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When it comes to armed self-defense, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. For example, using a weapon-mounted light is an excellent idea – IF you know what you’re doing AND you’ve practiced under stress. If you don’t, a great many things can go badly wrong. Leaving a gun light on as you sweep a room or house tells the bad guy exactly where to aim his gun and/or mount a physical attack. A far better technique: switch the light on for a quick picture, then turn it off a fraction of a second later and move (while listening for target information). To do that, though, you have to have the right gun light and excellent control of the mechanism. And then there’s whole firing the gun thing . . .

At some point you may want to leave the light on and pull the trigger. Can you make that transition? Without delay or mistake? There’s only one way to know: try it. Preferably in a class shooting Simunitions or Man Marker Cartridges at a force-on-force pretend bad guy, in the dark.

Alternatively, forget the whole weapons-mounted light misegos. Carry a flashlight in your support hand and practice shooting single-handed (realizing that squeezing the light’s switch with one hand may cause you to pull the trigger with the other). Or, I dunno, call 911, turn the lights on, assume a defensive position and wait for an attack or the cavalry.

A lot of people love the idea of a weapon-mounted light. That’s why companies make them and NRA commentators comment on them. But there are an awful lot of variations on the theme; including dozens of different activations protocols. Unless you’ve thought it through and tested your gear during low-light firearms training, a weapon-mounted light could be a lot more trouble than it’s worth. Just sayin’ . . .

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  1. Why not just leave the weapon light on the whole time? I get the idea that someone could see your light and shoot at you but I don’t think the average criminal is going to want to engage in a firefight in your home in the middle of the night. Sometimes I wonder if you HSLD types are prepping for a home invasion or a mafia hit squad. TLDR: I think it’s fine to leave your flashlight on. Thoughts?

    • Also: nothing wrong with short flashlight bursts or prepping for a hit squad, I just think it’s a little excessive for the average homeowner (or renter, as the case may be) EDIT: due to the above reasons, I think weapon lights don’t require much training to use effectively: just flick the safety off, and your weapon light on.

    • What if there are two or more bad guys?

      Leaving a light on in a stationary position is like smoking after dark. It’s like a neon sign reading “put bullets here.”

      Using a light effectively also implies going out and clearing rooms. You have to be moving for it to work.

      • In order to aim at something, you have to look at it. Nobody is going to be able to look at a 950 lumen light in the middle of the night.

        • They don’t have to look directly at it. They just have to offset 12 inches and mag dump. Some of that is going to go into your center torso.

          Good luck with that.

    • Some self-defenders plan for a hit team because they are worst case planners

      Some self-defenders plan for a hit team because they are delusional

      Some self-defenders plan for a hit team because they take training classes designed for police or military threats.

      And a small number of self-defenders train and plan for a hit team because they live in a marginal neighborhood where the bad guys make mistakes.

    • It is your home. Your biggest advantage is the dark. The bad guy gets to stumble around an unfamiliar house. A quick burst of light will destroy his night vision and allow you to identify your target. It will allow him to rethink his career choices, perhaps run saving you a lot of paperwork.

    • I am in the process of automating my house. One of the items other than cameras that I am adding is a remote with a single “all on” button. You can imagine the surprise of any bad guy when all the lights around him go on; meanwhile I am down low with a shotgun aimed down the hall with my headset on with the cops on the line. I do not believe in “room clearing” for myself unless the cops just are not gonna be there.

  2. Been thinking of rigging up a couple of ultra bright lights, one in the bedroom, which would be directional towards the door, coming from the opposite end of the room, and the other overlooking the living room. Both these lights would be triggered from a switch beside the bed.
    We have a small house and the living room light could be seen from the bedroom. The idea of this system would be that someone in the living room would be “lit up” and would probably run like hell. The one in the bedroom would keep the light off of me, but allow me to shoot should it be deemed necessary.

  3. Yes, all of this. If I investigate a noise at night, I will be switching on lights, not swinging a flashlight to and fro. I do have a flashlight as backup, but I’d rather have it in my hand.

  4. Underestimating what you’re up against is seldom a winning strategy. Farago is right on this one. If you’re gonna use the light recklessly, don’t use it at all.
    Besides, there are a few tricks to using a light well. For example: Most ceilings are white, shine a light anywhere on the ceiling and it will light up the whole room.

  5. Your night vision is better than you think. Unless it is pitch black, or transitioning from a lighted area into an unlit area, I’d rather not rely on a light. If it’s pitch black, NVGs with an illuminator beats a light any day of the week.

    • How easy are these to legally purchase?
      How long does it take to get them on, get them active, get your eyes adjusted, and get your firearm ready?

      • 1) they are readily available, if you can afford them. I will admit – good optics aren’t cheap. Gen 1 is cr@p. Gen 2 is marginal. Gen 3 and Gen 4 are good. PVS-7bs and PVS-14s are good choices. Thermals would be awesome, but they are unaffordable.

        2) if you keep them next to your ready firearm, not that hard at all. Your eyes are going to adjust to an illuminator (flashlight, whatever) in any case.

  6. Unless the power is out completely, there should be enough ambient light to shoot by. Most appliances’ LED readouts put out a fair amount of light. Smoke detectors can put off enough light to cast a faint shadow. No house is truly dark any more.

    Either that, or I’m a freak of nature when it comes to seeing under low-light conditions.

    • I know what you mean between the umpteen zillion L.E.D displays, the AC thermostat’s super bright backlit display, the night lights for the kiddos, & the driveway light shinin through the livin room window a flash light in most rooms of my house is a wee bit overkill unless the power’s out.
      That said I still have a weapon light and a rechargable hand held light just in case.

      • My CCW instructor also recommended keeping something like the Howard Leight electronic ear muffs handy. Put them on, turn them on and the volume up and you can hear a gnat sneeze at 40 paces.

        • Thats a really good idea, they do work amazingly well at magnifying sound. The directional info is a little ‘off’ and its possible to put them on backwards, which makes it worse. Also, a sudden small bump in the night can sound like a giant crash if you arent used to using them this way, turned all the way up, so some practice every so often, including putting on right way and finding the volume control in the dark helps.

          Ask me about the time a buck walked right up behind me in a hide and snuffed loudly…bout filled my drawers..;).

        • And if your home defense weapon is a shotgun and you have to use it what happens to your hearing?

        • They are electronic sound dampening, above a certain threshold they cancel out the sudden spike of the gunblast…not completely, but enough to reduce about 30 db, which depending on gun, puts you into non-permanent damage levels. They dont work well enough in the indoor range, especially when theres a guy with S&W500 in next lane, so I use foamies, to keep ears from ringing..

    • I have above average night vision, but I don’t think, even with all of LEDs in my whole house on, I would have enough confidence to positively identify an intruder and make a threat evaluation without additional light. I would not take the risk of pointing my gun at someone with just the microwave clock as my light source.

      • Target ID is absolutely paramount. Your bump in the night could be a teenager coming home late at night or the neighbor’s cat.

        • If a teenager tries to get into my home at zero dark thirty, he’s gonna get shot. If the neighbor’s cat tries to get into my home at zero dark thirty, I have a big old Tom who’s gonna chew his ass to pieces.

        • RALPH, I think Accur’s talking about your own teenager returning home than a random hoodlum trying to enter your domicile. I sometimes gets a little grumpy with my kid, but shooting him still feels like taking it a bit far.

        • I hope that any directionally challenged teenager would be put off by most people’s locked doors, possible alarm systems, and likely dogs

        • That is only if there is somebody that you don’t want to shoot. Misanthropes are not so encumbered;-)
          Having teenagers in your home is also a terrible idea, so that is a non-starter from the get go.

  7. The author is right as far as not leaving the light on. Without going into detail, it’s much more advantageous to use quick bursts of light at certain times than to just leave the light on.

  8. A light activated by the off hand (even if mounted to the handgun) seems much more responsible. If you have to fire quickly in self defense, you are going to clench the handgun and fire. Hopefully with a pressure switch the left hand clenching would keep the light on so you don’t even have to think about it, but you could still use it in quick bursts.
    Just my two cents. Paddle style lights would still be useful but I don’t think using the trigger finger to activate them is a good idea.

  9. A light on a firearm at night is also a big target for incoming fire. I know my home, I know how it sounds, I also live alone, so anyone in my home without my permission, gets shot. No questions asked. Again I live alone, I would not advise this for someone who does not, or someone with pets.

    • You do know your floor plan and you can get around in the dark but your target is also dark so how are you going to hit it if you can’t see it? Are you going to shoot toward the sound? If you are afraid that your light will be a target then that is a good reason to flip it on to take a shot but if the target isn’t there then flip it off and move. When you think you see the shadow of the intruder or hear him then flip it on and if you see the threat, take your shot at a clear bright image. Makes sense to me anyway.

  10. I don’t have a weapon-mounted light because I don’t have a weapon that can take one. I do however have a small, STUPIDLY bright pocket flashlight I keep by the bedside (mostly for power outages). It’s made by a company called Bright Medic and I found it on Amazon. I think it’ll do the job, should I ever need it to. Then again my plan in case burglars show up at night is “call police, take defensive position in bedroom and wait”. My night vision is simply too poor for me to wander around in the dark looking for trouble.

  11. I keep a low-lumen WML with a red filter on both my home defense guns. That, combined with night sights, gives me enough extra light to not disrupt my night vision or wash out the tritium in the sights. I typically bounce the light off of walls when I practice.

  12. First off I liked this NRA video, probably one of the better ones I have seen in a while, like the sight picture video they did. Ultra fast, hipster ones that feature Dom and Colin are probably cooler but this is something a non operator can watch.

    I also keep my Surefire X300 off when checking the house for tactical purposes however my wife doesn’t train, hell I just got her into guns a few years ago, 7 years ago she would check the house with my old quadruple D Mag light and nothing else if she heard bumps while I was out night fishing probably keeping the thing on the whole time.

    These days she is a bit better and will grab a gun, light on aimed at floor illuminating each room till she identifies threat, then just needs to remember to rock that thumb safety. So far thank goodness threats have only been noisy ass cats so safety never gets turned off but if a real crises arises hopefully she’ll be good to go.

  13. I prefer to let him deal with me in the dark as I know my house better then he does..and the dark gives me the advantage.

    • Thats how it is for me too, in the burbs. Enough ambient light from various LEDs, the night lights in wall sockets

      (the kind that have a faint glow, and keep battery charged until power outage, and they come on, to help you out low crawling thru smoke, or the fire fighter coming in looking for a kid, or dog under the bed…)

      and streetlight or other outside light thru windows, and if you know how to walk thhru the dark spots anyway, you can use them and wait for the bad guy to outline himself. Practicing using cover, flipping on a light from around a corner, and they really dont stand a chance, if you have practiced.

      Personally, I like to have a SureFire Fury in back pocket because that gives a first level of force on force, blinding with high beam, anyone inside 15 yards. And that works for walking the dog, catching coyote eye gleam far out, or someone walking in dark clothes on unlit block or path too, long before they are a surprise.

      I’m def not an operator, but practicing shooting either hand single handed just makes sense for all sorts of scenarios, in close.

      Dont plan on generally shooting offensively at all, with a handgun, and only start shooting at 15 yards inbound, defensively if all other tactics have failed, including

      Three S rules for sketchy places,
      GITFO early in mall scenarios,
      SCREAM; 911 called, cops on the way, get out now while you can…AND I HAVE SHOTGUN and WILL SHOOT if you come one step closer.!!! follwed by famous racking…for unknown intruder heard in house…
      (listening for the sound of toppling furniture, crashing thru doors, windows by teenagers next door that is 70% of suburban burglaries…)

      okay, enough with the Biden jokes, and yeah, I know its an urban myth. Its just such a cool scary sound. Call it “verbal judo with exclamation point…” And the heck with the big screen tv, not gojng to waste time in court defending myself shooting someone hauling that out…its an old model, and the insurance money will buy a new one!

      BTW I might load rubber bullets shell in the 870, first round, per the strong advice of one longtime 870 armorer and custom builds for multiple PDs..for that odd chance it your own teenager sneaking home drunk from first kegger…not that I would have EVER done something similar in my yout’.

      And my personal favorite, RUNLIKEHE11, in all other undefined situations if at all possible, a lesson from a wise sensei long ago.

  14. You gotta admit, the light and laser combo is a cool toy, tho, and they are getting small and light enough its not like attaching a brick out at muzzle end.

    I can see it being useful on an pump shotgun where juggling a hand held flashlight gets awkward.

    Any consensus on which brands hold up best to recoil? Shot a red dot from Burrus to broken bits inside, after only a dozen shells of buck and slug, despite being made as integrated saddle mount for the 870.

    Now jaded on the idea of mounting anything else my life would depend on, until its been beat infield by LEOs and MIL for a couple of generations to be proven bulletproof as the gun.

  15. ps, I agree with RF. I f you are going to mount it, now you have to practice witb it, make sure the muscle memory is layered onto the rest of the steps, shoot/no-shoot, including where do you index finger off trigger, off an on light switch times two if you include laser. That can get awkward and lead to a freeze and “looping” in condition black, if you dont have that muscle memory hardwired in the monkey brain.

  16. Wait – The main reason for a light is to identify your target. I don’t want to shoot someone from my family, the dog, etc.. I’m not too worried about mafia hit squads. I want who ever is in my house to know I’m coming with a weapon. FYI: I also have remote control lights that I can turn on from an old iPod touch and stay in the dark if needed. The main thing is to know your target,

    • How do you keep the iPod from lighting you up when you turn it on? How many “button presses” to you need to get from “iPod off” to “house light on?” Is the prelude to a gunfight a good time to be diddling with an iPod?

  17. Weapon mounted lights, generally speaking, are not a good idea. They are the lazy way of intergrating a light into your personal defense system. For one thing, there are plenty of ocassions when one needs a light but doesn’t need to point a gun at the thing (or people) that need illuminating. Far better to have a light on your weak side that you can access and use independently from your gun. Sure, you need to practice off hand light techniques, but in the long run, this is the way to go.
    Lastly, I take slight issue with Robert’s example of “sweeping a room or house” as this inand of itself is not a wise tactic unless you are an LEO. A better course of action is assume a defensive posture and stay put unless your HAVE to leave.

    • For a handgun, I agree. If I were training to integrate my dog into HD, or outside house patrol, it MIGHT make sense to have a handgun light, but handling a dog aggressive enough to be useful, requures a lot of training, and then you are back to the cost benefit tradeoff of the hanfdun light itself…more time needed to build dependable muscle memory habits when your monkey brain takes over, and your vision turns into looking thru a toilet paper tube…

  18. Weapon-mounted lights are best when actually shooting. Hand-held lights are best when searching. Neither are perfect.

    You need to have your light go off the instant you turn it off and on the instant you turn it on. Momentary-contact-only tailcaps are best. Click-on tailcaps with momentary options are too difficult to manipulate under stress and the light will be clicked on when you want momentary.

    Unfortunately, very few flashlights come with momentary-only switches because multi-function is all the rage (and higher profit margin). You have to look around. It’s all that I carry.

  19. the average Joe (me) doesn’t have access to force on force training. So, I guess I will be one of those that hunkers down and blasts anything trying to come upstairs.

  20. We have night lights scattered around the house. They provide enough ambient light to see clearly. We don’t have them specifically for home defense but they will support that mode. We also have a number of battery powered emergency lanterns that we put out during power outages for the same reason. The low light setting is good for about 50 hours.

  21. We have a 3 tier protection system. First is two large parrots who live on the back porch. You can’t get within 50 yards of the property line without them sounding an intruder alert. This in turn sets off 3 small very high strung dogs which will alert gun toting homeowners who would be waiting for you to open the door or come through a window. Very effective and next to impossible to defeat.

  22. Much ado about nothing.

    Having a reliable high intensity light mounted or in hand is another power tool in the mix and circumstances will dictate it’s use or not in each case. If you DO use a light, practice with it periodically under different conditions; the tool is only as good as its operator. Get the brightest you can. Having house lights on, or on sensor, is also an extremely useful tactic and deterrent. Position them so you are back-lit, not front-lit, if lit at all.

    The bottom line will *always* be to absolutely ID your target and the background behind. The objective for most is self-defense, which it isn’t unless you KNOW your target is a capable deadly threat that will not retreat and leave. I get the sense that too many seem to want to cross the line into aggressor mode. House and property clearing is fine if called for, but leave yourself and the criminal intruder – if there is one – a way out. You pop a cap on someone’s ass and you will live to regret it in many ways.

    Mike McDaniels article yesterday was very instructive.

  23. Lights attract bullets. Ambient and low light in hallways, kitchen, foyers, living room works best. Light up the crook, not yourself.


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