So I am a retired cop and on my service weapon I had a combo flashlight/laser on it. Now, I have a light/laser combo on an AR-15 that I essentially set up for home defense. One of the things I found as an officer was that in situations that were escalating, simply putting a laser on someone’s chest usually had a debilitating affect on the aggressor. It didn’t take them being a genius to realize that they knew if they continued the aggression, EXACTLY where the bullet was going to hit them.
My AR-15 has a green dot laser on it and I bought this feature specifically for the same reason. I have to be honest, I was old school brought up on iron sites starting as a cop in the early 90’s. My AR has a Sig Romeo 5 Red Dot scope on it and would be my primary sight, but I do have flip ups on the rifle in case the battery or sight failed. To me, the laser is my territory backup sight. It is essentially there in case all else fails, but as a way to intimidate someone threatening me or my family and almost like a rattle snake letting them know that I AM lethal if I need to be.
So here is my question. For those that do have the laser on a weapon, either handgun or rifle, do you plan on utilizing it in a self defense situation as your primary sight picture, or do you feel the deterrence of someone seeing a laser on them is enough to stop the threat? I mean, I pray I never have to shoot a home invader, so if I can deter their actions when we meet, that would be the ideal outcome although I am still prepared if I HAVE to react.
Additionally, I would say from my experience, they way you shoot using a laser as your primary sight is far different from using a red dot style optic or iron sights. It is always better to have a back up sights, but to me, you MUST choose the preferred sighting system and kind of stick with it until something fails. That is the point, should it occur that you revert to a secondary sighting system or even a third like my laser. What say you?
My experience with lasers is that they are hard to pick up in bright daylight or at distance, which diminishes any deterrence advantage. And they are not typically “shake-awake” but must be manually turned on which adds to complexity that I did not want in a stressful social encounter. I was always afraid I’d push the “on” button to nothing. Red/Green dots or low power scopes work better for me, especially for close engagement rifles, than do lasers.
To me that sounds like the equivalent of a warning shot. In my mind if I have to put a laser dot on someone the trigger is getting pressed immediately as soon as I see it on target because I already made the decision that my life is in danger and I have a threat worthy of deadly force.
I get what you are saying, but I WAS able to probably stop serious threats with just the press of a button back in the day. In the end, it is hard to say, but I DO remember seeing panic on criminals faces when they say that laser hit them and they immediately complied.
I’m not a fan. Other than intending to never draw my gun, if I have to, I suspect it will be for imminent use and/or the sight of the gun itself will be the deterrent.
Lasers can work both ways. Lasers can lack brightness to be seen in some situations.
I’ve seen lasers instill less than good habits in people who forget about presentation and looking for sight alignment or sight picture because they are looking at and around the targer for the laser. Other sighting systems, irons, red dots, scopes, etc, all utilize the same body mechanics/muscle memory for where you acquire that sight picture (consistency)
I also don’t like that they cannot be always on, so when you look for it it might not be on, irons of course are always on (and in the exact same place you look for your red dot sight) and red dots can be always on for a year or three or so at a time per battery
I appreciate you taking my comment in the light they were offered. It makes for a good basis for discussion and many folks just get offended when dealing with an answer that challenges their premise when stating an opinion.
My take on this is that as a LEO your mindset is to de-escalate and execute an arrest if necessary. That is a laudable goal indeed and I appreciate the many LEOs that are facing deadly threats on a daily basis under those parameters.
Civilians have no such obligations. And in many states they have no power to arrest or even detain another person. As a matter of fact that is a point they drive hard in many CCL classes to avoid armed civilians thinking they are now cops and trying to act like one.
So let’s go with an example. If I come face to face with an attacker armed with a knife and he’s less than let’s call it 10 yards or so from me and I’m a LEO my training and the expectations of my department and community would be to draw my weapon and issue a warning to de-escalate and arrest.
As a civilian my best option is to shoot to stop the threat because he can cover that distance in less than 2 seconds and cause me harm before I can stop him. That’s a chance an LEO has to take because of their job and expectations of them, but I do not. That knife and distance have already given me the green light to use deadly force.
I have no personal experience with a targeting laser on a defensive firearm but have done some dryfire practice with lasers both always on and trigger activated.
Some potential negatives I see with lasers:
Civilians have less leeway with pointing firearms at threats than LEOs do. Using a pointed weapon as a deescalation tool could put a civilian at increased risk of criminal charges.
If the threat really is imminent and focused on attacking will they even notice the laser on themselves instead of being locked in on their target?
If they do notice the laser they can also tell when the laser isn’t pointed at them so they can see when they have an opening to act. My martial arts training has me looking for or creating openings when the gun isn’t pointed at me. A laser shifting off my body would trigger me to act.
My hands are somewhat jittery so the laser bounces around a lot even when I am not facing the heart rate jump and adrenaline dump of a self defense situation. This might mess up my subconscious confidence in making an accurate shot or possibly embolden a criminal mistaking my shaking hands for fear and potential unwillingness to shoot. When just using the sights my body seems to compensate well for the jitteriness and lets me make accurate hits.
Having to activate the laser on firearms without an automatic grip switch could be a point of failure in a stressful defensive situation leaving the shooter searching for a dot that isn’t there.
In some lighting conditions and at longer distances the lasers can be hard to see.
Potential positives for lasers:
If forced to shoot from the hip it could give you visual confirmation that your firearm is on target. Though at from the hip shooting distances do you need/have the time to look for that confirmation?
It could act as a deescalation tool in certain situations. Though I feel that is more useful from an LEO perspective especially when multiple officers are present.
I believe this to be the case. My state would charge me the same way as if I had actually fired. Just pulling let alone pointing is considered use of deadly force. If the circumstances require me to pull, then 99% gonna be firing.
Thanks for this discussion Scott, and thank you for your years of service.
My thoughts are that lasers could be a good backup sight, but in my opinion shouldn’t be the primary sight. In the case of a home invasion, I don’t know that I would have time to activate and find the laser as a deterrent. In the videos I’ve seen of actual home invasions, things happen fast — really fast — and it doesn’t seem like there’s much that could deter a situation like that aside from actual bullets themselves. Burglaries could be different, as a burglar doesn’t typically want to be seen or interact with the victim. If you stumble upon a burglar, a laser might very well be a good deterrent. But as a means of stopping a violent crime… I’m of the opinion that you’ll probably be forced to shoot anyway, so don’t waste time.
I use a red laser and flashlight on my handgun ONLY for home defense during a nighttime threat. My laser is set for 3 yards, which for me, is optimal if a deadly home invasion occurs at night and I have just enough time to blind an attacker and stop the threat, either by criminal backing down or shooting the deadly threat.
I train at my local range with a laser set at 3 yards, I am able to get all rounds within the same circle. Move the target out to 5 yards and all my shots are 6-8" low. After a bunch of rounds the laser site needs to be adjusted because the gunfire impact tends to change the accuracy.
Massad Ayoob (Wilson Combat and another former LEO) warns against using a flashlight and laser for illumination and threat de-escalation because in the heat of the moment, it is too easy to pull the trigger.
Daytime threats are not necessary for lasers and flashlights in most of my situations.
My recommendation is to have a flashlight with a laser pointer or just a laser pointer, not attached to the firearm, if de-escalation is the most desired. In my area, there are lots of car burglaries and thefts at night and if the flashlight doesn’t deter a criminal, then a laser certainly will (again this is for de-escalation of non-deadly threats).
My son is on active duty in the military and advise him to do the same thing because he lives in an apartment than overlooks his car in the parking lot, which has had crimes involving vehicles.
This is an interesting idea. My concern would be that it could potentially escalate the situation instead of deescalating it. If someone mistook me for a criminal and pointed a laser pointer at me I would likely assume they were pointing a firearm at me. Especially if it was dark and/or I didn’t have a clear view of what they had in their hands.
I could see a common burglar being scared off by the laser but a violent or desperate criminal might act aggressively in response and an innocent CCW carrier might react aggressively to defend themselves from the perceived threat.
This comment is incorrect on both points. The green lasers I have on my 2 pistols are visible at 50 feet even in bright daylight. If you're referring to the older red lasers, it's time to upgrade.
On your other point, I have lasers from Crimson Trace, Lasermax, and Viridian, and none of them need to be turned on. They are even better then shake awake, they are either capacitor touch turn on, or natural grip actuation.
I use my lasers as a primary sight picture, as my 63 year old eyes are not usable for iron sights. Give the newer lasers a try.
I have green instant on lasers on all of my guns. but my home defense gun 38 special has laser grip. I need the lasers because I am unable to lift my arms up due to permanent dislocated left shoulder and a partially paralyzed right one.so my shooting has to be point shooting from a power wheelchair.