A Laser sight is a powerful aiming tool in low-light defensive scenarios for those trained in their use.
What a laser sight brings to the table:
- Under perfect conditions, conventional pistol sights are the fastest option.
- However, in low light, lasers shine, making them great for carry or home defense guns.
- Lasers shouldn’t be considered for just close-quarters encounters, though.
- Paired with a scope, a laser sight can paint a target more than 200 yards out.
Several years ago at SHOT Show, at an indoor range on Media Day, I shot an S&W Bodyguard equipped with a laser sight. Out of curiosity, I held the gun at waist level and fired five shots at 10 yards. I put the laser sight on the X in the center of the target and all five rounds went into a ragged hole. I was impressed and decided then and there that any defensive gun I carried would be laser sight equipped. In our house, there are four personal defense/carry guns. All have lasers.
When The Lights Are Down
Under perfect conditions, I can shoot faster with conventional sights. The problem is, most life or death defensive situations don’t happen under perfect conditions. In fact, most personal defense situations occur under poor light conditions, just the time when a laser shines, literally. Under low-light conditions, when conventional sights, or even Tritium sights, are difficult to see, a laser is highly visible and allows faster shooting. In home defense situations that might occur in the middle of the night, your eyes require time to adjust. A laser-equipped firearm aids in visibility and allows you to shoot more accurately and much quicker.
You can now get a laser sight for almost any defensive handgun you can imagine, and while a good laser sight isn’t cheap, it has the potential to be an invaluable aid when you most need one. I prefer the models that activate when the gun is gripped, and for this to work for me, the button must be under my middle finger just under the trigger guard.
Laser systems for firearms are activated either manually — with a switch or button mounted on the unit — or passively, with switches activated when the gun is gripped or removed from the holster. For defensive use, passive activation is a good idea because concealed carry citizens aren’t accustomed to deadly force events … and the simpler the defense system, the better. If you choose a manually activated laser system, make sure you practice finding and activating it to the point it becomes a conditioned response.
When possible, I prefer grip-mount lasers because they allow use with standard holsters. Some of the front-mount units will work in some holsters, but grip-mounted units work with almost any holster designed for that gun. Grip-mount lasers add little or no weight, they’re virtually maintenance free, and they’re easy for even a novice to install. Normally, one or two screws have to be removed and replaced, just as one would when changing grip panels.
For front-rail-mount lasers, Crimson Trace has resolved the holster situation with the excellent Laserguard Pro system that’s currently available for M&P Shield, Glock 42 and 43, and XD-S semi-autos. The system combines the manufacturer’s laser/light unit, passively activated with the middle finger on the grip, with a Bladetech holster that’s convertible for inside or outside the waistband, and for right- or left-hand use.
This rail-mounted system not only offers a laser, but also a powerful 150-lumen white light and can be programed for combinations of laser, light, both and flashing operations. It’s available in both green and red laser variants. The standard Crimson Trace Laserguard is less expensive and doesn’t have the light, but it’s also available in green and red.
Viridian has solved the holster and activation problem by creating a holster system that activates the laser sight when the gun’s drawn. The Reactor system is offered for most defensive pistols, and different holster styles are available. The instant-on holster is included with the unit, and the Reactor system is available in both green and red lasers.
The Lasermax solution to the holster problem is to install the laser sight in the guide rod of the pistol. This system replaces the existing guide rod with one with a tiny laser inside the guide rod that’s activated by a switch within the replacement takedown lever. Installation is fairly simple, and it involves only a bit more difficulty than field stripping. The activation switch is ambidextrous, and the one I tested was certainly aligned well enough for defensive use.
Choose Your Color
While red lasers work wonderfully in low-light conditions, green lasers have the advantage of working as well in normal light conditions and might be the perfect solution to shooters with handicaps that prevent getting the sights into alignment with the eyes. Green lasers cost more and have shorter battery life, but the utility of daylight use might make them worth the difference.
Not Just For Short Range
Under low-light conditions, lasers are completely effective at ranges past 200 yards. I learned this several years ago at the Midnight Three Gun Invitational shoot in Bend, Oregon. At longer ranges, with a laser in conjunction with a variable power scope, it was easy to see and hit targets that would have been difficult to define otherwise. Unless there’s dust, fog or smoke, the laser beam is invisible and it paints the target, allowing a shot even when you’re not looking through the scope.
Once a laser sight is installed, it must be calibrated, and this is accomplished with the hollow head adjustment screws and the provided wrench. Adjustment requires no actual shooting if the sights are properly zeroed because you simply move the laser dot to show just under the front sight when the sights are properly aligned. Adjustments require little movement, and it might take a few tries to get it right, but once you’ve done it once or twice, it’s a 2-minute job.
When aligning a laser, it’s best to align it for a longer distance than normal personal defense distances of less than 7 yards. Like any sighting system, the sight is on a different axis than the bore of the gun, and with lasers, there’s more offset than there is with the sights on top of the barrel.
At short distances with the laser aligned at 25 yards, the offset is of little consequence. An inch or two normally isn’t an issue in a defensive situation. If the laser is aligned at 3 or 5 yards, the offset is exaggerated and can mean a meaningful change of zero at longer range. With the laser aligned at 25 yards, point of impact will be within 2 inches for the first 40 yards or so, providing more accuracy than most people are capable of producing.
I align my lasers to be just below the level of the front sight when the sights are properly aligned. This allows the shooter to train with the normal sight picture and have the laser available for instant use should the light be too low for effective sight alignment. As an instructor, I’ve learned some shooters begin to rely on the laser instead of the sights, and I believe everyone should have the capability to shoot well with the iron sights in case the ambient light is too bright for easy laser acquisition.
Narrow Beam, Broad Applications
One of the great things about a laser-equipped defense gun is the ability to utilize the gun in almost any position. At a nighttime, laser-only competition I realized the value of this. Laser-equipped rifles, shotguns and handguns don’t have to be held in a position to see the sights. This can be a huge issue in a defensive situation under low-light conditions. Rather than extending the gun at eye level, you can keep the gun closer and lower, allowing totally unobscured vision of the threat in front of you and keeping the gun close to you when the threat’s in close proximity.
I believe every citizen should be capable of defending themselves, and I believe we all have a moral obligation to those who care about us to do so. I carry every day and in every location I can. I carry a firearm that’s capable of doing the job, and I want every advantage available to me. I know bad things don’t always happen under good conditions … and that’s why my daily carry gun will always have a laser.
Editor's Notes: This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.