Weapon Lights: Vital Kit or Flashy Toys?

I just shelled out $200 for a new Surefire X300. Like all Surefires, it’s a reeeaaaalllyy nice piece of kit, but I’ve been on the fence about buying one for a long time. I’ve always believed that iron sights and knowing where my friendlies are would get me through in a low-light threat scenario. That and I hate spending money I guess.

I changed my mind though after attending a Victory First Defensive Handgun Level 1 course. No, I didn’t have an earth-shaking, ah-ha moment or anything. But listening to someone like Matt Jacques, the owner of Victory First, talk about weapon lights gave me the nudge I needed.

I realize weapon lights are nothing new and have become an extremely useful tool on infantry weapons on the battlefield. But I’m not a door kicker, so what do I need a blinding, 170-lumen light for, I thought.

Before taking the Victory First course, I was pretty ignorant of the legal pitfalls that can come up if you have to use deadly force while carrying concealed.

To Jacques, an instructor with an extensive law-enforcement background, having a light mounted on the pistol you carry isn’t just a

Matt Jacques, owner of Victory First, discusses weapon lights in his first Defensive Handgun Level 1 course. Photo by Jerry Sarkody of Rat Mountain Design.

nice-to-have — it’s vital kit, as important as your sights.

“You’ve got to identify your target; you’ve got to identify your threat,” Jacques told our small class, driving home a point about the importance of being able to defend your use of deadly force when the police show up.

 

I guess it’s a lot easier to convince an investigating officer that you saw a gun or knife on an assailant when you lit him up with your Surefire or Streamlight in that dark parking lot.

Jacques also said that a light mounted on the end of a Glock or an M&P will help prevent a malfunction if you have to jam your pistol up against an attacker and fire to get him off of you.

“A light like an X300 provides good standoff if you are close in to a threat. It can prevent battery interruption,” he said.

I haven’t had the chance to do any serious training with my new X300, but it feels extremely natural to activate it with my non-firing hand thumb. It does, however, make my full-size M&P considerably longer, making concealment more of a challenge. But then again, I love a good gear challenge.

About the Author

Matthew Cox
Matthew Cox has been a defense reporter since 1998 and is an associate editor for Military.com. He traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq numerous times from 2002 to 2008, covering infantry units in combat. Matthew was an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division.

28 Comments on "Weapon Lights: Vital Kit or Flashy Toys?"

  1. a FLASHLIGHT is important for every day carry but a WEAPON LIGHT is not. if you're using the light on your weapon to identify targets and you're not in combat or in your home then you're already wrong. the two should be separate for civilians. if you point a loaded weapon at an individual, you have committed assault. if you pull the trigger and cause minor injuries you've committed assault and battery…and with seriousness of injuries it goes up.

    if you're simply identifying targets then you need a simple pocket flashlight. once its fighting time then you pull your easily concealed handgun out and fight with it. this is another case of military tactics spilling over to police and then the civilian market without thought.

    on a sidenote. i've got to bang on surefire. all the gun guys seem to really like them but they're so weak! i have a preon that's less than half the size of your weapon light…uses two AA batteries and puts out more lumens. surefire is ancient tech compared to others out there.

  2. Re read the first paragraph in bold and look at Sonny P as the example of why a weapon light in needed. I have one on my chw simply because bad things happen at night and in the dark more often than not. A simple look at pros/cons, its foolish not to have on.

  3. A weapon light is not a substitute for a flashlight for the reasons Sol mentioned, but I still find it vital to also have one on the pistol, even in a CCW situation. Besides consistency in your weapon system at all times, and thus muscle memory, a white light provides an aiming point much like Hollywood expects from red dot lasers. This is beneficial even during a daylight shoot at close ranges. It's not a substitute for sights, but at 100mph with your hair on fire, you do what you gotta.

    Using a flashlight in the dark to see what's going on is not the same as identifying targets.

  4. mos2111, what paragraph in bold are you talking about, and who is Sonny P?

  5. Sonny P is a former (or claims to be … some are claiming he never was) Spetznaz Commando turned trainer in the US. a little while ago he was involved in a shooting near Dallas in a shoot house. it was during low light conditions and he was walking the final student through the scenario and didn't realize that another instructor hadn't cleared the training area. Sonny came around the corner and hit the instructor with 3 shots one in the hand and two in the abdomen. former Special Ops Medics were supposedly taking the class and started working on the guy. they say he''s gonna make a recovery (gut shots are dangerous though…recovery is subjective with them)…but the point is civilian shooters are not police or military and the blurring of the tactics is gonna get some people in serious trouble. just sayin.

  6. Gents, the PURPOSE I described in the class is you perceive a threat and you believe that deadly force is authorized. There is the escalation of force as well as de-escalation. Even if you ID an perceived threat in the dark with a handheld light, once the decision is made to utilize deadly force, you may decide to drop the handheld to ensure proper clearing of the cover garment and then you can follow up with the weapon mounted light to ENSURE nothing has changed in the scenario. Two hands on the gun is still a better shooting platform in a stressful situation. I never suggested you use the light for anything other than ensuring you are SEEING what you believe is a threat in a deadly force scenario.
    Home defense is the specific point I drive home with white light and Target ID. Too many household family members are shot because the shooter didn't SEE what they shot at.

  7. I see they could be useful in the house. Cousin stops by to flop on couch after argument with his girl. I would rather light him up, than "Light" him up. Not worried about him charging me with assault, or anyone that comes into my house, good guy or bad. As for carry. I'm not going down back allies like a cop chasing someone. I stay observant of my surroundings. So to add a light to my draw, even the best of them add weight and bulk which go against how well you can carry concealed. Some too the length which adds to the draw. To "prevent battery interruption" "if you have to jam your pistol up against an attacker and fire to get him off of you". I would already say you failed if you need a contact shot. FormerSFMedic point that if you draw a weapon, there was already a treat is valid. Doesn't make Sol's not true also, that once in the light what you thought might be a knife is something else. FormerSFMedic you approach this as a man with a lot of experience. To be honest I don't. As an NRA instructor and someone who goes to your average gun ranges I can tell you most don't. You work with operators with lots of training, the kind that use shoot houses. That level of proficiency is hard to acquire and hard to maintain. Most could not afford to get there on their own. To use what little splash from my streamlight or a surefire and not point at the target, in an adrenalin filled situation, not happening. Besides it would be mute, the other party will state he pointed a gun at me, he will not notice the difference.

  8. Just my two cents, but whether the pointing of a weapon at someone is assault has absolutely NOTHING to do with whether or not a light is attached to that weapon. By that, I mean that if you are pointing your weapon light at someone to DETERMINE if they are a threat, then yes, that could be an assault. But if you drew your weapon in the same instance and shined a light with your free hand, it's no different. I don't think anyone is advocating the use of a weapon light as a means to determine whether someone is a threat. (i.e. "Hey, I wonder if that guy walking towards me is carrying a gun. Let me shine my weapon light on him and see.) BUT, I think the point here is that if you determine someone is a threat and you draw your weapon and use it in lawful self defense, making the case that it WAS in fact lawful self defense will be easier if you can say "I was clearly able to see that he still had a gun/knife/etc. in his hand when I engaged him because I had my attached weapon light shining right at him before I engaged." etc. etc. etc.

  9. Depends on how you live if you do everything outside in the day time you wont need one. If your a cop who loves graveyard shifts its needed. Buy whats comfortable to you. And not all pistols are flashlight compatible.

  10. Mike, that is the point that I clarified in my original post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I tell folks in the class that I want them to Think About the abilities of a weapon mounted light. I also suggest the EDC flashlight as well.
    When you are sitting in a patrol car or courtroom, you need to be able to answer the question "it was dark, how did you SEE the item that made you think you were in eminent danger"?

  11. Lance, Have you ever been anywhere and had the power go out? Matinee movies are dark as well. Plenty of dark places, even during the day.

  12. Sol, to clear the air…. I am not sponsored by Surefire, I have no relationship with surefire at all, neither paid or by gear placement. I actually had more Streamlight products on the table than Surefire. I had an extra holster that would accommodate the X300 so that is what I lent to a shooter so he could try it.
    I actually carry a Streamlight protac in my pocket daily. It is lighter, thinner and brighter than my previous carry of a Surefire executive defender.
    Again, I talk about options in the class. It is a way, not the way.

  13. Here's my mindset on weapon lights and handhelds. Whether it's EDC, LE (reserve), or military environments I'm working in, I'm always carrying 2 lights (at least). Handhelds are amazing defensive tools. In fact, a handheld should be part of your force continuum as a less than lethal tool/weapon. There is a good chance your handheld is going to stop the fight before it goes to a lethal confrontation, at least on the civilian and LE side of the equation. I think handhelds present many options to the armed citizen and the professional in a self defense situation.

    With all that said, if a firearm is the solution to the problem you're in, having a weapon mounted light is a huge advantage. Obviously there is always the fear of pointing a gun at everything you want to see. This is where training and equipment come into play. With a high intensity light (120 lumens +) I don't have to point the light (or the gun) at every area I want to see. If your light has enough output and the company has incorporated enough "spill" into the beam, you can simply get the light close to an area or bounce the light off of walls and other objects. I have dry ran my house hundreds of times and found that even in the largest room of the house just turning my 236 lumen light on illuminates nearly the entire room. You can bounce light off the ceiling and pretty much see everything. I like to keep the light low with the gun in a muzzle depressed position and use the baseboard as a reference. Even if you cleared an area with a handheld you would still bounce the light off of objects in order to keep yourself concealed and avoid "blinding" friendlies.

    Both weapons mounted lights and handheld lights are critical tools for the defensive minded and professional alike. As a tool, you use the one that best suits your situation. I like to have a weapon mounted light with me anytime I can even for EDC. Handhelds can give you or a friendly an advantage in more ways than one but when it comes time to shoot, a weapon mounted light is the best option. In the end it comes down to training. You're not going to get the most out of either without good training and good high quality gear.

  14. Thanks Mike. That was the point I was trying to make exactly. I guess I need to be more clear. Anyway, I am not going to sweat being charged with assault for drawing down on someone who I am 99 percent sure is a threat to me or my two young boys. I think a weapon light is a good tool, not a silver bullet. And just to be completely clear, I believe that employing a firearm in self defense should always be the absolute last resort.

  15. NotSoSeriousToday | November 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Reply

    The author got himself just slightly ripped off. For the same price he could have gotten himself a X300 Ultra which puts out 500 Lumens on a single CR123 an is about $200-220 right now which Sol buddy is not ancient tech…..I love 4Sevens stuff but as far as ive seen theres no other light in that size that puts out the same power for the that you can mount on a weapon for the same weight

  16. If you might need a weapon mounted light, and can justify the expense, I'd get one. Then TRAIN WITH IT, preferably at night…when you'd most likely need it. If you need one, you'll REALLY need one, and won't have to find two items at 0300 when the window breaks. A relatively inexperienced person just might forget to pick up that flashlight too when the adrenaline hits. Two different training/shooting methods, both hands on the weapon or one on a flashlight and one on the weapon needlessly complicates things. One grip, one muscle memory that needs to work when the lights are on or off. You don't need a weapon most of the time…until you do. Then its needed right freaking now. You don't need a light most of the time…until you do.

    If you're a trained professional, you know what you need. Which is likely a light that you can effectively use in conjunction with accurately engaging a target. If you can't hit it, you might as well not shoot.

  17. I'd love to hear how some of you carry with the light. To be completely honest, I haven't found a practical daily carry method on my 5'9", 165lb body, I don't wear loose clothing and I'm standing in close proximity to others all day long where bending over with a heater on my hip would be a bad thing. No matter where I try to carry it prints unless I've got an LCP in my pocket, but I've already got too many other items in my pocket. I can't carry IWB without it printing. I like my TLR2 on my xdm9 (except for the time I forgot to tighten it on the rail and it went flying off at the indoor range) but haven't found a good OWB holster for it. I think raven makes one. Furthermore, I cannot get seated, belted in my vehicle with any iron in or on my waistline. Adding a light to this is only going to make it worse. I do keep plenty of flashlights handy in home, vehicle and tlr2 in my gun case along with ear pro, mags, holsters. How do you guys carry with lights, which holsters work for your set up? Thanks.

  18. defensor fortissimo | November 16, 2012 at 12:31 am | Reply

    To change the subject slightly, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you get my squadron looking at the whole notion of mounting lights on M4s purely within the realm of the mall ninja. We actually had an nco during training for active shooter scenarios tell us to hold our issue flashlights in a modified harries position, which might have been fine-though I imagine recoil would be a bi tch-if they were issuing us decent lights such as, (sorry sol) surefires. The lucky ones are issued sidewinders, myself, i got a vietnam era elbow. I'm one of the few who has a light mounted on his weapon, a Inforce WML, and it came out of my own pocket. It's a great light for room clearing, bright but low profile, ergonomical, easy to install, and reasonably priced. For a duty light, I carry a Fenix pd30, a versatile little light which can light up an area like a boss, and can be modified for various tasks such as traffic control. Also Streamlight has an interesting little handcuff key, flashlight combo that works out great for the small every day tasks.

  19. Oh, I am more than aware of Sonny, as that's my range…
    Sol, I was agreeing with your first post, but this one is for the birds. "In trouble for pointing a weapon." "Not using a weapon light for ID" I live in a free state. If my weapon comes out, its due to threat or fear of life. If its dark and I have reason to draw, Im going to illuminate before I fire, to be sure of the target. If I light it up and its not a threat, DON'T SHOOT IT. I carry two other lights as well, by your logic, I should wait to draw and identify a threat with a tertiary light system, then draw? Read more post less.

  20. And for anyone interested, I am much more prone to incorporate the lessons from an instructor with this background
    "
    SouthNarc has been a full-time police officer since 1990 and has held line assignments in corrections, patrol, narcotics, investigations, and for the past seven years has been a narcotics group supervisor. He was also the primary defensive tactics instructor at the Southern Regional Public Safety Institute from 1992-1999 and has personally trained over five thousand police officers at the academy level. SouthNarc has extensive operational experience in an undercover capacity which is reflected heavily in the Extreme Close Quarter Concepts coursework. SouthNarc has a thirty year background in Philippine, Indonesian, Brazilian and Japanese martial arts and is a veteran of the U.S. Army. He has been conducting training in the private sector in the U.S. and abroad for the past 5 years."
    If you haven't heard of South Narc, here is some of his course work on Managing Unknown Contacts – which happens to be relevant to this discussion. http://www.safeism.com/pdfs/SNContacts.pdf

  21. $.02, I have a maglight with a led adapter and push button cap. I have lights all over my house including one 4 dcell with a strobe feature(for whatever reason). I have a child, a wife, and numerous pets. While not a stable a shooting platform, light in the off hand and braced wrists allows you to use the light alone, then come to battery as necessary without dropping or changing anything but firearm position. If I point a gun at my wife or child…………don't ever want to go there. Besides my wife would cap me in my sleep.

    The one, admittedly only one, fact I know about the expense of weapon lights is they have to handle the recoil. Cheap maglight with adapters work fine and cost less than twenty.

    I would say, in my humble opinion only, that while a powerful light is nice, I don't need something mounted. I prefer to have an off hand light just so that I can shine without harm. Otherwise all this tactical planning and multiple lights, in a court of law, makes it look like you were rambo out looking for a fight so you could show off your skills. It is one thing to be ready for a court of law, it is another to be so ready that the jury can be convinced you are gaming the system picking on poor wayward youths who are misunderstood and cut down in the prime of their life by a monster that forgot the war was over. You forget how liberals think and most lawyers are liberal.

    I know that some if not all of you are fantastic operators. I know you have to be prepared for when all else fails. I will tell you that the average punk is not looking for trouble with someone who walks, observes, scans, and is a living weapons platform that exists to service "targets". Hyenas know what lions look like, even in the dark. You can defuse a potential situation just by shining a light on the roaches.

    Thanks for listening.

  22. Once again I see something's that are not going to add up for everyone. Mos what works for you (I actually carry a G19 with TRL 1 everywhere) that's great more power to you. Though that is not gonna work for everyone or at all times. I am a Big man some might even say a little fat even. No way I could carry that rig comfortably. In the winter I could carry a tank under my coat, no one would notice. Now summer gets a lot harder for me to carry. My Santa physique means anything I carry seems to want stick out. I don't think you need to be TTP to state what works for you. I wear a light weight commander horizontally under my left breast. Grip is just to my left of center line. The addition of a light is more than I need. But once again not everyone situation is the same. I don't go out much at night and when I do it's not to a back alley poker game, it is to see family. Plus in my quiet dead end neighborhood, I have a city street light ten feet from the end of my two car length driveway going to a lit garage. Like I said I do like a light on my "nightstand" gun but I'm not trying to conceal that. High priced classes from your tactical instructors with a wealth of knowledge and experience are great. But I have never heard a good instructor say it has to be done just like this. You tend to think most are like you, in decent shape, ex-military, or LE back ground. As an NRA instructor I will tell you are not the average gun owner. I had a 70 year old lady take the course after some break-in in her area. After a class I usually bring a few pistols for students to try. She could not rack a slide on anything. You must try and realize not everyone situation is the same. My friend would get a smack down from his wife if he spent $200 "on a little flash light". Bottom line question was- Weapon Lights: Vital Kit or Flashy Toys? I would say vital kit for most especially Military, LE, and I add for a home gun, unless your hermit with no relatives or friends then you're just shooting anything that comes in. For EDC I would say depends on the individual circumstance. My aunt is never out after dark, can't see to drive. I would never think of it as a flashy toy

  23. Sol, you are completely wrong – in your advice, in my opinion. I am a prosecutor with 4 decades experience. I am also a firearms instructor as a hobby. I have enjoyed shooting since 1960.
    Using a gun-light takes a lot of practice. Using a flashlight separate from your gun is not very workable, especially when the adrenaline dump hits and your hands shake. You need to id your possible threat, see what's behind and around same, and then fire if necessary.

    Pointing a gun at what you perceive as a threat takes away the assault element.
    Shooting a threat is not battery. Shooting an innocent party is battery, and more.

    Surefire is very proud of their … prices. Viridian green lasers (the brightest visible light to the human eye) with incorporated, ie., not attached, lights are the best thing going.
    Unless you have a few thousand bucks to spend on Gen 2 or above night vision.

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  25. Sol,

    The writer posted his cliff notes and thoughts on the class. I am sure he would be more than happy to expound on all the contents and discussions of the class, however, that would be an extremely long post.
    Within the class I spoke in depth on choices, choices, choices. Each person has to decide what, how and why they choose to carry. I offer all types and sorts of choices in handguns, lights (mounted and handheld) holsters (IWB, OWB, ankle, appendix, leather, kydex….to allow the student to explore options in a classroom setting with a wide bank of choices.
    I have been involved with, reported, interviewed, worked and testified on several cases involving all of what I cover in the class. I have been the responding officer on the "I just shot somebody" call as well as had to testify in court involving shootings. I want students to ask questions I can hopefully answer without getting into the "legal advice" aspect, I can't do that, I am not a lawyer. BUT, I can talk about working in the dark, as a Police officer, and on a few times where I have had to encounter guys after I retired….so as a civilian. I do suggest the carrying of a handheld and weapon mounted light. Even in LOW light, you still need to be convinced that the suspect is a threat, it isn't always high noon or pitch black midnight. I think you misunderstood the original intent of the authors coverage and interpretation of some of the class.
    I do carry a G19 with a mounted light daily, and conceal it without issues on my strong side OWB. Anyone who attends the class will get 2 days of experienced instruction to assist in carry and garment assistance to help in education in the realm as well…. the position carry and cover garments make it possible. It is relatively easy, if you WANT to successfully carry concealed, and prep properly.

  26. PS to all you little skinny guys. In the winter I could hide a Mossberg 500 with pistol grip, 18" barrel and one of those old big 6 volt battery lanterns duck taped to it and you wouldn't notice. Come summer however the big man (think 6', 400+) SWEATS. Look kind of funny sweating while wearing extra clothes. Usually wear long sleeve dungaree shirt and tell everyone I burn easily. Now my Santa shape is at a big disadvantage. I am in a word ROUND. You put a pistol on a beach ball you start to understand part of the problem. It is going to stick out somewhere. Could never wear the Raven ACR holster any time of the year, especially if I had to sit. I have never transitioned to those new fangled plastic striker fired guns. I am an old cocked and locked condition one kinda guy. Thus my choice in pistol and rig (commander in horizontal shoulder rig). So my friends any other good thoughts on how I can carry in the summer. Sorry off topic but all you little people make it sound so easy.

  27. Got me a big ole 410 with a giant flashlight scotched taped to the barrel great for hunting gophers at the golf course

  28. Sorry but some of you guys need to relax a little. It’s good to be a little logical but some fired up passion is good for the soul.. I recently put a stream light tlr-1 on the end of my shell mag. On a .12 guage pistol grip shotgun. It works great for my situation. And yes I love my pistol grip so don’t go there. I was worried about having aLight on the end of my barrel and making me a target cause the bad guys just got to aim at the light and shoot. It works both ways. I spent 4 years in 3 rd Ranger Batt. And the last thing I wAnted on my rifle was a big old bright light showing the enemy my position. Now inside a house I can justify that idea. But still don’t like it. I guess it is better then shooting the neighbor by mistake. Have a good one. Kent

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