If you’re protecting your home and family from threats that are in your house — and it’s dark — how will you illuminate the intruders to ensure you can make the right shot on the right target? You gotta have a light for that bump in the night, right?
In the video below, Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch explains (@2:42): “Lights are pretty easy. I don’t shoot s*** in the dark. I think it’s a bad idea.” He also mentions he has a light on his shotgun so he can find the light switch.
Most TTAGers would agree, needing a light for self defense isn’t up for discussion. But which kind of light — weapons-mounted or handheld — is the right choice?
Not an Either/Or Question
For me and my home-defense setup, I want to be sure of what my target is, and a light helps me do that. It’s right there in the rules of basic gun safety, Nos. 1 and 4, “Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction,” and “Be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.”
A light lets me identify a potential assailant, but if the light is attached to a gun, I may end up pointing it at a loved one before I can identify them. That is a bad thing.
I don’t want to unintentionally point my loaded weapon at someone I live with simply because it was too dark to see who is who. If I’m covering my wife or kids or cats with my pistol, they’re only 4.5 pounds of finger pressure away from getting shot. Not the right choice for me.
The alternative — getting a positive ID before muzzling a potential threat — obviously requires light, and too often, the issue is framed as, “Which would you rather, a gun-mounted light or a handheld light?”
This home-defense fight doesn’t have to be a Kobayashi Maru scenario, because I plan to win by whatever means necessary. So I’d rather have both self-defense tools.
A tactical flashlight has its tribulations, too, not the least of which is having to handle the gun with one hand while opening a door or using a less-familiar grip with the flashlight. The tactical FBI grip (where you hold the flashlight in the “ice pick” grip up in the air and away from your body) is probably the best known and has some law-enforcement imprimatur that does along with it, but the Harries, Chapman, and Neck Index flashlight techniques are also worth looking at. All have their pros and cons.
But to start, maybe I don’t have to use my tactical light or my weapon-mounted light (WML).
Ambient and Directed Lighting
My preference in terms of illuminating potential attackers in the house is for it to be bright enough with night lights so I don’t have to turn on my flashlight or weapon light. To that end, the common areas of my house have quite a few night low lights scattered around, which provides enough light for me to easily identify good guy/bad guy with no additional beams.
Also, the ambient light level is perfect for seeing the green laser I run on my FNX-45. As equipped, this rig is too big to use in a concealed-carry role, and the light makes holster fit impossible. So it lives in a quick-access safe.
Moreover, in addition to the ambient lighting, we extensively use Philips Hue wifi-controlled light bulbs through the house, which are programmed into my phone as zones. My wife or I (or adult children, if they’re on site) can switch on the lights all at once or in any zone in the house, or turn them off, from anywhere in the house. And I can operate the Hues while the phone is on and I’m talking to 911.
Would I be able to do all that with my shorts full of crap, as Mr. Smith so colorfully describes in many of his Thunder Ranch videos? I don’t know, but it’s nice to have the option.
As I mentioned, I have a laser on my .45 ACP, but it’s really a light/laser combo, the 800-lumen Streamlight TLR-2 HL G. The high-lumen light simply slides onto the front rail of the FN and is secured with a screw, and it gives me both the white light I need to spot targets before dotting them with the Burris FastFire III optic or marking them with the green laser, which are co-witnessed at 15 yards. The WML runs on two CR123A batteries.
Many people believe they have to cover the target to illuminate it with a gun light. That’s not really true. The light can be activated off target, but in the target’s general direction, and the light turned on, either momentarily or locked on. Same is true with the laser.
I have to be careful with the bright Streamlight, making sure to point the light downrange and away from nearby items when I turn it on. If I accidentally point it near a light colored wall or other reflective surface, I’ll have a dark spot in my vision for a few seconds. That’s not the right strategy in a self-defense situation.
A few other considerations about a light source on a weapon:
- Having a gun-mounted light requires some way to attach it to the gun. The FNX-45 has a handy Picatinny rail that easily accepts the Streamlight. When I switch the laser/light to an AR or other long gun, the Streamlight mounts to the left-hand side of the gun and I can operate it the same way. I’m familiar with the on/off switch, the momentary on and strobe mode, and the feel of the bezel and housing.
- Lights mounted on your pistol’s rail cost more than a handheld light of equal brightness and build. Reason: They must squeeze illumination into a small package, mount directly to your firearm, have a switch that is easy to reach, be able to withstand recoil, and have a lens that will absorb muzzle blast and fouling without breaking or losing beam quality. That’s asking a lot, so expect to pay for it. I have a Streamlight TLR-3 (light only) as well and like it fine, and it’s only $80. It throws a surprisingly tight beam.
- Also, you’ve got to practice with the light mounted on the gun, both to ensure the light can withstand being attached to a pistol and because a light changes how a handgun handles. I shoot the FNX with the laser about 50 rounds a month and with the Fastfire optic the same amount with the light/laser attached. It gets dirty as heck after each session, so I clean the optic as well as the gun.
Handheld Flashlights and Penlights
There are other guns in the house, including a Benelli Nova 12-gauge pump gun and a Mossberg Model 500 Cruiser .410-bore pump which currently don’t have lights mounted on them. If I have to fall back to them, they’re stored with small, inexpensive Bass Pro Shops LED handheld flashlights with tailswitches.
The 6-Pack LED Combo package is only $10. They’re super-light and easy to operate. Click the tailcap switch that is operated with the thumb and they throw a less-intense (135-lumen) wide beam. Battery life (three lithium battery AAAs) has been stellar.
I can fit the lights into the forearm groove on the shotguns and still run the pumps. And, if needed, I can grab the light and look around a corner with it, and still fire one shot with either shotgun, though the Cruiser is a lot easier to handle.
There are a ton of tough, high-output lights with a range of features, including momentary switches, easy battery availability (such as AA or CR123), and reliability. The Surefire G2X Pro is affordable and suitable for home stowage, and as I mentioned, I like the inexpensive Bass Pro aluminum-housing lights for this specific use.
An extra-bright light can be useful, but I would never count on it to instantly blind someone in the house. That would be a great outcome. Same thing with a strobe function. I just need enough light to make sure the bump in the dark is a cat who lives here, not some Cat who doesn’t.
Also, I like these lower-powered backup lights because they don’t blind me. When I’m exposed to bright light, even if it’s reflected, I can’t see for several seconds. If I have fallen back to the shotguns after emptying the FNX-45 of its ammo (16 or 31) rounds of HPR 185-grain JHPs, the targets have been identified plenty good.
Power range for a handheld? Probably between 100 lumens to 450 lumens. The easy way to test it is to shine it around your house at night and see if you still have usable night vision after you shut it off.
Weapon Mounted vs. Handheld Light — What do you Use?
Do you use lights in your home-defense plan? Work your solution to the problem in the comments section below.
More about the use of tactical lights from The Truth About Guns: