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Using Gun Lights

by Walt Rauch   |  September 24th, 2010 1

Attaching one of the state-of-the-art high-intensity lights to your self-defense handgun is just too good an idea to ignore.

Attaching one of the state-of-the-art high-intensity lights to your self-defense handgun is just too good an idea to ignore. While this is not a cure-all for lighting and fighting, marrying the two makes life less complicated if you follow some common-sense rules.

Currently, there are two systems for attaching lights to handguns: One has the light permanently installed, and the other has the light affixed so that it can be put on or taken off as desired. The permanent installation is best illustrated by the Surefire light system, which is mounted via a grip clamp/pressure switch (Surefire’s new removable Model X200 was not available as of this writing) and a new slide stop (for the 1911) while the Insight Technologies Industries (ITI) M Series light is the most widely used removable light. The Glock Safe Action light follows the ITI design.

With either system you need a different holster to fit the now-enlarged package when the light is mounted on the gun. In duty rigs, Safariland is out front, but with concealed carry as the objective, pickings are slim. I found the Blade-Tech Kydex Stealth paddle holster (Blade-Tech also has a Light Pouch for carrying it off your gun) and a Fobus holster that, to my knowledge, is only made to accommodate the standard and compact Glock with a light.

Concealed carry holsters for 1911 guns with rails, even without the light mounted, are also scarce. I have but one, and it is custom made by Lou Alessi of Alessi Holsters. He made his DOJ/S rig (Department of Justice with FBI slant) for my Kimber TLE LP gun, and it is excellent. He makes this rig for nonrail guns as well.

This non-light-mounted carry makes the most sense for me since at the very least the gun and regular holster make a smaller package and are easier to conceal. Also, with the light off, you can use it as you would any handheld light because the rear-mounted switch lends itself to one-hand operation or, combined with your gun, in a two-handed shooting grip.


(Left) With the gun empty (in this case a Kimber TLE-LR), the ITI M6 light is brought up from beneath and behind the gun muzzle. There is currently no safe method to mount a light on a loaded gun. Invariably, your hand will come in front of the muzzle. (Right) The ITI light is then pulled on until the locking crossbar clicks into the matching rail on the dustcover.

Installing and removing the light should be done only with the gun empty. I realize this isn’t a very high-speed/low-drag rule, but as I see it, doing otherwise means you’re working around the gun muzzle, pushing or pulling on the light with one hand while holding your gun with the other. If something can go wrong, it will.

Ideally, the lights go on and off easily. In the real world, they do and they don’t. Get the rails on either the gun or the light dirty, and they’ll stick. There are also dimensional differences between various gun-light rails and lights. What slips on the Glock is a struggle to get on a 1911, as I found out putting a Glock light on a Kimber rail gun. I needed a rubber mallet to get it off.

Courtesy of Alan T. Howe of Insight Technology, I now understand there are three rail systems in use by gun companies–Weaver, Picatinney and Glock–and they all have dimensional differences in the spacing and configuration of the light rails. ITI now sells its light to fit the Picatinney and Glock rails. Also, using some oil on the rails for the first few “on and offs” is a good idea.

When you do get the right combination, you still should have a system to install and remove the light that keeps your fingers and hand away from the muzzle of the unloaded gun. I also realize there can be those occasions where need outweighs complete safety, and you are going to put the light on a loaded gun. Having established and practiced a system just might avoid damage to you or to others.

I suggest the following method that works for me: Grab the light so that you are holding the bezel (head end) with thumb and forefinger, and hold the body of the light with the rest of your hand. Hold the empty gun, with the slide locked back, in your dominant hand. Bring up the light from beneath and behind the muzzle, and index the rear of your palm on the forward, lower part of the triggerguard. Consider this the “start” position. Then move the light forward along the gun rails just enough to get past them with the rear of the light, and then align the light and rails so that you can pull back on the light until the locking crossbar clicks into a matching cut on the gun’s rail. This should keep your fingers from in front of the muzzle.

Removal is the reverse but with caution. Begin by reindexing your hand as noted above. Then, depending on hand size, reach up, pull down and hold onto the locking bar, and push the light forward. If you do this with a steadily increasing push rather than a sharp shove, the light should come off below the muzzle. While pulling on the gun itself to aid in removal appears to be a reasonable method, don’t do it. Doing this is almost a guarantee to have your hand come in front of the gun’s muzzle. Simple? Yes. To be done without thought? No.

Getting back to the light on the gun, there is now the matter of how best to use it. The lights generally have both momentary and constant-on controls that can be operated with either hand. You do need to practice this with either hand, particularly if you use your trigger finger on the controls since using it to move the switch means this finger is now much closer to, and in line with, the trigger.


A light on your handgun does make getting good hits in dim light easier. This Glock 37, chambered for .45 GAP, is fitted with the Glock Safe Action light. Note the red training barrel from Practi-Cal Holsters.

In application, if the threat is known, simply light up, and do what is necessary. The rub comes when the object of interest is not an identified threat, and the only light you have is on the gun. This is a big reason to have and use another light since indiscriminately pointing guns at folks has some serious repercussions.

With this in mind, there is a school of thought that teaches to “aim off” with the light (and gun) for identification. When this is presented in a classroom demo, it works well but is not, in my opinion and experience, very realistic. Putting aside the use of the light to temporarily blind any threat or to put yourself behind a “wall of light,” humans want to see th
e facial expressions of people and their body movements. The “hold off” technique, if done at all, will be right after you’ve pointed the light and gun at someone’s head. Afterward, of course, you’re left with figuring out what to do with the light-and-gun package. Without a dedicated holster, you are looking at either removing the light from a loaded gun or, if you’re very sure you no longer need the gun loaded, unloading it and then using the suggested removal system.

As to the gun light itself, when carried “off gun,” wear it in the same location all the time in a carrier or pocket. Also, be sure that you don’t accidentally activate the light for, at the least, the batteries will be dead when you do need it, or, at worst, you’ll turn yourself into a blinking light. And do practice drawing the light without fumbling or dropping it for these lights are not drop-proof.

In reality, gun-mounted lights are simply shooting aids, which have only very limited application as search and identification tools. Yes, we are all treated to watching endless repeats of law enforcement officers performing light shows worthy of Las Vegas or Disneyland on TV and in movies, but they are not exposed to being charged criminally or civilly for assault or reckless endangerment. Use the light judiciously for what it is: one more limited but good addition to your self-defense package. Next issue, I’ll discuss the practical alternative to guns with lights mounted, namely, one-handed shooting.

  • Claude

    Question? If you put one of these lights on your gun at night and go outside and shine your light upon an unarmed person are you going to get charged with aggravated assault since your firearm is also pointed at them ?

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