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LASERS - GOOD TECH OR GIMMICK?

Within the community of those who carry handguns for personal defense there is a growing notion that no handgun is complete without a laser hanging from it in some form or fashion. We are seeing more and more CCW users, especially those new to the handgun and concealed carry, with such devices. While there are numerous reasons touted for the use of laser sighting, many propagated by the manufacturers, the gun press (whom the manufacturers advertise with), and some trainers (who may or may not be paid spokespersons for the manufacturers), do these reasons stand up in the “light of day”, as it were?

My contention is that they do not. Please understand. I am not against new and better technologies – my personal carry gun, a Glock 17, has a Trijicon mini-reflex red-dot sight buried in the rear of the slide. Nor is this meant to disparage those who have chosen the laser aiming route, merely to examine the logic by which they got there.

While the laser may have an application in certain limited circumstances, I don’t think it is necessary or beneficial to the vast majority of those who are depending on these devices to keep them out of harm’s way. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons given for this accessory.

1) As a primary aiming system. It has been my experience that a properly trained handgunner will hit the target faster with iron sights than with a laser. This is also true of the inexperienced, who will tend to focus on the red or green dot that will continue to move on the target (the further the target, the greater the movement) until the shot breaks. While manufacturers will dispute this (for obvious reasons), for most shooters it is a hindrance, not a help, in breaking a fast controlled shot, and we have done the range testing to prove it.

This is not to say that there are not those who can manage amazing feats of marksmanship with the laser on the handgun. Back in the 80’s much was made of the “Israeli” method of handgunning, which consisted of running the defensive handgun with an empty chamber. Tapes were marketed, articles written, classes were sold-out. The instructors who taught this method were able to consistently get fast, accurate shots off while racking the slide during the presentation. Their individual skillset was a result of rigorous, endless practice of a flawed technique – it did not prove the technique, only the individual practitioner. I feel the same is true of lasers. Given the same amount of practice time and ammunition a shooter is far better off learning to correctly run his handgun rather than depending on a laser to do it for him.

I mean guys, come on, really – if lasers were a better method of getting fast, accurate hits, then every competitive pistol shooter on earth would be using them. They are not. Period.

2) “In a stress situation, you will not use the sights anyway.” But you will concentrate on a moving dot of light?!? REALLY? This has been debated forever. My personal experience is this. If you have time to prepare for a situation, even fractions of a second, your subconscious will register the sights as you come on target because it has been “primed” to do so.

If, on the other hand, the reaction is one of pure surprise, speed, and adrenalin, you will still hit the target without registering the sights. Why? Because you have practiced using them quickly at a variety of distances, and under stress you will react the way you’ve trained. Your grip, upper body stance, and trigger control will put the round(s) where they need to go, even without a perfect sight picture. Thrown shots, almost inevitably, are a result of poor trigger control, something a laser does nothing to correct, not sight picture issues, especially at close range.

3) Okay then, practice with a laser can tell you if you are snatching the trigger. True. So can an empty shell case balanced on the front sight, but I don’t keep one there all the time. There are a number of techniques used to diagnose and correct trigger snatch. Running a laser on your carry gun for this reason is pretty lame.

4) Well – the bad guy can see the laser dot on his body and this will deter him from action. Or it can make him move really, really fast. Or shoot immediately, thinking he is about to buy it. If he even sees it. It is far more likely his focus will be on the person holding the handgun and if their demeanor and gun-handling are up to snuff, well, that should be plenty of deterrence.

5) All-righty, then what about nighttime, shooting in the dark, the laser is great for that, right? This may be, especially if you are only worried about hitting the target and not target identification. Fact of the matter is, if it is so dark you can’t see your sights (supposing that you don’t have tritium sights), then you probably don’t have any business shooting anyway. Now there may be exceptions to this (one is coming up), but tritium sights or a mini-reflex red dot sight melted into the slide are both better solutions to hitting in the dark.

6) How about if you are on your back, or in some other awkward position? The laser is great then, right? Okay. Shooting from the hip, or at other body positions, such as around a clear ballistic shield like some police entry teams use may be a valid application for the laser. But honestly – how many times are you going to find yourself in a position where the weapon cannot be sighted from eye level. We practice shooting from our backs; the sights work just fine from this position.

Guys, here’s the thing. We want to be prepared for any eventuality, yes – BUT – when making these equipment choices they MUST be balanced with the likelihood that you will actually NEED that capability against what the trade-off is. In this case, difficulty in finding a concealment system that works for your laser equipped weapon.

7) There are some instances when a laser does make absolute sense. Our military guys run them on rifles because when using night vision goggles they can’t see the red dot or other sighting system. There is a legitimate use with a handgun as well. In the wake of 9/11 I was contacted by a member of a Special Missions Unit (SMU) out of Ft. Bragg that we had done some previous work for. They were getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan on a mission to track down Bin Laden, dubbed Operation Anaconda. A lot of the mission was documented in the book “Kill Bin Laden”, by Dalton Fury. Our guy requested some holsters from us that would accommodate a Glock 19 equipped with a combination laser/light system in infrared. It needed to be easily attached to a chest rig, or belt. We built them the holsters, and to the best of my knowledge, they were used during the mission. The point is; the laser and light combo they were using was designed to be used in conjunction with night vision devices, so that both the light and laser were visible only to those so equipped. This does make a lot of sense, especially in the context of moving through a tightly confined area such as a cave. In total darkness. While hunting an enemy who would love to make a video of your head being slowly cut off.

If that is also your circumstance, then by all means utilize your laser equipped handgun. And God Bless You. If not, you may want to re-think the concept and invest in more practice ammo instead.