight protac 2xl for those purposes. But If i need to shoot in the dark I’ll take a WML over an offhand light anyway. Just my 2 cents anyway.

    • Completely agree!. As do 98% of YouTube video’s & gun/light reviews. Train how you shoot>with a good grip on yer gat!

  14. The statistics overweight the usefulness. Civilians don’t need to clear a random warehouse or search a dark alley for a fleeing felon. If you’re accosted while out and about, they’ll almost always be in your face, and you don’t need extra target identification. In your home, it’s best to light up your target to stop from pulling the trigger on your kid or the kid your kid is dating, but you also have the local knowledge to walk around in the dark and flip light switches. It might be useful in 5-10% of cases, not 40-50%. A handheld light is enough for most, and I like the AAA-sized USB rechargeable Streamlight Stylus and Microstream. A WML doesn’t mean you need to muzzle the target — the lights are bright enough that bouncing light off the floor or ceiling will let you see the whole room. I find night sights less useful since they don’t help target id.

    • I have an on at dusk off at dawn LED night light in every room of my house. It’s never totally dark. I don’t bump into the furniture, step on the cat or trip over the dog when I get up at night.

  15. Olight it’ll save some change and yes you need one.
    You still carry a handheld because we have brains and know that the light on the weapon isn’t for general use.

  16. Humble Marksman demonstrated a 4oz light had significant improvement in recoil mitigation and rapid fire accuracy at distance.

  17. I’d think high-lumen lights could blind you as much as an intruder if you turn them on from total darkness. Light mounts on carbines or rifles often have adjustable luminoscity. Do any handgun light mounts have this feature, letting you switch on at a low power and dial it up as your eyes adjust?

    Do any have a shutter like an old-fashioned dark lantern, so you can leave the light on while opening/closing the shutter to use it. That would reduce wear on the on/off switch and circuit.

  18. Here’s what works best for me- Knuckle Lights. They would be considered handheld- however it does not compromise your ability to grasp something with the same hand. It can be held either close, or away from the body, and it can be used with or without the firearm present.

    Best of all- when worn on your weak hand (non-shooting hand) and held away from your body, after a hostile target is positively identified you need only bring your weak hand up into a natural support grip position and it automatically orients the light into a standard WML placement.

    Win. Win. And, Win.

    I love mine…

    https://www.amazon.com/Knuckle-Lights-Advanced-Rechargeable-Illumination/dp/B071CVF2GT/ref=asc_df_B071CVF2GT/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=312169339864&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=4136056928651791272&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9011562&hvtargid=pla-520526892416&psc=1

  19. I keep a Streamlight Poly Tac on my Home Defense SBR as well as a Streamlight TLR on my PPQ. I don’t have a light on my P365, as it defeats the purpose of keeping my CCW small and concealable. Simply a, “the bigger you make it, the more likely it is the harder to conceal” philosophy on my part. I do keep a Streamlight Nano on every set of keys we have. I also never leave the house without my Streamlight ProTac on me.
    Why so many Streamlights? My former employer was a distributor, so employee pricing was great and I was impressed with Streamlight’s Customer Service.
    There may be better and tougher Lights out there, but Streamlight’s are affordable and well made.

  20. The author says he uses the light for hunting. It also says he’s from Michigan. I live and hunt in Michigan too. Weapon lights are definitely a no-go here.

    • I typically don’t respond to comments on here but for this one I will.

      I’ve always taken multiple lights with me afield because I’m usually alone in the dark and batteries fail at bad times. I made sure to check all laws first and have never thought this to be an issue.

      To be sure, I just got off the phone with the MI DNR about this and having a light on the gun does not constitute a violation as long as the light is not being used to shine and take game after legal shooting hours. Being a CPL holder also exempts the individual from certain other regulations, and an individual can hunt with their CPL gun as long as it meets the gear regulations being straight walled and .35 caliber or larger with no more than nine rounds present in the firearm.

      All of this information is in the Michigan hunting digest as well.

      So basically don’t use any light, including headlights, to shine deer and you should be fine. The DNR otherwise doesn’t regulate the cosmetic features of the gun being used to hunt or what kind of light you use to find game or enter or exit a blind with.

  21. I like WMLs and understand the reasons for them, and I have a few setups that utilize them. However I find them to be impractical in that finding the “right” lights to fit onto guns and procuring holsters to suit is usually an exercise in trial-and-error frustration. Plus, they tend to become quite expensive, and I’d rather just use a hand-held light and spend the money saved on ammo and training.

  22. Nothing says you have to carry only one light. Carry a streamlight stylus for searching and other routine tasks, and have a lumen-blaster on your weapon. You don’t have to worry about muzzling the guy you’re helping on the side of the road, but the guy waving around a pistol-grip soldering iron can get blinded while you determine that he doesn’t need a bullet.

    • Perfect reply.

      A hand-held, almost always tiny flashlight helps you to I.D. a target and, if needed, to slap it to the side of the duty pistol to aim…I speak from experience…ex-Marine infantry officer.

      Worked for me in some pretty dangerous circumstances in the 60’s.

  23. I have a mini light on my belt not on my sidearm. I can pull one or both as needed. I’ve had police officers ask why I carry a light during the day? Tell them there always dark corners night or day. They should know that, bothers me at times they don’t. I have a light mounted on my shotgun, poor man’s laser in low light. Double 00 buck will hit two inches above the center of the beam.

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