I CARRY A HANDGUN anyplace I am legally allowed, but it’s not always the same gun. In fact, I have multiple carry guns and the one common theme with all of my personally owned carry guns is that they are equipped with a laser sight.
That’s because I believe that a laser sight is a very important part of a complete carry gun tool box. Here’s why.
Most self-defense situations happen in low light and it’s very difficult to see most pistol sights in such conditions. Even night sights, which I also think are a very important tool, can be confusing in a stressful and dark situation. A laser projects a red or green dot, and it’s very easy to see in poor light. In fact, the worse the light, the better it works.
Green lasers are brighter and will work over a much wider range of lighting conditions than the red, but usually require a laser module to be a little bigger than a red laser and the have shorter batter lives, but the differences are pretty negligible for our purposes here.
I have custom prescription glasses that I use for handgun shooting. But, I don’t wear them any other time than on the range and, as with most gentlemen of a certain age, pistol sights are not sharp and clear without the glasses. Add in the low light thing and it’s very difficult to get a clear sight picture. Yet the laser sight looks as sharp as, well . . . a laser.
You can get similar advantages from a red dot sight, but at the moment, it is much easier to find a compatible laser sight for a given defensive handgun and attach it than a red dot, including revolvers.
Ease of Aiming
While a laser is a huge asset on any carry gun, they completely change the performance of the small handguns that are so popular today.
For example, I carry an S&W Model 340 J-frame in .357 magnum more than any other handgun. It’s light and slips into my pants pocket. It allows me to carry unnoticed under a wide range of conditions. Even when I have a full size pistol, this is with me as a BUG.
Pocket carry is also a good tactical approach. If I see a situation I don’t like and sweep back my shirt or jacket to reach behind my hip for a belt carry gun, I have just told everybody I have a gun. That can escalate the problem or create new problems. It’s always best to keep your gun a secret until it’s needed.
With this little J-Frame I can casually put my hand in my pocket and nothing is alarming to anybody around. With practice I can draw from my pocket and hit a target in less than a second. I have done it many times in half a second.
The downside of this and any other small carry gun is that it’s very difficult to shoot accurately with the sights due to the very short sight radius, even in this case when I have excellent Big Dot night sights. This is even more pronounced with the popular micro .380 handguns, most of which have marginal sights and a very short sight radius.
With a laser sight, sight radius is no longer a factor. When using a laser the difficulty of sight alignment is eliminated. A six inch barrel or a 1.5 inch barrel are equal in terms of hitting the target. The laser is the great equalizer of sight radius.
This is very apparent when training with these guns, even in precision slow fire. I have a plate rack in my back yard that is 40 yards from my deck. That’s a long pistol shot with any handgun. I often shoot at it with that short barrel J-Frame for practice. With the sights I average about 60 percent hits on a good day. Using the laser, it is over 90 percent.
When practicing drills at typical self-defense distances of 3 to 15 yards, I find I am much faster with the laser sight. I don’t need to align three points (the rear sight, front sight and target) as with iron sights. Instead, I simply focus on the target and when the dot is on it, pull the trigger. Nothing I have tried is faster.
The goal in a self-defense situation should be to avoid shooting anybody. Even if you are 100% justified, your life and your bank account will change dramatically. If we can get the bad guy to leave without shooting him, it’s a far better outcome.
Anybody who has seen a movie knows what that laser dot means. Often the dot projected onto the bad guy where they can see it is enough to deescalate the situation.
My law enforcement friends tell me that a laser sight is a great addition to their duty guns for the compliance issue alone. They say it makes a huge difference in getting the message across to the bad guys and actually reduces the number of shootings.
I know some military folks who were working roadblocks during the hostilities in the Middle East. Compliance was low and even when they showed their firearms many tried to run the roadblocks.
When they added laser sights to their firearms the compliance rate went up dramatically. The folks didn’t seem to fear the firearms, but they had respect for the laser sights.
Safety For the Bad Guy
A point that is not often addressed in self-defense articles, as I mentioned earlier; the goal should always be to not shoot the bad guy. With traditional sights you must keep your eyes focused on the sights. That means you are not focusing on the bad guy. If he makes some kind of move, you will probably shoot him. If you are focused on him and not the sights, you will probably miss.
With a laser sight you can keep your eyes focused on the bad guy, not on the sights. This lets you see with more clarity what is happening. Perhaps the move is innocent, maybe reaching for his ID.
With your focus on the bad guy you may see that and not shoot, where with your focus on the sights it can take time to shift your vision to the bad guy. If he is reaching for a gun, that can get you killed. If he is reaching for something else, it can get him killed.
If you can keep your vision focused on the bad guy while you wait for the police, rather than your pistol sights, you may be able to prevent a tragedy from happening.
Shooting From Cover Without Exposing Yourself
With a laser you can point the gun from any position and if the dot is on the target you will score a hit. That’s not possible with sights. You must have your eye behind the sights and looking at the target. This opens you up as a target yourself if the bad guy has a gun.
Rather than exposing your head so you can look down the sights, the laser lets you keep your important bits and pieces behind cover and still be effective in shooting at the threat.
Size and Holsters
Laser sights are small and unobtrusive. Many, like the Crimson Trace Laser Grip, do not require a different holster. I like this style because it also activates when I grip the gun so as I draw the gun, the laser is activated and working.
I have Laser grips on the J-Frame mentioned as well as several other guns including a few 1911 handguns. On my S&W M&P my Crimson Trace Lasergrip replaces the backstrap on the grip so it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t change anything in terms of grip ergonomics or holster fit.
Other styles of lasers fit on a rail under the barrel and may require a different holster. These may be activated by gripping the gun or may require the shooter to push a button to activate the laser.
I also have a Shield that is fitted with a rail-mounted laser from Viridian which uses a magnetic switch so a strategically placed magnet in the holster turns off the laser when the gun is holstered. The laser turns on instantly when the gun is drawn.
Another style from Lasermax replaces the guide rod inside the gun and is activated by pushing on the slide stop. I have used one in my Glock Model 23 for years and have been very pleased. I can activate it by pushing with my trigger finger on the slide stop.
I am also a big fan of gun mounted lights. There are a lot of units that have both a laser and a light. Many of these are small and work well with concealed carry.
There are a lot of options for laser sights and this is just a small sample. It’s one addition to a carry gun that, in my never humble opinion, is all but mandatory—especially now that the CCW holster market has so many available options for laser sighted guns, and that there are so many lasers that are extremely unobtrusive.
Adding a laser sight just may save your life someday.