Top 5 Types of Laser Aiming Systems for Handguns

We are not too far from the time when most handguns will have lasers as integrated aiming systems. Until then, we will continue to enjoy several types of add-on laser aiming systems, each with various pros and cons.

Remember when adding a supplemental aiming or lighting system, such as a laser or light, to a handgun meant attaching a monstrous piece of equipment to the rail, complete with a coiled cord leading to an activation pad which had to be glued to the side of the frame? We have come a long way, and it is great to have so many options. With that, here are five of the top types of laser aiming systems for handguns.

Read Mark’s previous articles in this “Top Five” series:

1. Guide Rod Laser

For an add-on laser aiming system, it is difficult to get more integrated than to replace the guide rod of your autoloading pistol with one equipped with a laser. It also comes with the most risk and usually requires an extra activation step by the shooter.

Here, you replace one of the most integral parts of a handgun with something not designed or produced by the original manufacturer. Add to that the need to house and power a laser in something as small as a guide rod. And keep in mind that guide rods are wrapped in springs meant not merely to manage recoil, but also to help the slide cycle, eject spent casings and scoop up fresh rounds from the magazine.

Finally, like most other parts of a handgun, a guide rod has to handle the heat and pressure generated from firing bullets. If a guide rod laser can do all that while providing a reliable beam of light that improves accuracy, it is a great solution. Moreover, there are virtually no fit issues with any holsters or other gear since virtually none of the gun’s physical dimensions change with the addition of a guide rod laser.

2. Laser-Integrated Stocks

Laser aiming systems integrated into or wrapping around the stocks of an auto-loading pistol or revolver provide another option for aiming. A typical setup requires swapping out the factory stocks for ones equipped with a laser — which means the stocks also contain a power source, a power switch and an actuator.

With laser-integrated stocks installed and powered on, a shooter merely has to grasp the gun, and the laser beam will emit from the stocks, usually from a point just above the right stock panel. The laser is turned on by an actuator pad or button built into the front strap of the stocks, and its actuation is automatic if a shooter grasps the gun.

This brings up a matter of laser-aiming philosophy: whether you want a laser to turn on as you grasp a gun or whether you want to take an extra step to actuate the laser. Which you use should depend on you thinking through the situations you think you might encounter.

Regardless, one of the potential drawbacks of laser-integrated stocks is that a right-handed shooter may obscure the laser beam with his or her trigger finger, depending on where that trigger finger ends up when deploying the gun. Resting on the side of the frame has the potential to block the source of the beam.

Generally, laser-integrated stocks enjoy very little interference with most holsters, but you should still confirm the fit. The bump of the laser housing in the stocks may run into the sides of some holsters.

3. Trigger-Guard-Mounted Laser

Similar to laser-integrated stocks, a trigger-guard-mounted laser is an add-on feature which places the laser unit directly in front of the trigger guard and, in fact, attached to it. Trigger guard mounted lasers provide a laser solution for guns with no accessory rail (see #4, below), using a form-fitting plastic housing which is attached and held firmly in place with built-in screws.

One of the advantages of a trigger-guard-mounted laser is that the laser beam emits from directly under the barrel. So, the aim is more true than what you would get from a side-mounted, laser-integrated stock. But at typical handgun firing distances, this is not as important.

The chief disadvantage of a trigger-guard-mounted laser is that an entirely new holster is needed to properly hold the gun with the installed laser. These types of lasers typically require the user to actuate the laser by using the trigger finger to press a button mounted on either side of the laser housing.

4. Rail-Mounted Laser

For handguns equipped with an accessory rail, a rail-mounted laser may be more sensible than a trigger-guard-mounted laser because it will likely attach very firmly to the gun and may even be able to be taken off with less fuss.

A rail-mounted laser hangs off the rail but often is screwed down for a super strong hold. Activation switches on both sides of the unit usually offer righties and lefties equal access to the on/off controls. Of course, rail-mounted lasers alter the physical dimensions to the gun and therefore require a special holster to accommodate them.

5. Rail-Mounted Light/Laser Combo

A rail-mounted light/laser combo is similar to a rail-mounted laser but has the addition of a tactical light. Even though we are focusing on lasers, I mention it here because it is such a useful combination that eliminates the need for carrying a tactical light. Instead, both light and laser come on when activating this unit, both lighting up the target and the target area as well as showing the point of impact.

This is obviously a larger unit than all the others as it has to house a power supply and more advanced electronics. And yes, you will need an even larger holster to accommodate a handgun so equipped. And you will have to get used to a bit more weight near the muzzle of the gun.

But consider the usefulness of being able to draw and, with one finger, press to light up a target in bright, white light and see the point of aim with a green or red dot from the laser. These units usually allow for momentary illumination and targeting as well as constant-on.

If you have a laser-equipped handgun, what type of system do you use and why?

About the Author: Mark Kakkuri is a nationally published freelance writer who covers guns and gear, 2nd Amendment issues and the outdoors. His writing and photography have appeared in many firearms-related publications, including the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @markkakkuri.

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About the author: Mark Kakkuri is a nationally published freelance writer who covers guns and gear, 2nd Amendment issues and the outdoors. His writing and photography have appeared in many firearms-related publications, including the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @markkakkuri.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Mr. Sparkles May 25, 2018, 10:52 pm

    I have and use the trigger guard laser(LC9, LCP, LC380), the guiderod laser(Glock 22) and the rail mounted laser( HyPoint Carbine). Would not recommend the rail mount but love both the trigger guard and the guide rod and would suggest a trigger guard on compact-subcompact and guide rod on full size.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  • Jay May 25, 2018, 9:28 pm

    Have a lasermax internal guide rod that is still kicking after 14 years. In a Springfield trp 45 it’s only on its second set of battery since I’ve had it.

  • bbbs53 May 25, 2018, 3:39 am

    I hate to mention this but the slide return spring has NOTHING to do with recoil. It does not “manage” recoil at all. Physics says that the recoil is caused by case diameter impinging on the slide, recoil shield or bolt, all the slide return spring does is return the slide to the battery position while feeding the next round. The larger the case diameter, the larger the recoil, why a 12 ga has more recoil than a 9mm. This is basic stuff Mark, there is no “magic”. The return spring is at its lowest point of energy until the slide moves to the rear, its impact on recoil is negligible.

    • Gunsmith May 25, 2018, 12:00 pm

      The recoil spring works counter to the recoil action – it resists the rearward movement of the reciprocating parts, in addition to returning the slide to battery. The strength of this spring (and the hammer spring, as applicable) must be balanced with the recoil force; which is why you cannot interchange springs between all calibers. Too little strength and you’ll get frame battering, cracked slides, and premature wear (imagine shooting with no spring at all), and too much, and you’ll get functional problems, like failure to eject. This is also why a lighter recoil spring is necessary on a race pistol once a brake is attached; otherwise it won’t cycle properly. Mark was actually quite correct.

  • Bill May 21, 2018, 5:32 pm

    A work buddy showed me his new Glock 30 with a LaserMax guide rod laser back in 2000 and I fell in love. Bought one just like it and gave my best friend my Beretta 92F. 2018 and it is still my favorite. Yes it does take using the other hand to turn the laser on and off but never has the laser fail to work and I only changed the battery pack once in 18 years. All I can say is this combo has worked without fail for me.

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