One of the most passionate debates within the weapons owning community is on the usefulness of weapon-mounted lights. The uninitiated assume there are no disadvantages to weapon-mounted lights, and they can be forgiven for this. After all, our favorite detective thrillers have the protagonist gripping a firearm with a light on it.
But cinema isn’t always the best conveyor of reality, a more informed perspective must be adopted when making the decision to acquire a gun with a light on it. Below, we discuss the weapon-mounted light pros and cons in great detail.
But if you’re pressed for time, take a look at this summary:
- Free hands: a hand is free to open doors or use your phone.
- Conveniently placed: always on your gun.
- Option and versatility: you can decide when and how to use it
- Aids with control: added weight helps control muzzle rise when shooting.
- Ability to see in darkness: you can shine your light on objects when in darkness.
- Offensive tool: You can temporarily blind someone.
- Heavier loads: added weight can be a disadvantage.
- Become a moving target: you lose the element of surprise.
- Limits holster options: you’d need a custom fit.
- Lose ‘Home Ground’ Advantage in Home Defense: most people carry firearms for home defense.
- Can be Expensive: most weapon-mounted lights are sold separately.
Weapon Mounted Lights Pros
As opposed to carrying both a firearm and a torch, weapon-mounted lights are a convenience. You have more versatility with the use of a free hand. With this free, hand you can open doors, call the police, or quickly reload your bullets. All this and much more can be done without sacrificing your ability to see what’s ahead of you.
Imagine immediately needing your firearm. An emergency could arise where a robber has broken into your house and cut the power. So, no illumination. It’s highly unlikely that you’d keep a torch right next to your weapon. Because of this, a weapon-mounted light is conveniently placed to be with you when you need it to be.
Options and Versatility
This means you can decide not to use it. Most people opposed to weapon-mounted lights forget that you can turn them on or off depending on the situation. For tactical reasons, it may not be best to use a light all the time, but that doesn’t make it useless.
It’s similar to SUVs with Four-Wheel-Drive. Just because most people drive SUVs in the city doesn’t make it a disadvantage to own a vehicle with this feature. It’s more convenient to do so, allowing you to be comfortable on all terrains. The same with weapon-mounted lights: you are better prepared for unpredictable situations.
Aids With Control
Simple physics. The mounted light version of the gun will be much heavier than the bare one. The added weight helps control the muzzle rise when shooting; this isn’t an advertised feature, and you shouldn’t get a weapon-mounted light for this reason alone. But in addition to other benefits, this attribute can compel you to buy one.
Ability to See in Darkness
This is the greatest value any light can offer you. If you’ve bought your firearm for potential nighttime use, whether for protection during the evening or hunting after dark, a light may be of some use to you. You can now purchase weapon-mounted lights where the brightness can be adjusted. How handy?
More importantly, lights help prevent catastrophic accidents. You’d be surprised by how many people shoot without clear visuals. Out of panic or fear, they injure innocent and harmless people. So, for the safety of others around you, a weapon-mounted light is an advantage.
Bright light can temporarily blind your attacker; this can give you enough time to fire and hopefully protect yourself. But as with the control of the muzzle rise benefit, this should not be the only reason you purchase this type of light.
Weapon Mounted Lights Cons
The first rule of gun safety is that you never point your barrel at anything that you do not intend to destroy. Using your weapon as a flashlight means you are pointing the barrel of your weapon to use your light and identify your target.
For trained gun users, which you should be if you own a weapon, the benefit of the added weight in muzzle rise control is marginal at best. There are other techniques to control this, which most experts already know, and the increased weight is a burden on them; this is the case for those carrying larger weapons.
The larger the weapon, the larger the light mounted on it. Consequently, the greater the load. It isn’t conducive to people who have to carry their firearms over a long distance; hunters or military personnel will be reluctant to add weapon-mounted lights to all their guns.
Become a Moving Target
The most obvious con to having a weapon-mounted light is that if you can see your attackers, they can see you. Understandably, this leaves most people insecure. Vulnerability is not a great feeling to have when in a shootout.
It’s a cardinal sin for special force operatives to use their lights recklessly. It gives away their position and could have catastrophic consequences. That’s why most prefer to have night vision goggles. They work by detecting and amplifying infrared light.
Hunters can be at a disadvantage too. Most animals are sensitive to light and would be able to detect moving light from afar; this warns them of the dangers that are near and, as a result, flee.
Limits Holster Options
Choosing the right holster is difficult. There aren’t many holsters that are designed to accommodate weapon mounted lights. That means you may have to spend a little extra to get custom-fitted holsters, and most people aren’t willing to do this.
The alternative is to find a novel way to carry your firearm; this may be uncomfortable or inefficient, so open carry is made increasingly more difficult.
Concealed carrying can be compromised. The essence of concealed carrying is discretion. If you have an awkward bulge on your jacket, because of an ill-fitting holster, then most people will know you have a firearm.
If you decide to have a weapon mounted light, just be prepared to pay additional fees to get bespoke holsters.
Lose ‘Home Ground’ Advantage in Home Defense
You probably know your house better than a robber does. If the danger is real, then giving away your position will just benefit your aggressor. You will lose the “home ground” advantage and could slowly walk to your peril. Following standard procedure by announcing you have a gun, and then firing warning shots will help differentiate between friend or foe.
Additionally, shining a light on your attacker will temporarily blind them; this may cause them to fire panic shots in fear, so blinding the assailant may backfire (pun intended).
Can be Expensive
Most weapon-mounted lights are sold separately and, depending on your firearm, can cost upwards of 150 dollars. If you’ve already spent a substantial amount on your piece, this may be irritating. In addition, spending this much money on a tool you’ll use sparingly deters many from buying a weapon-mounted light.
Here is a video with some perspective from Geauga Firearms Academy: https://youtu.be/QiI6diEamUY
How to Use a Weapon Mounted Light
A weapon-mounted light offers a different dynamic to a firearm. Some things are made easier or harder with a mounted light inclusion on a gun, and various considerations need to be made to use such a firearm safely.
A weapon-mounted light should never be used for routine searching or probing. A handheld flashlight is a much better option. These are safer and limit the chances of unintended injuries. A flashlight is a multi-purpose tool, and that should be used in most circumstances.
A weapon-mounted light is a single purpose tool. It should only be used when absolutely necessary. It’s not meant to be used to find your keys nor for lighting your way on a dark evening. It’s a light that augments the effectiveness of your weapon.
There have been reports of police officers using weapon-mounted lights for routine tasks such as checking driver credentials, which puts citizens at risk; this is against most police regulations. If you see an officer doing this, they are compromising your safety.
Dominant Hand Index Finger
The latest weapon-mounted lights are equipped with grip-controlled remote switches; this is a very easy feature to operate. But if such a function is absent, then additional training is needed to learn how to activate the light with the thumb of the support hand.
Using the index finger of the dominant hand to activate the light is ill-advised. It’s dangerous and may lead to negligent discharge under severe stress; this finger has only one use: to fire the gun’s trigger.
Aim Your Light at the Ground
Most people think using their lights to aim at what’s directly in front of them is best. But pointing at the ground seems to be a better option. The first reason is to do with your own safety. While walking in darkness, it’s important to illuminate the ground you are walking on; this will ensure you don’t trip and fire negligent shots.
Secondly, pointing your light at the ground would ensure that you aren’t aiming your gun at innocent people. You’ll still be able to see most things in the room or hallway and recognize the feet of a loved one. In the event of a negligent discharge, you are unlikely to wound an innocent person fatally.
How to Choose a Weapon Mounted Light
Most weapon lights use LED emitters and exceed 50 lumens (a lumen is a measure of brightness). There are a plethora of high-quality brands that manufacture weapon lights. But to make the best choice, you must take the following things into account:
- Mounting Options
- Reliability of the Light
- Ergonomic Switches
- Beam Configuration
These considerations are explained in greater detail below.
Compatibility with your gun is the first and most important consideration you must take when choosing a weapon-mounted light. There are now a variety of products on the market, and you’re sure to find one that suits your rifle or pistol. In the case of a pistol, accessory rails or handguard design can greatly change your weapon’s light options.
For pistols, you also want to pay attention to holster options available for different models of lights. Portability is important if you plan on carrying your pistol every day. For rifles, think about where you want to mount it, the space compromised by the light, and its potential switches on your firearm.
Reliability of the Light
The light must be dependable, being able to handle weapon recoil and possible combat conditions. There’s no point in having a light you can’t trust. In most cases, you’ll be in environments where you can’t fix or replace it if it’s broken. It’s vital to invest in a great quality light from a reputable manufacturer.
When dealing with guns, safety is the most important thing. No compromise on quality should be considered when purchasing a weapon mounted light. Check the battery run time and thoroughly go through the specification sheets.
Using 3-volt lithium-ion batteries is best. They’re powerful, affordable, and disposable. A great advantage they have over alkaline batteries is they have better heat tolerance; because of this, they are unlikely to leak or easily get damaged.
As discussed earlier, grip controlled remote switches are safer to use. You must consider the method of activation. It’s possible you’ll be in very stressful circumstances with this weapon mounted light, and being able to quickly activate or deactivate it is imperative.
If you find the switch too difficult to operate or not suited to your dominant hand (if you’re left-handed), then don’t bother buying it, there isn’t any reason to justify this purchase. Since the turn of the century, product designers have focused more and more on ergonomics. So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t find the perfect light first time round. Keep searching.
The light must be small and lightweight. Even if you benefit from the increased weight (as discussed earlier), your light shouldn’t be unnecessarily heavy. In most cases, it’s the battery that creates most of the weight. Bigger batteries don’t always translate to better performance. So, be prudent with your choice.
This is the three-dimensional shape of the light emitted from its source and how the light is distributed within that shape. There are two types of beam configurations. Only you can choose which is most suited to you.
The source’s light is focused into a hemisphere-like shape with even light distribution throughout the beam. As a result, more natural lighting conditions (like the sun) are produced, maximizing peripheral and area illumination.
The disadvantage of this is that reach is compromised and reduces situational awareness and target identification capability at much longer ranges. Generally, wider-angle beams are produced by using smaller diameter reflectors to focus the beam.
The source’s light is focused into a narrow beam. The narrow beam achieves the maximum “reach” of illumination for the tool’s given lumen output. However, it’s the exact opposite of a flood beam in that area, and peripheral illumination at closer ranges is compromised which, lessens situational awareness in close quarters and more confined spaces.
Spot beams are achieved by focusing a source’s light with a larger diameter reflector or a lens that projects the light forward.
Read our Ultimate Guide to Flashlights to learn what to look for when finding the best flashlight for your needs
Hopefully, this extensive weapon-mounted light pros and cons information has shed light on a very passionately debated topic. Weapon mounted lights aren’t for everyone, and it’s certainly not a requirement for gun ownership. The purpose of this article was to improve your knowledge of the topic and enable you to make more informed decisions.
Personally, I have a Streamlight Tlr-7 mounted on my bedside weapon. The overarching reason is that I want two handed control of my weapon and a positive ID on my target before I fire.
Remember the most important thing: safety. Ultimately you must decide if weapon-mounted lights make you a safer gun user or not. Your safety, and those of your loved ones, is of paramount importance, no compromise that can be tolerated on this.