Modern Laser Advancements
Modern Laser Advancements by Rob Garrett
Having spent the better part of thirty-eight years in law enforcement, and having investigated multiple shootings, I have a unique perspective when it comes to the defensive use of a handgun. For the most part, the average police officer has more formalized firearms training than the armed citizen. This includes training in both the legal aspects of the use of deadly force and formal range qualifications several times a year. Many departments now include dynamic, force on force, training as well as tactical range exercises.
On the other hand, armed citizens are less likely to seek formal training on a regular basis, are not held to any proficiency standards, and may never engage in any stress oriented exercises. As a certified firearms trainer, I have found that the single habit that is the hardest to break is target focus. During a dynamic confrontation, it is unnatural to shift the focus from the threat back to the front sight. This may not be an issue at three to five yards, but at seven yards and beyond, if the sights are not indexed, the chance is great that the shot will go astray. In the past ten or fifteen years, lasers have become a viable tool for personal defense pistols. They have even been adopted by some of the world’s most elite special forces units.
The laser offers a number of advantages, that not only assist in making a shooter more proficient, but can significantly improve the chances of winning an armed confrontation. The laser provides increased situational awareness in a dynamic confrontation. First, it allows the shooter keep both eyes open and remain focused on the target or the area of a potential threat. This improves the shooter’s ability to determine the nature of the threat and then determine if deadly force is appropriate and legal. Second, the laser provides a visual indicator of specifically where the pistol is indexed, even in a low light environment. Both factors are critical in a potential armed encounter. The laser allows the shooter to index the threat from unconventional shooting positions. An example is addressing a threat from a position of retention or close to the body where the shooter is unable to index the pistol using the sights. It also allows for indexing the weapon from a different plane that visual plane of the shooter such as looking around the end of a bed while indexing the pistol from the top of the bed. The large majority of armed confrontations take place in low light environments.
It is critical that the shooter understands that the laser does not replace the need for a white light in these situations. There is still a legal and moral requirement for a positive identification of a threat before employing deadly force. The laser provides a faster index to target over traditional night sights. In addition, tracking the dot allows for faster follow-up shots on the threat. Lasers have also proven effective when either the shooter or the threat are moving. Some laser units have integral white lights to aid in threat identification. In some circumstances, the laser can serve as a deterrent. Several years ago, I confronted a suspect that was sitting in the front seat of a vehicle. As the suspect started to lower his hand below the dash line, I presented a back-up weapon equipped with a laser. During this time, I was using a strong only position with a hand held flashlight. When I placed the dot on the chest of the suspect, I saw the suspect look down and see the dot. Almost immediately, he ceased his movements and complied with my verbal commands. When we removed him from the vehicle, we found a loaded pistol in the floorboard where he was reaching.
To this day, I believe, that without the laser, the confrontation would have turned deadly! Lasers do not take the place of training or absolve the owner for seeking responsible training. The laser will not automatically make an armed citizen a better shooter. Every firearm’s owner should seek proper training that includes firearms safety and basic weapon’s manipulation. This includes safely loading, unloading, and operating any controls. Clearing malfunctions and reloading should also be included. For those carrying a pistol for personal self- defense, these skills must be second nature. The laser does not take the place of marksmanship basics. Proper grip, grip alignment, and trigger control are still essential. However, this is where the laser becomes a training aid. Dry fire exercises are an essential element of personal defense. Proper trigger control consists of a rapid, but smooth squeeze of the trigger. This is a fine motor skill that requires repetition. Dry fire enables the shooter to practice this skill without traveling to a range and expending ammunition. By tracking the laser throughout the trigger pull, the shooter is able to visually see the difference between a smooth, clean trigger break and a jerk or flinch. As the training progresses, the trigger pull should become more rapid without the dot moving. This is accomplished by maintaining a proper grip. The shooter should also practice resetting the trigger and breaking a shot. When practicing the draw stroke, the laser provides a visual track of the pistol. It is very evident if the shooter is “bowling” or “fishing” during the presentation. Modern lasers now offer a multitude of options.
The traditional red beam has been supplemented by green lasers. Green is significantly brighter to the eye and tends to be visible at longer distances. There are also models that offer an infrared beam for use with night vision devices. While normally reserved for military and law enforcement personnel, models are available, on the commercial market, for those who have invested are willing to invest in the increased cost of the laser as well as the night vision optics. Finally, it is important to note that the laser does not replace the need for competency with factory iron sights. The shooter should be equally competent with either the laser or the iron sights.
When lasers first came on the scene, most instructors taught that the laser was an auxiliary sighting option when the iron sights could not be utilized. With today’s modern lasers, the tide has changed and many teach that the laser is the primary sighting system. Should the laser malfunction, or not be visible, the user is trained to revert to the iron sights, specifically the front sight. The age of the laser has arrived. The advantages of the laser have been proven and documented. Today’s pistol mounted lasers are reliable and quality products that are affordable to most shooters. If you have not experienced, or trained with a pistol mounted laser, I highly recommend considering one for your personal defense pistol. It could make the difference between life and death.
The author recently retired, after 38 years, with a large metropolitan police department in Georgia. He spent the last 15 years of his career assigned to the Office of Professional Standards where he investigated serious misconduct, officer involved shootings, other critical incidents. He holds multiple certifications to include Georgia P.O.S.T. and FBI firearms instructor certificates. He was a contributor for Harris publications for 32 for years and currently is a contributor to AMG Publications, Combat Handguns, Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement, and several blogs.