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?
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.
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.