crimson trace green laser
Courtesy Crimson Trace
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Over my decades as a firearm instructor, I’ve seen lots of products marketed that were designed to make shooters better and more skillful. After all, good marketing can sell even marginal products as evidenced by all the snake oil health products sold even today as “supplements.”

Laser sights for firearms certainly don’t fall in the snake oil category. They certainly have their uses and can be valuable shooting accessories.

But for many, especially untrained beginners, laser sights don’t improve their ability to use a gun. In fact, sometimes, for the un- or poorly-trained, they can actually lower people’s combat effectiveness.

Laser sights definitely have their uses and for a lot of shooters, they can be a real plus. For a trained shooter who knows how to use them . . .

  • They can get you on your target quickly, even in low light.
  • They can help get you back on target after you fire for quicker, more accurate follow-up shots.
  • They’re a useful training aid, letting you see the movement of your gun before they pull the trigger. This is great in dry fire practice, revealing the effects of flinching, pulling off-target and slapping the trigger.

But you can’t buy basic shooting competency — the right grip, good trigger competency, the ability to perform under pressure — in the aisle of any gun store. No matter what the clerk behind the counter may claim.

So why can fancy laser sights be a handicap as well as a force multiplier?

Image via

First of all, those with marginal skills too often quickly form a reliance on the laser dot to sight the gun. That gets them by on a square range where they have zero adrenaline flowing and an abundance of time. However, put a little pressure on them – even on a square range – and that lack of fundamental skills can delay getting the laser dot on the target.

Instead of presenting the gun and shooting, these people tend to suspend everything to wave the gun around looking for that magic dot downrange. Countless times, I’ve watched ladies and gentlemen with laser sights spend precious seconds looking for the bright dot instead of presenting and shooting.

Even worse, sometimes they aren’t ready with the laser turned “on.”  They don’t want dead batteries, you know. Then we wait while they remember the switch’s location and turn it on before repeating the process once again.

In the real world where a bad guy can easily cover 21 feet in 1.5 seconds, that one or two-second delay in getting shots off can have catastrophic consequences for the good guy or gal. (This can be alleviated by buying the right laser for your gun…some are designed to turn on instantly when you hold the gun in a normal grip.)

When untrained shooters are flustered (even a little), when they finally do find the dot on their intended target, they sometimes slap the trigger like a red-headed step-child. That’s doubling down on poor technique for poorer results.

After a near (or even a complete) miss at less than 10 feet, they hold the gun sideways and look at it quizzically. You can almost read their minds: their laser-equipped defense tool failed them. “You let me down!” they seem to be saying

To make matters worse (or more exciting, depending upon perspective), difficulty finding the red dot go way up on a bad guy who’s wearing dark clothes in bright sunlight. Then there’s the issue of dead batteries. Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) has a way of showing up at the worst times.

This is why it’s important to train and be sure you know how to use your defensive handgun effectively without a laser sight.

One subset of people I’ve found can definitely benefit from the use of laser sights though. It’s a subset that many of us will fall into with age.

We all know that we are supposed to focus on the front sight and let the rear sight and the target fuzz out a little bit. However, for those with far-sightedness who can’t see the front (sight much less the rear) sight notch, a properly-sighted in laser sight can complement good shooting fundamentals to rapidly line up an accurate shot.

Crimson Trace green laser
Crimson Trace

Even if you wear tri-focal glasses (or without your prescription lenses) you can usually see a bright green laser dot on a bad guy.

And yes, if you’re going to put a laser on your gun, get the green variety. Green lasers attract your eye much more reliably than the red ones, especially in bright sunlight or on dark clothes. That’s because the human eye is about six times more sensitive to green light as it is to red light.

Lasers certainly have their uses and can help you be more accurate and a better shooter. But you have to develop good basic skills and train with them. Laser sight or not, the key is to practice the fundamentals both with and (especially) without your laser. Someday your life might depend upon that special skill set.

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  1. I don’t own any laser sites for my handguns. I have used a red dot or 2 over the last 20+ years on my target pistols
    Im basically so old school none of my carry guns can mount a red dot or lazer. Unless I replace the grips. For $300. Ill learn to use the guns sights. Besides Ive always seen a laser as a pointer right back to you. So that might just be a non benefit big time.

    • So do flashlights…..I’ve had a crimson trace Green laser guard on my glock 19 for about 3 yrs & if I’m pointing my laser on your body that means my finger is on the trigger,,,,,So don’t make me flinch! But then at that point my mine is mostly made up of what I’m going to do.

    • How many defensive legal gun use scenarios can you imagine for a civilian with a handgun where the bi-directionality of a laser makes any difference. There are almost zero instances where you would be legally shooting somebody who doesn’t know where you are. Let’s be honest.

      Plus you aren’t going to have the laser on if you have a grip activated laser unless you are on target.

      I mean sure in rifle combat shooting from 100 meters or more I can see the issue. But in a robbery the guy is likely threatening you already. In a home invasion you are likely within 20 meters from the bad guy.

  2. Have seen pistols at the range that use a laser emanating from the recoil spring guide rod. Those people don’t seem to wave the gun around like others with the laser positioned under the dust cover/barrel. Wonder if the first group is just more accustomed to the laser from practice, or if the guide rod laser is actually that much better?

    • The guide rod laser beam is closer to the bore axis, so it *should* be closer to where the bullet will land. However, guide rods have quite a bit of slop or ‘float’, so it’s only gonna be an approximation…

      • “However, guide rods have quite a bit of slop or ‘float’, so it’s only gonna be an approximation…”

        Would being closer to the bore axis be the reason for less waving around?

        • I *think* the waving around is a blind, er, “visually disabled” person trying to ‘pick up’ where the laser dot has landed…

        • Guide rod lasers have a tendency to break faster on Plus P ammo or anything above a 9mm. The shock of thr slapping from the slide has more effect on them than frame mounted ones. Glock was first with those things about 15 or so years ago. Every guy I know who had one , no longer does

      • True only, except for physics. Light generally travels in straight lines, unless you live near a black hole, for example. Bullets usually travel in ballistic paths, ie., curves, specifically a section of a parabola. This of the laser’s photons and a bullet traveling along the same trajectory is like trying to square the circle.

        • “Bullets usually travel in ballistic paths, ie., curves, specifically a section of a parabola. ”

          Would the divergence between light beam and ballistic arc be noticeable/significant at self-defense distances?

        • Sam it would depend on where you zero your system. One must keep in mind that the laser path will usually cross the ballistic path at two points, so just find one zero for which (preferably the nearer) one point is at the defensive distance. If one plans no other use for the firearm than SHTF self defense. Yes, and done.

          • “One must keep in mind that the laser path will usually cross the ballistic path at two points,”

            Interesting. Would think that the trajectory of a bullet would not change enough to identify at distances of 50 feet or less.

            Thanx for the education.

        • I think that with a laser mounted under the barrel and pointed up there would only be one intersection of the beam and laser. If the laser were mounted above the bore like a scope there would be two points that the bullet crossed the beam.

        • I prefer sighting parallel to the bore axis. At short ranges, the bullet has an upward trajectory, and the mechanical offset increases until it reaches apogee. If you know the apogee, you know the max distance above the laser. The bullet will always be high until extreme range. If you zero for some range, the bullet starts above the laser, meets the laser, and drops below. Meeting at 2 points is only true if the laser is above the bore axis.
          Another advantage of lasers is that they can be used in unconventional positions that don’t allow a sight picture. You can hold a gun in retention positions (whatever than means to you) and aim more accurately than point shooting, or you can peek around a barrier.

        • Just for yucks – As long as were are considering the hypothetical case of living near a black hole, it should also be noted that if you are in a zero gravity environment the projectile will travel in a straight line, not a parabolic arc. Just like the laser. It will also travel as far as the laser beam. Maybe farther if the laser is not perfectly collimated, raising the interesting possibility that your laser might not reach the targets you can tap with your G19 in outer space. Take note future recruits to the USA Space Force.

  3. The only people I know who use laser sights use it for ballistic shield type of situations. That and night vision how ever ballistic shields seem to be the more relevant reason where I live.

    It has a specialized purpose in my opinion.

  4. If the power is equal the sensitivity of the human eye to green light can be ten times that of red light. Our eyeballs simply work that much better with green light.

    When looking for a laser pay attention to the wavelength. The close to “555nm” the better, in terms of color.

    Example, a typical red laser is 650nm, where the human eye has only ten percent the sensitivity as it does at 555nm. This is way a green 5mW laser looks much brighter than a red one.

    • I’m the guy who is both green and red color deficient. Why no blue lasers? I can see blue as well as anyone! I will admit, though, that even with color deficiency, I can see a flourescent green much better than I can see any red.

      • “Why no blue lasers?”

        There are plenty of blue laser diodes out there, thanks to Blu-Ray players, so someone could come out with one…

        (Side note – Of all the diode visible light lasers, the blue ones are among the most powerful. 7 watt diodes (and maybe higher) are currently out there.)

      • Generally for blue lasers by the time you get them to the power useful for such an application they’re regulated by the FDA.

        There is some concern that blue lasers from 400nm to 500nm wavelengths cause issues at the cellular level, particularly in the eye but also in the skin. Basically blue light in these wavelengths causes a paradoxical reaction in a certain percentage of photoreceptor cells which means they get no “down time”. This is called “blue light hazard”. It’s also thought in some circles that this makes the cells more susceptible to oxidation reactions. Essentially this is thought to activate latent viral DNA that’s incorporated in your mitochondria which then allows a lot more free-radical damage within the cell. However, since that happens due to the activation of DNA that’s already part of your DNA the body doesn’t recognize these problem cells as “not self” and activate an immune response. If this problem results in uncontrolled cell replication you get cancer.

        This is compounded by the fact that your DNA bases require certain energies to create the correct pairings. When that energy is exceeded then you can get DNA pairings that don’t make sense because, really, the body shouldn’t be there. This leads to mutation in the cells which, well honestly, most mutations are not good for the individual organism that gets them. Again, cancer.

        Put another way, those wavelengths of light in lasers over a certain power are thought to cause skin and eye cancer. Therefore the FDA says you can’t have such a device.

        Don’t marry a microbiologist. She takes away your cool toys like powerful blue lasers bought from overseas.

      • What S9 said. I have a deep-violet laser pointer that will turn photogray (transition) lenses black … at least where the laser strikes. It will light up anything that has “bluing” on it – like paper – beautifully. And I absolutely do not want to look at it or shine it on skin.

        Plus, all else equal, the shorter the wavelength (e.g. the “bluer” the light) the harder it is to make and the less efficient the laser is. So, shorter run time, more waste heat generation.

      • “Put another way, those wavelengths of light in lasers over a certain power are thought to cause skin and eye cancer.”

        Not to mention instantaneous, irreversible eye injury. Be smart, and wear something like this when playing with high power burning laser ‘toys’ :

        Other goggles available for different light colors, those cover 190 to 540 nanometers, green to blue. And watch out for powerful green lasers. The cheaply-made ones often have no IR filtering. Infared light is frequency-doubled (double-‘pumped’) to make green light.

        Thanks for the info, I already wear the goggles, and I’ll make a point to not let the blue beam fall on human or pet skin. Please send my sincere thanks to Mrs. Strych for the heads-up.


        Those wasps get *zero* quarter from the ‘blue needle’.

        I have to ask, the other day you mentioned you lit road flares from quite a distance with your multi-watt blue laser, how were you able to hold the beam steady in such a tiny spot from that far away? It’s a chore keeping the beam on those stinging bastards…

        • Reflex sights with both red and green dots are readily available, even on Amazon.
          I have one on my Mark IV, and find the green dot to be better than the red dot.

        • There are a lot of Red – Green -Blue dot sights available and even some that are 36+ color adjustable and quite affordable ($100.00 & less) check out Leapers / UTG Sights and scopes at Optics Planet and a few other sources.

  5. I enjoy watching a guy with a new laser at the range. For some reason many don’t seem to know you can’t just mount them, but you also need to adjust them. But there is little better than watching a guy chase the little light across and around his target. They do have their place though.

  6. Having learned to shoot with iron sights, I always thought lasers too tacticool in a Hollywoodish kind of way. As my eyes have started to age I have come to appreciate red dots. Yes, they need batteries too, but red dots meant to be left on except when stored away and with a regular battery replacement schedule I have never had a problem with dead batteries. Unlike a laser, a red dot can be seen in almost any lighting, will work in less than ideal atmospheric conditions (smoke, fog, rain, etc), will not usually give your position away, and will not make you look incompetent as in the case of everyone at the range seeing your laser beam zigzagging all over the place. I think the best use for a laser for a noob is for them to have a good visual of all the times they are muzzling things/people they should not be muzzling. No need to related the number of times at the range when I see a laser crisscrossing all over things (eg., ME) that shouldn’t have a barrel pointed at them. I believe that they are useful for practicing dry firing. I always love the scene in a movie where after tossing a few flashbangs, some tactically equipped operators slither into a smoke filled room with laser beams reflecting back from the smoke. Makes for great visual effects in a movie; probably not as useful in real life.

    • I have a red dot on one of my rifles and I love it. Have used lasers on a few pistols, and hate them. They do nothing for me that iron sights don’t do better. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a red dot on a pistol, however. I suspect I’d like it.

    • Red dots require raising the gun to aim. Shooting “ from the hip “ or from a lower position can be useful. Especially with some weapons that aren’t firearms but take shotgun shells like the mossberg shockwave.

      • “Red dots require raising the gun to aim.”

        Not always, they are adjustable to match the point of impact. The *big* reason they got so popular…

        • I think you’re confusing red dot sights with laser sights.
          Red dot sights do indeed require raising the gun to eye line to see.
          A laser doesn’t.

          I just put a green laser on my G17 G4,and I like it, but then, I’m not most people.

    • I love how in shows people who just engaged in an indoor gunfight are able to converse right after.

  7. No plans for a laser on my pistols. A red(or green!) dot works great on my AR. Mebbe I’ll splurge on a pistol reddot. A light makes more sense on a handgun(and I also have one on my AR). Honestly if you want a laser get it. I agree with Boch on shooting fundamental’s. Don’t depend on your laser(or red dot).

  8. I can attest to the superiority of green over red. I have a 3x carbine scope on my AR. It gives you the choice of a red or green reticle. The green is much more visible in bright light.

  9. I have a Crimson Trace on my k6s carefully co-witnessed at the traditional 21 foot range as a deterrent to indicate where the hollow point or frangible, shaped 357 magnum bullet will go if any further aggressive move is made on the part of a would be assailant. My bullet will go exactly the same place regardless which sighting system I use and I practice with both. I will switch to green lasers when they become available. At the same time I have seen a lot of flailing with lasers several bays down where some guy is trying to teach his wife to use one and hasn’t bothered to master co-witnessing and using one himself. He apparently assumes a laser will magically make the wife a marksman.

    Properly co-witnessing these sights is not as simple as many assume as the laser beam emitters are sloppy and somewhat prone to loosening.

  10. I have a laser grip on my ruger p89. I’m still testing to see if it’s worth it. Maybe for long distance shooting only. I’ve hit targets at 60 yards with it.

  11. I bought a model 642 S&W that happened to have a laser grip. At the time I was indifferent. Using the laser as part of dry fire exercises really improved my trigger control. Also, love having the sight when cc-ing in dark parking garages. Accuracy at the range isn’t affected whether it’s off or on. Nice for darker ranges though. Now Looking for one for a benelli super 90.

  12. When I bought my LCP I was given a good deal on the CT laser. Just like in the photo.
    Problems came to light when my big fat hand couldn’t hit the tiny button on the thing.
    A waste of money.
    Did put a red dot on my Mossberg shotgun though.

  13. I have a laser because the TLR-2 was on sale and therefore cheaper than any of the “just light” options.

    Used it a bit, found it wanting, just use the light feature now.

  14. My old eyes have problems with plain iron sights.
    Just got a Viridian C5L for my M&P 9mm compact. Coupled with the Viridian TacLoc holster I have instant on light and laser. Works like a champ.
    Yes, dual training with iron sights is a must, but this little beauty gives me aim assist and safer shooting. Safer because I have light to identify my target. Safer because with it set on strobe that light is intense and disorienting, making it danged hard to focus on me.

  15. I carry a Colt Defender with Hogue laser grips on it, activated by pressure. It helps me tremendously with snap shots out of the holster (which I suck at). Once I have the gun at presentation I don’t even see the dot anymore. So I think they definitely have their place.

  16. Had some ct lg105 grips on a j frame that I picked up for 92 bucks at a going out of business sale. I took them off as my eye could only seem to focus on the dot on target and I would lose the sights or I’d flip flop my focus from dot to the sights and back. I found the laser distracting.

  17. (they sometimes slap the trigger like a red-headed step-child)?… Are you sure that the “SLAPPING” of a red headed stepchild reference is really appropriate? Other than that, a laser is like anything else designed to “help” make a task easier, it can be used as a device to teach muscle memory and when properly aligned is an invaluable tool for quickly and accurately aligning scopes as well as new iron sights, or it can be used as a crutch for the lazy who don’t want to put in the hard work of learning to actually use a firearm instinctively and effectively… “Semper Fi”

    • Appropriateness is a politically correct catch word. If sarcasm triggers you. You still have a lot of growing up to do. So suck it up butter cup. If you were truly a Marine. Then you remember your Oath. The part about protect and defend the Constitution. Free speech is the First Amendment/Free Speech. Once any group are given control over what is/isn’t appropriate. Free Speech is no longer Free. To be Truly Free. One must tolerate even speech they disagree with. If Not. Control becomes the objective. Along with the destruction of not only Free Speech but, Thought Speak. Keep Your Powder Dry…Thank You For Your Service.

      • I would also stand for the the little red headed stepchild “Buttercup” perhaps the thought of “smacking” a child around excites you, and IF you can show me where that particular activity is condoned by the U.S. Constitution I will have my pocket copy for lunch.. Maybe you are confusing the Constitution with the sick shit that ISIS lives by (well except for old “Al Bagdaddy” [misspelled intentionally].) they probably “smacked” a few step children around or maybe you are okay with the sorry fucks that are smuggling women and children across the Southern border many of whom never make it.. saying you are slapping something like a red headed stepchild is hardly sarcasm it’s just plain ignorant but you might see the humor of it through the eyes of a red headed stepchild (yes “Buttercup” they really do exist) or perhaps those of a parent to one of those children… I do appreciate the lesson on the Constitution/1st amendment and my oath but then you must assume that I forfeited MY right to free speech because I expressed my opinion about the comment (although I did not call for it to censored), however you have retained your free speech right when you decided that mine does not exist? Makes perfect sense to me in some weird ultra left sort of way. (THAT is sarcasm) so thanks for your concern, but I will take personal responsibility for what I will or will not tolerate and ignorance is something that I will NOT tolerate… SEMPER FI

    • Christ on a pogo stick, Max! Go cancel someone else’s culture with your PC policement.
      It’s an expression, not a d1ck; don’t take it so hard. Quit making so much fuss about the words people use and instead, actually listen to what they are saying. It’s a very leftist thing to do to focus on the syntax and not the message. Attempting to change the discussion in no way validates your point.

      • Typical snowflake. Time to run to his safe place and play with his crayons. My guess is his DI hurt feelings in boot. With his hurtful words.

        • Finally got there didn’t ya sweetheart. Complain about name calling and phrase usage. Then revert to who you really are. Just another punk ass whiner. Hung up on it’s feelings. Guess the DI comment got just a wee bit to close to home. Was it Daddy or did your mommy not love you enough. Suck it up son. Life is hard and reality sucks. Take heart though. Some day it’ll all be over. #Six Foot Dirt Face.

  18. My son in law felt lasers were no good in a conflict. I said the laser diffuses the green light and at 20 feet, when pointed at someone, even if off by 4 or 5 feet, they will think it’s pointing at them.
    I’m an old guy and view this is an advantage because even if I panic and aren’t on target they may quickly rethink and take off. Human reaction in a panic is difficult to predict except that ability to get it done is reduced.
    The average police officer is no better shot than me (witness the college cop who shot at a guy 10 feet away and missed. He had a real cop with him and the cop shot into the car wounding a lady. While the guy, the driver, was out of the car with his hands up! Best is driver and passenger did nothing wrong at all).
    I practice without the laser then finish practice with it on. Can’t hit a moving target or stationary target if I’m moving. I’d prefer carrying a rifle but I think that would upset some folks. As a concealed carry permittee, I carry with it on.

    To each his own.

  19. So, just like every other tech advancement that makes things easier, faster and better, fundamentals still matter.
    Got it.

  20. My son handed me a (rented) pistol with a laser on it once on an indoor range. The laser dot danced all over the target and distracted me all to hell. I suspect it had something to do with hand/eye coordination. But then I’ve been shooting with iron sights for more than 60 years without a laser. Others may get better results.

  21. I have only carried for about seven years. My first handgun was a Glock with only iron sights. I started looking for a laser to mount on my pistol, but after reading the reviews in Amazon I found that regardless of brand or price, they failed on about ten percent of shooters. I concluded that 10% was too unreliable for life-and-death situations.

    My second gun was an M&P shield that came with a laser. It was on sale and slightly cheaper than the same caliber without a laser, so why not, it was no loss to take it off. I discovered that the laser was very useful in target practice. It showed up a couple of small but critical things I was doing wrong in shooting. So I would recommend practicing both with a laser, then without a laser because it might fail on you when you need it most. My view now is a laser is a nice to have and an optional help, and I believe I will need every bit of help to give me that critical edge in a gunfight. If it ever comes to that.

  22. I have strong deuteranomaly (green color blindness), so a green laser is out of the question. I’m incapable of seeing a green laser dot.

    Most noobs don’t understand the difference between laser sighting and laser guidance, so they’re disappointed with their results.

    I like lasers for training purposes, since that moving dot can show what a shooter’s trigger press is doing to their sight alignment. Otherwise, I don’t think very highly of laser sights.

  23. I have a laser on a Ruger SR9C set to match the 3 dot sights at 10 yards. I have a laser on a HiPoint 995TS set to match the iron sights at 25 yards. Lasers for use at night if the guns were ever needed for a home defense situation. At a target range I shoot with the irons but check out the lasers to make sure they are still aimed correctly. The laser on the carbine is a lot of fun. It is not as precise in use as the irons but if ever needed at night, it would be more than accurate enough at any range where self defense could be claimed. Same on handgun at closer distance.

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