Jeff Gonzales: How to Use a Flashlight for Armed Self-Defense Pt. 2

The problem with low light defensive techniques: they’re based around shooting, not searching. Most gun owners fail to put a significant amount of time and resources into learning how to search in the dark.

While it’s not rocket science, there’s still a great deal to be learned. One of the most important: being comfortable working in the dark.

Most of the time we’re training in ideal or pristine conditions. It’s hard to gain the proficiency and comfort necessary to work well at night. The key here is, of course, practicing in low-light conditions.

Some ranges — like my home at The Range at Austin — offer classes in low-light shooting. Take those courses. Many if not most attacks occur at night. It’s also possible to practice low-light defensive techniques in any safe, secure environment (no 911 calls please!) with a [triple-checked] empty gun.

As for searching, I prefer to use a two-handed technique. It allows me to direct the light to any location to identify threats or exploit a tactical advantage (by blinding the attacker). I can employ the full capability of the projected light, angling the beam to splash light into hard-to-reach areas.

If you locate an unknown and identify it to be a foe deploying lethal force, shooting should be a seamless transition. Using a technique that stabilizes the light while allowing you to engage with effective fire is key.

Holding the light at “high index” is the best method I’ve found to enable an efficient draw. I position the light near my jawline to illuminate both the target area and my sight system. While you will may be called to employ lethal force using your strong hand only, you can make that choice because of a superior search technique.

[Note: this scenario highlights the mission critical importance of mastering an efficient one-handed draw and one-handed shooting.]

As for weapon-mounted lights . . .

Some students tell me they don’t need a handheld light; their weapon mounted light would get the job done during a low-light defensive gun use. Wrong answer.

Before you can use the weapon-mounted light you have to be justified in deploying your firearm. In other words, you have to identify the threat before you draw your gun and use your weapon-mounted light. If you’re wrong, you could face a brandishing charge and/or convince someone else that you’re the threat.

That’s the main reason to have a handheld light as your primary search tool. But it’s also true that you’ll find your light a useful device for everyday chores.

Searching in low-light conditions with a handheld light is a legal early warning system that also allows effective freedom of movement. Many times, the outcome of a defensive gun use doesn’t come down to who’s the best shot, but who saw whom first.


Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at


  1. avatar Madcapp says:

    I like to embed my flashlight in a potato, load the aforementioned assembly into a potato gun, then fire that projectile upon said intruder. That’ll git ya. Its also poetic justice if the intruder is of Irish descent, or from Idaho.

  2. avatar MamaLiberty says:

    I don’t expect or intend to do any “searching” in any self defense situation. I won’t be “clearing” any rooms, or looking for intruders. Actually, the dog will have them located, and occupied at least for a while. If the attacker is close enough to harm me, I’ll be shooting… not looking for him. If they are not that close, I’ll wait the few minutes for the sheriff to come… and/or shoot only when necessary. I’ve got lots of lights in the meantime.

    Flashlights are for outdoors, or when the power goes off. At least for me.

    1. avatar strych9 says:


      There’s about a zillion other reasons to carry a light. I carry a small but powerful flashlight everywhere I go and find myself using it nearly daily. Looking for something in an under-counter cupboard, poking around in my car, looking under a car, getting out alongside a road (makes me visible to traffic) changing the lightbulb in a walk-in closet, getting up in the morning without turning on the lights and waking up my wife (the flashlight has brightness settings, great for making sure I grab the right pair of socks in the dark) etc.

      It has other advantages as well. If you enter, say a parking garage, at night and turn on a flashlight it makes bad guy’s nervous. I did this a few months ago in a parking garage in Denver and as soon as the light came on a couple guys I hadn’t known were there scuttled off really quick. It was almost certainly a low level drug deal and no threat to me but as soon as that bright white light comes on miscreants tend to think “Oh, crap. COPS!” and book it because other that cops, who just walks into a parking garage and turns on a 200+ lumen flashlight? (strych9 does!).

      1. avatar What About Bob says:

        I agree. With Mama on not actively clearing and with S9 on an EDC light. I have a $30 Four Sevens brand light on me constantly. It’s a little bigger in diameter than an AA battery and is really bright. Most useful thing i own. I use it daily as well, usually several times.

      2. avatar MamaLiberty says:

        Oh, I carry a flashlight on my belt, of course. I very seldom find a need for it, but am prepared for a lot of things that don’t happen often. I have a BIG, very bright flashlight by my desk, one by my bed, and several others throughout the house – in case the power goes out. It is DARK here without the electricity. 🙂 I also live in a remote rural area with zero “parking garages” and I don’t go out at night, even in my own yard.

        Everyone has a different situation, so different needs.

        I was reacting mostly to the idiot idea that I’d need to go “searching” for a bad guy, especially in my house. I really don’t think so.

  3. avatar FedUp says:

    If I’m searching for the threat, that pretty much means I’m in my own home.
    I can pull out a gun and wave it around in my home any time I want, assuming I don’t have guests.
    Therefore I don’t see how the ‘brandishing’ applies to home defense. Was that your only downside to weapon mounted lights?

    1. avatar strych9 says:

      “I can pull out a gun and wave it around in my home any time I want, assuming I don’t have guests.”

      You can still pull out a gun and wave it around. You’ll find out really fast how cool your guests are.

      1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:


  4. avatar The Gray Poseur says:

    Mr. Gonzales’ articles seem to be best suited for an LEO/Military audience. I don’t play either of those at home or out and about. I just don’t get this stuff. Is this directed to get the great untactical masses such as myself to feel the need that our knowledge and training is inadequate and we need to spend money training in Austin?. I mean, seriously, how many stories do we need to hear about children, the elderly and immigrant store clerks shooting perfectly healthy bad guys to realize all the tactical sheott isn’t necessary? Point and shoot. Period.

    1. avatar Anner says:

      I applaud the effort to get folks thinking about the continuum of self defense options. I’ve drawn or been near to drawing a firearm maybe 4-5 times in my life, and only fired at animals that threatened my property, never a BG. However, I’ve pointed a flashlight at an unknown disturbance dozens of times. Maybe it’s a stranger that walked down the wrong driveway, maybe it’s a raccoon running across the yard, or maybe it’s a thief looking to do harm. I don’t know until I send 200+L in that direction.

      Decent flashlights are orders of magnitude more powerful, more available, more compact for a given runtime/output, and cheaper than just 15yrs ago. It’s by far the cheapest and most effective to literally shed light on an unknown, and have zero repercussions is you’re mistaken. The worst that’ll happen is “oh sorry dude, I didn’t know it was you; sorry for the bright light.” Muzzle someone that you didn’t need to, even if it’s on your property, and it’s a very different conversation.

      Flashlights are a way to breakdown a situation, determine if there are potential threats, send a strong but physically harmless message of “Don’t mess with me, I’m prepared”, and then proceed from there. If you start and end with a handgun as your only option, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

    2. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Last time you gave advice it was that no one even need to carry rounds in their firearm, as gangs of thugs would flee from the mere sight of a gun.

      But to your question, anecdotes from the internet are not data. They are cherry picked feel good stories. You’ve stated before that facts and data don’t actually concern you, but for other readers that are interested in reality, I would point to the few actual studies of hit ratio’s that exist:
      “Another analysis, published in 2006 by the RAND Center on Quality Policing at the request of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, found that in the years 1998-2006, the average hit ratio for officers involved in a shooting where the subject does not fire back was 30 percent. During a gunfight, where the target is shooting at officers, the study reported that the hit rate falls to just 18 percent.
      The Times reported that in 2006-2007, Los Angeles police officers hit their targets between 27 and 29 percent of the time, respectively. There is no reliable national data on hit ratio.”

      A Baltimore study highlights the need for low light training:
      “In shootings that occurred in low-light surroundings, however, average hits dropped to 45 percent, a 30 percent decline.”

      How well is “point and shoot” working out?

      1. avatar Ed says:

        Agreed. Just keeping in mind that most cops point and shoot as well. Also, a lot of us practice more than your average cop.
        My opinion, for what its worth is that if you really think you may need a flashlight during a engagement, mount it on your weapon.

  5. avatar Joshua Graham says:

    Seeing as how I only have a light on a home defense firearm, how would I get charged with brandishing for lighting up a home invader?

    Just out of curiosity, how many people here have weapon mounted lights on their concealed carry firearms?

    1. avatar MamaLiberty says:

      Indeed, Joshua. I want to see all the CC guns with lights… and suppressors! That would be a holster full. 🙂

    2. avatar Anner says:

      I’m currently ops testing a streamlight TLR-6 on a G42 and G43. I’ve been disappointed before with externally attached lasers or lights; they don’t stand up to daily, sweaty carry. The TLR-6 seems sturdier than previous trials, so we’ll see how it goes.

      But 99% of the time, no.

  6. avatar Eric Lawrence says:

    If you are LEO/MIL a weaponlight is a must, along with a handheld light. You are likely working in environments and situations where the drawbacks of using a weaponlight are negated.

    As for those drawbacks?

    I don’t want to ever point a gun at my kids. Hear a bang, search the house with a weaponlight and even if using the “spill” to identify targets I point my handgun in the direction of one of my kids sneaking in when I wasn’t expecting them. Not an apology I want to make.

    Using a weaponlight to search might mean searching tight spaces. If the only way to search and identify means shoving your gun around a corner or into a tight spot means it’s easier to take away from you or otherwise take your gun out of the fight.

    Hear a rattle in the night and wake up arm yourself and find that someone tried to break in your back door. Go to close the door and take a quick look outside and see someone walking away 20-30 feet away. Try to ID the individual by pointing your weaponlight at them. Depending on your home situation (those of you that live 1 mile away from your neighbors can save telling me you do) best case scenario you brandish to the guy trying to break in and spend days trying to convince an overzealous AG of that fact. Worst case scenario you brandish to your anti-gun neighbor and spend some time in jail and try one day to ask for your rights back.

  7. avatar strych9 says:

    Personally I have some weapon’s mounted lights and I don’t use them any more. I just roll with the flashlight.

    I use the flashlight quite a bit actually, more than I realized I would when I started carrying one, because it’s darn convenient. I use that in a lot of situations where pulling out a gun would just be unnecessary. Sure, in my own house no one cares if I change a light bulb using a weapon’s light on a pistol but… well that just seems strange to me.

    1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

      I edc a flashlight for my work, it’s not the 900 lumen beast I have by my nightstand. I am not going to clear my house if I don’t need to but I will make sure me and mine are secure. As for my edc flashlight I use that joker for everything.

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        I started using one to inspect welds at work, that’s how I started carrying one. Then I realized how much other stuff I used it for.

      2. avatar What About Bob says:

        It’s gotten to the point where my wife and kids ask me all the time for my flashlight. I’ve gotten them their own, but it’s easier for them to just let me carry it.

        Personally I think the mini123 from Four Sevens is a nearly perfect mix of size/brightness/cost ($30) and durability.

        There are so many good ones out there at ~$25 and up now, there’s no reason not to carry one.

    2. avatar Ardent says:

      For me, the flashlight gets used so much that I can’t imagine not carrying one now, so I’m with you. But, I’m also ‘heavy’, as in carrying 10lbs of stuff all doesn’t bother me (I mean that literally, 10lbs). I can see where some people are getting load out fatigue. But a good light these days is a threat deterrent and a whole weapon system of its own, which can go almost anywhere without raising eyebrows. Maybe I’ve lost it and not noticed, but my light is essential equipment now.

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        I usually carry a back pack wherever I go. 10lbs is nothing to me as well.

        That’s why I don’t get the people who complain about carrying “too much stuff”.

        1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

          For work I carry a backpack as well and so I have a pretty decent amount of stuff, trama kit, multi tool, light, dedicated knife, assorted tools, clip board ect. For edc not at work I lighten the load to pocket carry and forgo everything but gun, knife(sometimes skeletool) flashlight and keys. I balance this by keeping a first aid kit/option bag in my car which is usually close by. At work I have no problem with a backpack but for running around after I think size and weight of edc matters more.

  8. avatar kevin says:

    Handheld light AND weapon light.

    1. avatar Cubbie says:

      This right here. Having a weapon light allows for taking up a defensive position in the home or having a light should your weak hand become incapacitated or you need to open doors/grab kids or pets). Having a light in the weak hand allows for searching/clearing without the risk of shooting someone/something that didn’t need to be shot. It also allows you to move the light away from your body, as suspects tend to shoot at the lights (or so I’ve been informed when reading an article on Surefire lights years ago).

  9. avatar Hank says:

    Having military experience and now currently working as a CO at state prison I would argue in favor of using these techniques, even for those of you who are not Mil/LE. The world changes in the dark and it can get quite confusing, and people can get very close to you. I don’t understand why many of you are criticizing this as pointless. You can come across disturbances at night not only at home but in public. Also black outs and power outages could leave you in a public area with with zero other light sources and zero chance of help from police.

    1. avatar Cubbie says:

      I don’t think folks here are saying having a light is pointless, but that the light techniques Mr. Gonzales recommends aren’t the only options or aren’t suited for the average joe defending his home or family. Chances are 9 out of 10 folks reading this have a light in their pocket.

  10. avatar Randy N says:

    In training I received about use of lights is that you present a target for someone that might shoot at you. You would carry the light on your non shooting hand and hold out to side. The light is all they will be able to identify and you are presenting a target away from your body. If I am awaken by something that goes bump in the night I have light in left hand and gun in right.

    1. avatar PeterZ in West Tennessee says:

      If something goes bump in the night I won’t need a light. All of my lamps have 60 watt-equivalent bulbs drawing 3 watts. I leave several on all night, so if I step out of my bedroom I step into a well lit location.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email