If you focus on any aspect of gun culture long enough, you’ll find that there’s a contentious point; a matter of debate. You’re likely to step right in one at any gun shop, kitchen table FFL or sporting goods store — 9mm versus .45, Mossberg versus Remington, AR versus AK … flashlight versus weapon light.
I used to side on the flashlight side, at least when it came to handguns and the nightstand. Using a flashlight with a handgun is more difficult, but since you can use the flashlight discretely apart of the pistol, it’s more versatile.
The argument goes, you don’t necessarily want to point a gun at something to light it up. Not only is it threatening, it can violate the basic rules of gun handling and in some circumstances, could be considered brandishing a firearm.
It’s a trade-off: shoot one-handed, give up some control of the pistol, and gain a whole lot more control of the light source.
I learned to shoot handguns with a revolver, one-handed, without a provision for a weapon light — a flashlight just made sense. And this is me admitting a personal bias: I can’t stand it when a new shooter asks “I just got a new Springfield-Sauer Glock model 7. What kind of mods should I get first?”
That increasingly common question instantly sets off a clusterbomb of knee-jerk reactions from me. Buying more shit won’t make you better. You don’t need that shit, just put some bullets downrange. You need to get the hang of shooting before you can start thinking about changes to your handgun. A flashlight was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you. You are not an operator.
Screw that. If your home defense guns have provisions for lights, put lights on them. Or at least, start thinking about it.
Here’s the thing. A weapon light doesn’t replace a flashlight, it accompanies a flashlight.
I changed my mind, like so many other good reasons to change minds, after realizing I had made a colossal mistake. I was breaking a personal rule: never assume you’ll be in remotely good shape in a high-stress situation.
Going back to talking to new shooters, one piece of advice I harp on is practice shooting in a number of ways. Don’t just line up at the range and burn through your ammo. Shoot using both hands. Shoot using one hand. Shoot using your weak hand only. Shoot two-handed on your weak side. You can’t predict what skills you’ll need in a potential self-defense situation, but you can at least practice them.
A small amount of experience in advance can make a huge difference in the real world. If you’re in a situation where you’re using a gun, you’re already in a bad way. Who knows which hands you’ll have in that bad situation — learn to use them equally well; or at least a little better.
Depending on only a flashlight is like depending only on one hand. Ironically, I didn’t see that until recently.
I’m not tooting my own horn; this is relevant to my stupid old prejudice against weapon lights. I have great night vision. My eyes adjust quickly and I can make out details at long distances.
I live in a well-lit area and at night with or without moonlight there’s enough ambient light to see well outside and inside. Even in a power outage, I’ve felt OK. The flashlight almost seemed superfluous.
One night — it, of course, had to be at night — that illusion was completely erased. There was a flash flood. There was a major power outage. There was no moonlight to speak of. I was overly confident.
Something hinky was happening across the street. I heard something smash on the street, and there was a person crouched against a car. The figure was struggling at the car’s door and I went to the front porch to watch. Suddenly the figure stood up, opened the door and started the car.
There was no reason to worry, it was my neighbor; she dropped her keys under the car was all. She was struggling, but only to find where they went. Once she grabbed them, she got in, put the car in reverse, and I went blind.
My eyes had completely adjusted to the darkest of black nights and that car’s reverse lights are about as bright as a lot of headlights and I was staring right at them. I turned back to the hallway and it was just gone. I couldn’t see the front closet, I couldn’t see the picture of my dad on the wall, I couldn’t see my feet. And that’s when I realized my own, stupid mistake.
It wasn’t a high-stress situation, it wasn’t a self-defense situation, it wasn’t even a real emergency. And I’m grateful it wasn’t. The severity of losing my night vision so completely was enough to come to reason — if I had needed a gun, or even just a flashlight, I couldn’t have found it short of feeling along the walls and crawling to the nightstand.
It took a little while to get even some of my night vision back. In a bad situation, it could have been devastating. To learn that lesson on a quiet summer night was second only to never making that mistake in the first place.
To depend solely on interior lighting, ambient lighting, hand-held lighting, or personal vision, or a combination of them, is just foolish. Bring all of your options to the table. As they say, one is none, two is one. In my case, four was none.
As if to drive the point home even further, the next time I picked up my main flashlight it didn’t light up. The O-ring sealing the battery compartment failed and water had infiltrated it. Probably happened during the flash flood as I was lashing down tarps in the garden.
In the coming weeks and months, I’ll probably spend a lot more hands-on time with weapon lights, trying to find what works for me. There aren’t universal standards for light manufacturers, so comparing their on-paper specs is pretty meaningless. Nothing short of actually using them will determine which are good and for what.
Some things, like lumens, use a real-world measurement that can be measured with a bias to deliver misleading information for marketing purposes. Also, some light can be too much light, depending on the situation. You don’t want to be blinded by your own equipment.
I’d like to hear what you want to look for when you’re considering lights. Solid brand and reputation? Beam intensity and pattern? Value and cost? Durability? What kind of durability testing is right for a weapon light? Let us know what you want in your lighting accessory reviews. We want your feedback.
So yes, learn to shoot with a flashlight. Learn to shoot one-handed. But also if you can, get a weapon light. If you like, get a laser sight, too. It’s one argument that all gun owners will agree with: it’s better to have and not need, than need and not have.