Flashlights and guns have gone together for a long time. In recent years, flashlight technology has advanced and now it is possible to have a very bright light, in a small package that a normal guy or girl can afford. It has also increased the production of weapon-mounted lights to go along with the rails many defensive pistols now have build in. Many old school trainers have strong opinions against this new technology. So let’s take a look at some of the benefits and issues surrounding weapon mounted lights.
I have heard many people say in gun ‘n gear conversations, “unless you are on a swat team, or Special Forces, you don’t really need one.” While I agree it is not necessary to tote around a fifty pound tactical plate carrying vest, there are items typically carried by the “pros” that can make us normal folk’s life easier. Attaching a light to a weapon accomplishes one goal, to free your hands for more important things. On a swat team, that could be carrying a ballistic shield, or holding a flashbang. A K9 officer may need to hold the leash of his trusty partner. We on the other hand we may need to call 911 on our cell phone, or hold a child or loved one behind us. Regardless whether you are a swat cop or a stay at home mom, you shoot with better with both hands on the gun and a weapon light allows you to do that. Bottom line, a weapon light is a tool that can assist us, but we need to use it correctly.
Many opposed to weapon mounted lights argue that it creates a safety hazard, as people will point the weapon at people or things they do not intend to shoot to illuminate them. As tempting as it might be to do that, always keep in mind that it is a weapon light.
One of the golden safety rules is we do not point a firearm at anything we are not willing to kill, damage or destroy.
This doesn't’t change, we must still have a flashlight, not attached to a weapon, ready to handle tasks where the business end of a firearm is not appropriate. It is also a good idea to have one in case your weapon light fails to function.
Deployment is another challenge. We have two options. We can carry the weapon light on some type of carrier or inside your pocket, or we can keep it attached to your firearm while it is in the holster. The benefit of keeping in a carrier/pocket is that is not committed and if you are at home and have the option to use a long gun, it can be attached quickly provided there is a rail. The downfall is that it takes more time to get your weapon into the fight, and time is something you may not have. Many holster manufactures make OWB and IWB holsters out of leather, or kydex that conceal well. These holsters keep you ready and when you draw you pistol the light is attached already. I will caution you that there is a slight learning curse when re-holstering do to the shape of the light. Like any new holster, you should complete many draws and re-holsters prior to putting into service.
While weapon lights are generally lightweight, anytime you add an accessory to a firearm it will handle a little different. Although I have never seen it, I have been told that the added weight can cause malfunctions on recoil-operated pistols. I believe that if a manufacture includes a rail on their gun, they intent for you to put something there and have engineered the firearm accordingly. The best thing to do is try the pistol with the light attached and the defensive ammo you carry. That will expose a problem if any. If you intent to add a rail onto a firearm that did not come equipped, I would ensure the work is done by an experience gunsmith to ensure it is done correctly or contact the manufacturer to see if they can do it for you, since they are the ones who built the gun
When selecting a weapon light there are pretty much three companies that rule the ring, Surefire, Streamlight and Insight Technologies. All three make quality products and your decision will likely be made by your budget and what the holster you intend to purchase will fit. The only feature I would ensure is both the option of momentary on/off and constant on off. In low light conditions, we want to use a light strategically as a bright light will give away your position and act as a powerful bullet magnet. In situations where we only have the use of one hand do to injury or the need to hold something else, the constant on will allow you to still deploy the light. Many models have remote pressure switches available as options. They work well but can be expensive to add and make one more thing to fail, as a switch is usually the weak point in any light.
In conclusion, I believe weapon lights are good tools. They do not eliminate the need to develop lowlight shooting skills with a handheld light, but when used the allow you to shoot with both hands on the gun, and still allows you to use light when one hand is unavailable do to injury or the necessity to hold something else. If you decide to add a weapon light to your tool box, choose your light, gun and holster option carefully and then train, train, train with them.