03 June 2013

Do you need a laser on your handgun?

Sometimes pistols can be so frustrating, even if they have a rail.  There is so much less real estate to bolt stuff onto.  It is a good thing we have the M4 platform to fill that need.  By far one of the most popular gadgets though seems to be the laser.  The way I see it, the laser is added for three basic reasons:  lasers are cool, faster target acquisition, and intimidation.  The first I will not even try to argue.

About target acquisition, let’s look at how things work.  When someone is trying to kill you, your eyes tend to fixate on them, not search for sights.  The reason is that we are visual beings and our eyes pop wide open trying to gather as much information as possible to inform us of options for survival, mostly fight or flight, but sadly freezing also occurs.  When we want to really focus on something and draw all the information we can from it, we have a tendency to stand still.  This is one of the things that causes people to freeze, well that and they cannot believe what they are seeing so they stare at it longer.  To physically use pistol sights, you have two options:  bring your eyes down to the sights, or bring the sights up to your eyes.  We are taught and what seems to happen instinctively we bring the sights up until they are between our eyes and the threat.  But, one of the things seldom taken into consideration is the necessity of distance to make this possible.  Taking an unloaded, or better yet a Blue Gun, in your hand, have a buddy stand at hand shaking distance and move away slowly until you have sufficient space as to be able to extend your arm or arms (just remember it is a handgun and not a handsgun).  If you have trained or practiced not to pull the trigger until you can target the upper chest, you will probably find the distance to be 5-7 yards.  Most will agree that the normal conversational distance is under five feet, thus making sense of the idea of most armed confrontations taking place within conversational distance and not range space.

Now back to the laser, assuming you agree with me that we focus on the threat, and either have to bring our eyes down to the sights, or the sights up to our eyes, you will agree the same is true of the laser.  Out of the holster the  laser has to cover some serious ground before being projected onto your target.  So, are you going to look at your laser as it comes out of the holster as it crawls up to the target, or do you think you will be fixated on the threat?  Unless you practice hip shooting, and many that do still seem to press out to extension under stress, are you going to wait for the laser to be projected onto the upper chest of the threat.  Will you be comfortable  pulling the trigger at first site of the laser or will you wait for it to stop moving a little?  I don’t know about you, but playing with lasers more in the classroom than on the range, when someone points one I tend to stare, and when I stare I usually stand still.
In reference to the intimidation factor, I would be intimidated by having one or more lasers bouncing around on my chest, but no more so than seeing the same guns aimed at me.  However, it is hard for me to envision a situation where the armed citizen would be in the position to draw down on a bad guy with or without laser.  As I have written about before, when I was still an active duty police officer, I would have hesitated a lot less to draw down on someone while off duty knowing I was doing so under the color of law.  Now retired, I would hesitate more because doing so is against the law unless you can show that you were in fear for your life.  The worst possible case scenario is the incident happens during the day or a well-lit environment and you have a hard time seeing your laser.

I was unable to find any stories of lasers being used in shootings by police, and especially citizens.  This does not mean that they don’t occur, but it also does not mean that because there was a laser on a gun used in a shooting that the laser was used.  I have discussed this previously with sights.  Just because the gun used had night sights does not mean those or any other sights were used.  During force on force drills and scenarios, time and time again I see people press out to full extension as distances open up even if they are no longer firing or just scanning or covering down.  Full extension allows you to get the sights between you and your target.  Just because you can see your sights after the shooting does not mean you used them.

Training to wait until you see your sights or laser on the threat before pulling the trigger, knowing that it may be a physical impossibility, could cause it to be a fatal training scar.

Lasers do make exceptional pet toys, but a cheap one from Staples is cheaper than one that fits your gun.  Use the saved cash on ammo and training based on scenarios you are most likely to face in the environments you find yourself in.

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