Laser sights definitely raise the cool factor of a firearm, but they’re more than a fancy add-on to your handgun, rifle, or shotgun. A laser sight has the advantage of helping you train without ammo, at home, for a worst-case scenario.

“Military and law enforcement have long seen the value of red-dot sights and lasers on firearms,” says Chris Gagliano, director of military products for LaserMax and a retired sergeant major for the U.S. Marine Corps. “When officers train with them, their hit percentage goes up significantly. This is because you’re able to get on target much faster.”

But it’s not just about speed. “Using a laser allows you to keep your focus on the threat, instead of on the gun’s front sight,” said Gagliano. “It gives you better situational awareness.”

Another benefit of using a firearm equipped with a laser sight is that you don’t have to bring the gun up to your eye level to cover your target. “You can shoot from unconventional positions,” said Gagliano. This is because the laser will put a dot on wherever the gun is pointed, regardless of whether or not you’re looking over the sights.

Michael Faw, Crimson Trace’s media-relations manager, agrees. “At home, with the firearm unloaded, a laser sight lets you practice and increase your ability to hold the pistol steady as you press the trigger. The visible dot projected by a green or red laser sight lets you know that your body, arms, hands, and trigger finger are steady. You are building muscle memory while dry firing the handgun, and a laser projected on a wall reveals how steady you and the handgun are—or when you need more steadiness practice. Being accurate begins with being steady.”

Laser Sights: The Home-Schooling Method of Self-Defense
Some ranges allow you to practice in low-light situations.

For in-home dry-firing (pulling the trigger on an unloaded gun) drills, Gagliano recommends this eight-step procedure:

  1. Check and recheck to make sure the gun is unloaded.
  2. Assess a situation (imagine a bad guy in the room with you).
  3. Find cover.
  4. Bring up the gun (use weak and strong hands to practice).
  5. Activate, or turn on, the laser.
  6. Cover the target and select the hit zone while observing the laser.
  7. Hold steady, press the trigger and shoot.
  8. Continue to hold steady for the follow through, then move if you wish.

Practice the drill above and watch the dot projected on your target when you dry fire. Is it moving? Practice breathing control, arm tension, your handgrip, and pressing the trigger until the green or red dot stays steady on the target.

With any handgun, the shooter must apply several pounds of pressure to activate the trigger, and the gun can move around during that action, said Faw. “Shooters need to practice making their finger pressure both smooth and consistent. The visible green or red laser dot on the wall of your home will let you know when you are becoming steady—and thus more accurate.”

Laser Sights: The Home-Schooling Method of Self-Defense
As you practice at home with an unloaded gun, decide how you’ll approach corners and doorways. (As always, practice gun safety and do not point the gun at another person.) Professional trainers can help you develop these skills.

A laser sight can show you if you’re bouncing too much when you’re shooting on the move. Teach yourself to walk in way that keeps the gun level, and practice going around corners.

Practice should teach your brain, body, hands, and trigger finger to be consistent and coordinated in the effort to create a smooth shot sequence—every time. You should reinforce your home training with practice the gun range. You need to become used to recoil and the sound of the shot as you continue to reinforce steadiness by building on muscle memory and consistent trigger press.

Gagliano also recommends that you should get a professional instructor to work with you on defensive techniques to ensure that your drills at home are done properly.