A Weapon-Mounted Light on Your Everyday Carry Gun? Read This First

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Weapon mounted lights on carry guns
Photo Courtesy Dark Star Gear

Among the many internet gun debates that tend to clog up cyberspace is whether or not weapon-mounted lights should be on carry pistols. Discussions of weapon lights often devolve into a debate of weapon lights versus handheld lights.

That doesn’t make sense to me. The addition of a weapon-mounted light (WML) doesn’t require the user to discard his or her handheld or tactical flashlight. It’s not an either/or situation if you’re doing it right.

Weapon-mounted lights are a supplement to, not a replacement of a flashlight. With the number of models of WMLs offered by makers like Crimson Trace, SureFire and Streamlight and quality holsters on the market today, it’s not that difficult to find the proper equipment that allows you to effectively deal with a little added bulk.

In fact, bulk and weight are the most common downsides to carrying a WML. However, there are many detractors out there who feel that adding a WML to a carry pistol means the user will suddenly start pointing a firearm at every noise they hear. Again, adding a WML to a pistol doesn’t require the carrier to discard their stand-alone flashlight.

Surefire X300’s and Streamlight TLR-1 HL and Streamlight TLR-2 are great choices for WMLs.

Rule #2 Still Stands

One argument that’s frequently heard against a handgun light is that whatever is illuminated by a the light is also being covered by the muzzle. This point is dependent on the assumption that the user will be using his or her pistol light in place of a flashlight when it isn’t appropriate to do so.

Hopefully, it’s obvious that firearms safety rule #2 always applies. Still, the reason we carry any sort of white light at all is to gather information we don’t have, like who’s a threat and who isn’t. There is a lot of real estate between where a firearm is needed and where it’s entirely inappropriate. There’s a technique which is likely to be appropriate in these situations.

Also, the “spill” of a WML’s beam can be used to illuminate an area while keeping the firearm in a low ready position. That’s not perfect for every occasion, but I’ve found it very viable during force-on-force training in low light conditions.

Other Potential Problems

Another concern about weapon lights is that the activation switch can be close to the trigger. A number of unintentional discharges have been indirectly attributed to WMLs. Folks who use their trigger finger to activate the light and haven’t properly trained are the most common perpetrators here.

It’s not a good idea to assign a single digit two very different jobs without rigorous training. I know — or know of — several high-level tactical-type guys who activate the WML on the draw stroke with their trigger finger. They do it extremely well and they do it safely. Doing so allows them to operate strong-hand only if necessary.

Still, I recommend that most folks use the offside thumb to activate the ambidextrous switch on a WML unless they’re willing to put in some serious training time.     

Always test your pistol’s functioning when adding weapon lights or any other aftermarket accessories.  


Weapon lights or almost any accessory can cause functioning problems with pistols, whether it’s in everyday carry, home defense, or duty use. As always, test your pistol thoroughly with your chosen pistol light, carry an extra magazine and defensive ammunition prior to trusting the combination in the field.

Most quality pistol manufacturers have addressed this concern very well and it’s not nearly as much an issue these days. But you really don’t want to find out you have a problem when you need your handgun most.

Two Hands are Better Than One

The most common attribute of the rail-mounted (GLOCK or Picatinny) light is that the pistol light allows for a normal two-handed hold. Who isn’t faster and more accurate with both hands on their pistol? Opening a door or pulling back a curtain with both hands chock full of emergency equipment is nearly impossible.

As an experiment, try to open a door with a flashlight in one hand and an unloaded pistol in the other, then quickly assume your firing position with the hand-held light.

Whichever your choice of technique, it will likely be slower and more awkward than simply re-acquiring a two-handed grip. No disrespect intended to those well-researched techniques, but basic physiology gives the nod to the weapon-mounted light in this regard. There’s a reason that rail-mount lights are all but mandatory law enforcement equipment these days.

Dan Z. for TTAG

The bottom line is this: If you want to add a weapon-mounted tactical light to your carry pistol, do it. Just know that it will require some additional thought, practice and financial investment. The opinions of chairborne rangers are irrelevant. What’s relevant is proper preparation.

Choose your WML and holster carefully. Some combine either a red laser or green laser, which may work well for you depending on your intended use. Then be sure to take the time to test your chosen pistol and light combination honestly, train thoughtfully, and carry with confidence.

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  1. EDC needs are different from home defense or law enforcement. It isn’t a must have EDC item for me. I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed if it was light (hmm) and unobtrusive. As a bonus, it would help with muzzle flip.

  2. WML’s … not this thing again. When it gets ramped up its like the never ending ‘caliber stopping power’ arguments/discussions.


      • Still scratching my head on why the two latest editions have MSRPs $400-450 lower than the rest. I pulled off a Gun Broker penny auction steal on mine that I never thought I’d win, so they’re apparently not exactly flying off the shelves at that price either. For about the price of a basic RIA you could have a Ruger!?! Maybe word’s just not getting around very fast.

        btw, mine did seem very tight at first, but only one malfunction the first time through on the 8 round mag, then one one of my starter loads that was just too weak I had a couple. Still working on a SD load…

        • They’re selling out now. Something like that is usually over $1k. It’s a steal. You could always sell it for more than you paid for it down the road.

        • I remember when they ended production of the SR9s, then brought them back for a short time. You could find new ones going for $280. You could have shot the heck out of it for three years, then sold it for the same price, or more. It’s like if you bought a new Tacoma in 2019 or early 2020.

        • Looks like a good idea for a stainless steel framed pistol, but I’m not sure I’d want to try that on an anodized aluminum framed one.

        • I thought about that after I posted it. I don’t have mine in hand yet.

          I had to send an aluminum frame pistol (not a Ruger) back before. I’m not sure what they did to it, but it was super smooth when I got it back.

  3. My oh my, how did we ever survive 58 years ago in VN without lasers, wml’s, red dots, plastic holsters, and Glocks?

    • “My oh my, how did we ever survive 58 years ago in VN without lasers, wml’s, red dots, plastic holsters, and Glocks?”

      Lacking all that gear is likely the root cause of why we lost in VN.

      Not sure of the cause of losing in Iraqistan.

      Oh, wait. I do know the cause….America fears being called bullies and colonizers. So, America uses the military to “send messages”, rather than destroy enemies.

      • We lost in VN, because of political infighting and not allowing the military to do their job of kicking the 5hit out of the communists. Politicians were more interested in getting votes than winning the conflict. Which resulted in over 58,000 soldiers dying for no good reason. Our military hasn’t won any conflict since WWII, because of the same political meddling.

        • We would have had to turn that country into a parking lot to win it. We were willing to do that to the Germans and Japanese in WW2. We are no longer willing to conduct total war on our low end opponents, I assume mostly for fear of world opinion. Look at what the Israeli’s are doing in Gaza. Just like Sherman and his march through Georgia in the War of Northern Aggression.

    • A bunch of folks DIDN’T survive or thrive in Vietnam. Technology is a thing old timer. From a 69 year old happy that BS ended before I was drafted…no offense intended!

      • None taken. Sure is easy to get some folks exercised about ‘the old days’ tho. 🙂 But here’s a question: What will the battery operated tacticool guys do when the SHTF and they run out of those lithium batteries and their stuff goes belly up in a few months or years? Do they practice/train without all that electrical stuff? I’ll bet most don’t. They get addicted to the latest electronic & optical wizardry. That said, I have a couple dots on a couple pistols, and they’re ok. But I also know how to shoot straight without them. 🙂 I don’t use a WML or Laser at all.

        • When an old vet starts talking about shooting with iron sights back in his day so you show him your 4×32 Trijicon TA31RCO ACOG with a ballistic compensating reticle that’s powered by radioactive isotopes and the fucking sun
          The future is now, old man.

        • Stock a reasonable # of batteries. Plus 0yr (if you live that long) 90% of the population will have expired and there will be an entirely different threat environment than in the JoeyObidenWorld of today.

        • Gunny has a point. If an EMP knocks out all your tech, whatcha gonna do?

          I recall a comic strip from some time back, may have been a MacNelly. Showed a tank rolling through a rocky desert area. A ragtag looking fella runs towards it with a big rock held over his head. Chatter among the crew about incoming bogey and targeting such and such, gizmos, etc. The guy smashes the barrel with the rock and begins to run away. One of the tank crew says, “…or we could just go out there and smack him with a tire iron.”

          If a young buck wants to live a long time, he’ll either become old and full of stories about how he learned to make do with less, or he won’t learn and he’ll either die young or may get lucky and live long but have no stories. Good tech is part of an answer, but it is not the whole answer.

    • That’s like making an argument that semiautomatic firearms don’t help you in fight because people have been able to use manually operated firearms for decades before they arrived.

      • I never had a semi-auto pistol other than a 1911, until long after I retired in ’83. I have several 9mm’s now and carry a P365 daily, but I still prefer my bone stock old 1911’s. New tech is fine, until it stops working; and then you better have something that you can rely on for the long run. 🙂

    • Oh man we survived all these years without the internet; guess we should only use phones and letters to communicate.

      Oh man, we survived all these years without automatic transmissions; guess we should only drive manuals.

      Oh man, we survived all these years with revolvers; guess we shouldn’t use those new fangled self-loading semi-automatic pistols.

    • Tritium sights are excellent for locating your gun on the nightstand in the dark.


      If it’s dark enough to see those green dots, it’s probably too dark to identify if the target is a threat or not.

      Yes those green dots help align your sights in the dark, but like a laser alone, do absolutely nothing to aid in target identification.

      I EDC a Streamlight USB Macrostream (500 lumens) and a SIG 938 SAS (the original 2 tone with rosewood grips and tritium sights).

      I have a Crimson Trace CMR-207G (400 lumens) with a green laser on a Beretta 92A1 for my nightstand gun.

      I want to SEE my target.

      • “If it’s dark enough to see those green dots, it’s probably too dark to identify if the target is a threat or not.”

        I hear this often. It isn’t true. It doesn’t have to be that dark to see the tritium glowing. If you’re in a darker area, looking into a lighter area, tritium sights work great. Black sights can disappear in low lighting conditions. It can take awhile to align those sights without the help of tritium dots.

        Try this. Give your living room or hallway some very low light at night. Make it just light enough to identify a target. Now stand in your dark bedroom. See how fast you can align sights with and without tritium against a dark background like wood or dark furniture. I’ve tried it both ways, and tritium makes a huge difference.

        Now go outside at night. Make sure it’s just bright enough to identify a target without a flashlight. Try different conditions, facing different ways with moonlight or a house light on. Now see how fast you can align your sights with and without tritium. I’ve tried both. Tritium sights work for me while still being light enough to identify a target without a light. I still like a WML at home just in case.

  4. WMLs and a hand helt light are not a bad idea as a combination.
    Use the WML during a confirtation and the hand helt afterwards.
    i.e., holster the gun and use the hand helt light.

  5. Hopefully a wml powerful enough to cause instantaneous seizures if not outright melt whatever it’s pointed at, or just get a phaser.

  6. I like lights on guns. Got several of them. Long and short. Got a lot of handhelds also. I don’t care for carrying a weapon mounted light concealed. A little to bulky.

  7. I am surprised that at this point there is not a flashlight similar to the guide rod lasers that I have seen for Glocks by Lasermax.

    • Im a little surprised I don’t see more shotgun flashlight and lasers the mount like magazine extensions or replacements for the threaded caps.

  8. I think everyone’s missing the big picture.
    For civilians, and arguably off duty LEOs, one of, if not, the biggest concern a carrier should keep in the back of their mind is a jury.

    “If” you’re charged for a self defense shooting I can 100% guarantee the prosecutor is going to repeatedly highlight any and all modifications you made to your firearm. The more they can make it look like you premeditated your shooting, they will.

    They’ll tell the nine how you added this and that, polished this and that, and how you made your stock handgun a killing machine. Now you may say, well I’m following the lead of law enforcement, they’re the “experts.” Well, the prosecutor will say – but you’re not and your role playing got someone killed. This happens in courtrooms day in and day out.

    It’s hard for them to glamorize a stock, but very functional, off the shelf gun you purchased. Good God forbid you add a laser. You’re toast. Optics? I’m still not sure how that’ll play either.

    And as the author states a light on a gun forces you to illuminate your target with the barrel of a gun. It never made sense to me.

    Lastly, so often draw time WILL be the difference between life and death. Anything that can cause a hang up will get you dead. Fast. You all can and will do what you wanna do. That’s a ok with me. But personally, ANY pistol add on is asking for scrutiny. Just consider it.

      • Do your own research in between playing call of duty in your parent’s basement. Maybe when you grow out of your pajamas you’ll gain some life experience.

  9. “If” you’re charged for a self defense shooting I can 100% guarantee the prosecutor is going to repeatedly highlight any and all modifications you made to your firearm. The more they can make it look like you premeditated your shooting, they will.“

    charged for a self defense shooting?

    If it makes it that far, it isn’t going to matter. The job of the prosecutor is to take you down. Regardless. Even if you did every single little thing 100% correctly.

  10. The hardest constraint to satisfy in a WML setup is finding a holster for the particular pistol+light combination you want. I find it works if I choose the pistol first, then shop for a light+holster at the same time, to fit that pistol.

    Different purposes result in different priorities and requirements for different pistols, different lights, and different holster types.

    For my full/duty size competition pistol (USPSA and 3-Gun) I want the heaviest light with the most battery capacity I can find, and a holster I can mount on my competition belt. Then I install mechanically compatible cells that are mostly tungsten dead weight, with a tiny button cell to make the light glow just enough to satisfy the rules requiring a functional WML. Right now that’s a Streamlight TLR-1 with two CR123A cells, which is well supported on my full size pistol by competition holster manufacturers.

    For my carry pistol I want a small lightweight light with just enough battery capacity to run through the active stages of a training course. I’m okay with enough endurance to last the morning, then install a fresh cell at lunchtime for the afternoon’s exercises. That light needs to be bright enough to identify targets at defensive ranges, ideally via spill along with direct illumination. Right now that’s a Streamlight TLR-7 Sub that offers an hour of 500lm/5000cd from a single CR123A, and is well supported on my carry pistol by IWB holster manufacturers.

  11. The reason I don’t endorse WML in home defense is the reverse position announcement you are sending to the world. Any one skulking around in the dark has to presumed to be armed. If you suddenly light them up with a WML you may receive fire before you can positively identify the threat. My LEO friends use a hand held offset from their body when doing entry for that very reason.

  12. I’m not following you here. Are you suggesting the anyone that likes to sleep at night with the lights off should be considered gun owners? That anyone that loses power are automatically seen as having firearms in the home?

    A homeowner walking around a dark home in the middle of the night with a flashlight is nothing all that unusual.

    • What? Walking around your unlit home with a flashlight isn’t unusual? What trailer park do you live in? How often do you not pay your power bill? It’s exceptionally unusual. A light beam throughout a blackened home will absolutely draw attention. If there’s an area power outage the police will identify it by EVERYTHING being blacked out in the area. Not one home. WTF are you talking about?

      • I often move around my home by the 1 lumen “ultralow” setting of my flashlight. I leave the lamps and ceiling lights turned off to be considerate of my sleeping family.

  13. Nope.

    I don’t need a can opener or clock radio clamped onto my EDC either. I’m not afraid of the dark and the civilian mission is to break contact with a BG and bug out. I’m not going to be opening doors and clearing rooms looking to kill or capture the “enemy.”

    I usually don’t even EDC a flashlight. If I drop something in the dark and need to find it I have a decent light on my phone.

    Oh, and did I mention I’m not afraid of the dark?

      • “If you’re not living full time at your bugout location, you’re wrong.”

        Wisdom of the ages; ignore at your peril.

      • I’m not rooted in any location. I’m hyper mobile. If you are mot able to move a hundred miles a day every day and not even really disrupt your daily lifestyle you are wrong. People who are rooted in one location, no matter how remote or well defended, are going to be casualties when warfare comes to them with the next turning. You cant hold off million hungry locust scavengers sweeping across the countryside out of the dying cities.

  14. Simple fact is that the vast majority of armed citizens who opt for a weapon light on their handgun will likely utilize it improperly as a flashlight and/or mistakenly assume that once a weapon light is mounted, then surely it should always be activated in all low light conditions/scenarios.

  15. I have found a weapon light on the AR to be handy whenever dealing with rogue coons at the birdfeeders. Every winter they beat a path to the feeders, where they scrounge for corn and sunflower seeds. They sometimes climb up the arbor and damage the feeders, so the wife tells me to deal with it. I put the 22LR conversion bolt in the AR, load a mag with those CCI quiet segmented cartridges, and go to work. There’s enough ambient light in the back yard so that I can see the shapes of them crawling around as I peek through a window. I head out to the back door of the garage, identify them with a quick shine of a handheld MagLite, then fire up the AR light and put the red dot on the coon head. Very effective. The coons end up in the landfill, the local trash cans remain relatively unmolested, the birds eat better, the wife is happy, and the neighbors are unaware, wins all around.

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