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hink way back to 8th-grade algebra. Remember the additive property of equality? Me neither, I had to look it up. But it says something important that’s actually relative to the topic at hand. Should you consider using lights and lasers on a concealed carry handgun? As a quick refresher, the additive property of equality says that it’s cool to add the same number to both sides of a difficult-to-solve equation. The important point is that doing so doesn’t change the equation. Not only is it cool, but it’s also beneficial because doing that makes complex, head-splitting algebra equations easier to solve. I believe that lights and lasers offer a similar benefit to defensive shooting—by adding something to your handgun, your capabilities don’t change at all. In fact, they improve by giving you more options without taking away any features you already had. Let’s take a closer look at some of the pros, and cons and you can make your own decision. Benefits of Lights While crime is a 24-7 business like Wal-Mart, more of it happens in dark hours than during the middle of the day. Sounds logical to have a light then, right? Well, it is, but not for the reason you might assume. The purpose of a light mounted on a handgun is not to find or spot bad guys. It’s just this: to positively identify your target before you press the trigger. As a lawfully armed citizen, you’re responsible for every bullet that exits your gun, no matter the circumstances. If you’re fighting for your life, protecting your family, or preventing Dr. Evil from tanking the pork bellies futures market, you’re still in a world of hurt if you hit someone unintentionally.

In normal conditions you’ll never see the actual laser beam, just the dot on target. The only reason the beam is visible here is because this cave is full of smoke.
In normal conditions you’ll never see the actual laser beam, just the dot on target. The only reason the beam is visible here is because this cave is full of smoke.photo by Tom McHale

There’s another benefit to gun-mounted lights. Even though the beam starts well forward up near the muzzle, the light will still help you see the sights. You may not see the white or colored dots, but you will clearly see the profile of the front and rear sights against the illuminated target.

That brings up a related point. Flashlights are great tools for finding your way in the dark and looking for things. Gun lights are not. By definition, if you're searching for anything, even a home intruder in the middle of the night, you are by definition pointing a loaded gun at an unknown target. It's not known until you light it up with your gun-mounted light, right? And your gun light points in exactly the same direction as the muzzle. So, the moral of the story is this: don't use a gun light for finding things or people. Use a flashlight for that task, and a gun-light for shooting.

Benefits of Lasers

Simply put, lasers give you additional options to get your sights aligned with your target without removing any of the functionality you already have with your iron sights. There are a few benefits to consider.

Since a laser places a dot on your actual target, it supports our natural human tendency to focus on the threat. Rather than forcing our brains to take the focus off the attacker and put it on the front sight, the laser allows your brain to do its natural fight or flight response thing and zero in on the target.

laser max mini
If there’s not a specific fit for your handgun, compact rail-mounted lasers like this Lasermax Mini are always an option.photo by Tom McHale

A laser also allows you to aim from unconventional positions. You don’t have to have your gun way up in front of your face as is required to use the iron sights. You can aim from down low or off to the side. This capability also provides some flexibility in shooting from behind cover, corners, or other obstructions.

The good thing is that a laser doesn’t in any way prevent you from using your regular sights. You can default to the traditional sighting method if you like. I find that in dark conditions, I just see the laser first. The red or green dot leaps into view. I don’t make any conscious decision about whether to use the light or laser, I just raise the gun and use what I see first. If it’s daylight, that’s going to be the front sight.

"The laser allows your brain to do its natural fight or flight response thing and zero in on the target."

Even green lasers aren’t all that visible in bright conditions so continue to train as normal by using the front sights. On occasion, use a safe-condition gun to dry fire practice with a laser at home in darker conditions, so you can get used to looking for the laser while focusing on the target.

The Mission Matters

The biggest gripe I hear is that lights and lasers will “give away your position.” This is where you need to consider the fact that tactics vary by mission.

If your job is to sneak up on villages and snatch drug lords or serve no-knock warrants, then that point is absolutely valid. However, those roles are part of offensive missions that call for offensive tactics like stealth.

As an armed citizen, your role is defensive. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where you’re sneaking up on anyone. If you have that opportunity, then you ought to be considering moving in the opposite direction—away to safety. By definition, in a self-defense situation, you’ve already been attacked or threatened. The attacker already knows your position.

glock and springfield armory 1911 laser sights
Here are a couple of pistols that have both light and lasers configured. The Glock and the Springfield Armory 1911 TRP have laser grips and a forward mounted light. All are grip activated.photo by Tom McHale

Your mission at that point isn’t stealth; it’s to stop that attack as quickly as possible.

If that requires shooting, then your objective is to get shots on target as quickly and effectively as possible. If there is a way to do that with a better result, that’s good, right? Well, that’s exactly what lasers are for—getting on target quickly in a stressful defensive situation.

Besides, that whole giving away your position argument also assumes that your laser will illuminate the room like a Star Wars light saber, drawing a red or green line right to you. The reality is, unless conditions are smoky or hazy for some reason, you’ll almost certainly not see the beam. There will be a light on your gun and a dot on the target, that’s it.

The Big Question: How to Carry Lights and Lasers

A few years back, a handgun light and laser configuration was easily larger than one of those big and heavy D cell batteries. Carrying that bulky setup concealed wasn’t very realistic. However, lights and lasers have gotten small and amazingly light, not to mention durable.

Now, it's relatively easy to fit one or both devices on even a subcompact handgun. Many models like the new Springfield Armory 911 and Smith & Wesson Bodyguard subcompact pistols come with a built-in laser option. Additionally, Crimson Trace offers a number of units that combine a light and a laser to save rail space on a handgun, like this Rail Master Pro.

Even compact pistols like this Smith & Wesson Shield have combination light and laser units available like this Crimson Trace Laserguard Pro. As it’s under the barrel, it adds no bulk from a concealme
Even compact pistols like this Smith & Wesson Shield have combination light and laser units available like this Crimson Trace Laserguard Pro. As it's under the barrel, it adds no bulk from a concealment perspective.photo by Tom McHale

The hardest part is finding a holster that fits your particular handgun with your light or laser mounted. The folks at Crimson Trace have been trying to simplify that process for the past couple of years by creating the Holster Resource Guide. This will point you to hundreds of holster options for light and laser-equipped handguns.

Final Considerations

It’ll take little more work to find a concealed carry gun, laser, light, and holster setup that works for your chosen style of carrying, but options are out there. Regarding weight and bulk, that’s rapidly becoming a non-issue. Many current light and laser products are more narrow than the width of the gun and reside in either the grips or under the barrel forward of the trigger guard. Those aren’t areas that create any additional concealment challenge.

Laser Max Mini
A look at the LaserMax Mini off the gun.photo by Tom McHale

You’ll also need to practice and train to control a light or laser and determine when it’s on or off. Many units have a switch that can be easily activated with your trigger finger while naturally holding a firearm. Many models from Crimson Trace use instinctive activation buttons on the grip—the laser or light goes on when you grip your handgun, so you don’t have to remember to turn it on in the heat of the moment. Even with those, it’s easy to control pressure and turn the light or laser on or off at will.

Whatever type of light or laser you choose, be sure to practice with it, both dry-fire and at the range.

Most importantly, consider lights and lasers as possible additions to your defensive capabilities. If they can improve the odds of a successful outcome, then why not give the idea a shot?