Weapon Mounted Lights for Home Defense Handguns

When it comes to defensive shooting in the home, light is important.  Light is what allows our eye to see what is around us and since vision is the primary input when it comes to defensive situations that means light is important to home-defense.

It helps to see so that we can gather information to know that an attack is imminent or in progress.

We need to be able to see when the threat ceases so that our use of force can also terminate.

Maybe most importantly, we need to be able to see so that we can identify our “threat.”

Since we need to see the attack and the attacker we need light.  It is generally accepted (and correct) that violence is statistically more likely to take place at night and as a result, it happens when there is less light available to see what we need to see.

The opposable thumb part of the human loves tools and so lights have become an important part of the defensive shooting world.  And we have come a long way since the days of the 4 D Cell maglight that we all thought was so bright at the time.

So far in fact that lights are small enough and bright enough to be mounted directly on handguns seems like a perfect solution.

A bit back  I received an email from Bryan Bolivar one of the hosts at Modern Rifleman Radio and Bryan wanted to know what I thought about Weapon Mounted Lights as a tool for home defense.  Bryan asked all the right questions in his email and we had a great conversation sorting through the issues.


One of the things Bryan asked about specifically was if this was a topic covered in Safety Solutions Academy’s Critical Defensive Handgun class.  We don’t specifically address WMLs as a training point in our CDH Course, however, we do address specific questions that students have.  If you come to class with a WML we are likely to be talking about Weapon Mounted Lights!

If you are interested in taking your defensive handgun training to the next level, get registered for Critical Defensive Handgun.

Here is the email that Bryan sent:

I was interested in your discussion about weapons mounted lights on TGN Ep133. You opened my eyes a bit and raised some questions. I keep a weapon mounted light on my home defence pistol but can see how it can be less effective outside of the home. Since that is not really an option up here, I never really gave it much thought. I can tend to be myopic in my focus of my own situation as much as I call foul when others do this.

 The reason I have it on the gun is in fact to use as an indirect flash light, shining either at the floor or ceiling. It is a impressive how much the TLR-1 lights up a room especially off a white ceiling. My thought on this is that by using the light when pointed either up or down, I am not going to inadvertently flag a family member, yet can clearly see any threats in the room. I also am not focusing a beam of light on something that may in fact reflect back on me, blinding me (say a mirror).

 Also, when I do point at a target with the weapon mounted light, it provides bright contrasting background for me to see the front sight post and align the gun naturally with a good sight picture.

 Finally, I am concerned about my ability to accurately make hits with a flash light in one hand and the gun in another. I have never been taught techniques to do this successfully.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on this and I am wondering if this is something that gets covered in your courses, say the 2 day critical defensive handgun course October 24-25, 2015?


Cheers, Bryan

The discussion Bryan and I had answered the questions he had in his email and really got to the bottom of some big training concepts that applied not only to Weapon Mounted Lights on a handgun, but to other areas as well.

Handgun Mounted Lights Increase Complexity

Guns aren’t the most complicated of tools out there, however, when we add gear like a weapon mounted light to a handgun, the complexity of the tool increases significantly.

We have to understand that under stress our capacity for dealing with complexity is diminished.  Humans have a tendency to focus on the treat to the exclusion of all else. It is a normal, natural survival instinct that has many positive benefits.  That tendency however, makes it more difficult to operate our tools.  We really need to be able to operate our firearms without thought to the operation so that we can place our cognitive attention on the remainder of factors that need our focus.  Adding complexity to our handgun means an increase in training time or more focus needed on the mechanics of running the gun when we should be attending to other matters.

It also should be noted that the most difficult part of operating a gun is pressing the trigger  when you mount a light on your handgun you are very likely increasing the task load on the trigger finger.  Yes, we should use the weak hand thumb to operate the switch on the handgun, however, this leaves us in a difficult situation if the weak hand is not on the gun.  Keep in mind that one of the big arguments FOR a Weapon Mounted Light on a Handgun is the idea that you can operate a gun and a light with only one hand.  We cannot allow our method of operation of the light negate that benefit because it requires two hands.

Handgun Mounted Weapon Lights Can’t Take the Place of a Handheld Light

There are plenty of situations where a light can come in handy, threat recognition, assisting in movement, treating medical emergencies and more.  These situations are realistic scenarios that you could encounter in a home defense scenario.

  • When I hear a bump in the night, I am much more likely to be dealing with a family member doing something out of the ordinary instead of a lethal threat.  The last thing I want to do is point my loaded firearm at someone I love.
  • When the lights go out due to a power outage, I can’t be tempted to use my Weapon Mounted Light to illuminate the situation.
  • If I am dealing with the aftermath of a home defense scenario and treating a family member for injuries, the last thing I want to do is point my gun at them to see what I am working on.

There certainly is a time and a place for a weapon mounted light, but I would argue that there are lots of times that you need a light that you DON’T want it to be on your handgun.

Handgun Mounted Lights Are Single Purpose

Until a potential threat is identified as an actual threat, A light mounted on a handgun serves very little practical purpose.

A light on a handgun serves as an outstanding tool to disorient a threat as they are being held at gunpoint.  I don’t want to hold someone at gunpoint as a home owner.  I would much rather have them turn tail and run, but if they choose not to  a light could be handy.

A Weapon mounted light on a handgun can do a good job of helping us understand if a threat needs to be shot, or if the shooting of a threat needs to stop.  Having the threat fully illuminated can allow you to see indicators that determine when your use of force should begin if at all and when it should cease. As important as these ideas are, they both take place after the threat has been identified as a threat.

Why am I making such a big deal about this post threat identification stage?  Cause it is a BIG DEAL.

We have already mentioned this concept and Claude Werner has pointed out that threat identification is key.  Why?  Because the bump you hear in the night is much more likely to be someone you know and love than an intruder with malicious intent.  Claude is absolutely spot on.  I don’t want to find out that the intruder is my daughter sneaking back in the house while my gun is pointed at her.

Lots of folks talk about washing the light from your weapon mounted light off of the floor to illuminate the threat.  I don’t prefer this technique.  It does a poor job of helping you see the threat and gathering information that you need to make decisions and it does a fabulous job of letting the threat know exactly where you are.  A weapon mounted light is designed to throw light directly onto the threat.  That is its purpose and it does it well.

Understanding the purpose of a weapon mounted light on your defensive handgun is important.  It is very good at doing what it is designed to do, and can be a serious liability when it is used in some other fashion.

When a Weapon Mounted Light comes in handy:

Weapon mounted lights are not all bad.  There are some specific circumstances where a weapon mounted light excels.  The list grows considerably for law enforcement officers, but here are a few of the situations where an average Joe might find a weapon mounted light to be particularly helpful:

  • Holding a known threat at gunpoint
  • When the location of all family members is in a known barricade position
  • When one hand is occupied and a threat has already been identified

There certainly can be other situations where a WML might be useful, but let’s not think that it is somehow a magical solution to dealing with threats.

A Weapon Mounted Light Is Rarely A Solution Alone

Have a hand held light.  If you have the resources to own a light to mount on your handgun AND to train with it properly go ahead and scoop up a light for your pistol.  Don’t forget about having a quality hand held light to go with it so that you can deal with all the circumstances that fall outside of the real that a WML is built for.

  • Have a hand held light.
  • Turn on the lights.
  • Understand when it is appropriate to use a WML and when it is not.

If you have a WML on your handgun understand that it is one part of a system and it has a very narrow application.

What ever it is that we are looking at we need to look at its use in total as opposed to one simple aspect.  It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a technique or a tool.  When we take a look at problems and their solutions we always need to consider the context of use.

Something that is a good idea for a K9 officer isn’t automatically a good idea for you and me.

If you are interested in taking your defensive handgun training to the next level, visit Ssa.training/cdh and if you are interested in making sure that you are integrating a Weapon Mounted Light appropriately in your training Critical Defensive Handgun is a place to do it.

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