The Light Brigade

The Light Brigade

When it comes to personal and home defense, few tools are as indispensable as the flashlight.

To properly use the Harries Technique, the support elbow should be pointed toward the ground to make use of isometric tension.

If you want to catch someone by surprise, you do it at night. Yes, I know--all kinds of crimes occur during the day, and there is no truly safe time--but if a thug wants to hurt or kill you, he will likely make the attempt when vision is limited.

Having served in law enforcement for more than three decades, I speak from experience. If you are truly concerned about the safety of you and your loved ones, then you need to know how to operate at night.

Total darkness is not the problem. If it is too dark for you to see, it is too dark for an attacker to assault you--unless of course they have night vision, which is not likely. The problem is an environment of inconsistent light in which the eyes cannot adjust to either spectrum fully, and the eyes do not function well in such an environment.

The human eye is a complex organ that has the ability to adjust from light to dark, but it does so slowly, and once it gets there, it is not very efficient. Visualize looking down an alley that has a lone security light; you can see a man standing near a dumpster, but due to shadow you can't see what's in his hands. Is it a gun or a wallet?

To complicate matters, if your night vision is interrupted--say, someone turns on a light in a darkened room--it's gone for a while because the eyes adjust to higher levels of light very quickly but make the transition to low-light vision very slowly.

The first time I ever fired a .357 Magnum in the dark, I was quite surprised by the muzzle flash. At the time my eyes were fully adjusted to darkness, and after firing several rounds all I could see were bright spots in front of my eyes. Had I been forced to confront a threat, I would have been helpless for precious seconds.

That is why many law enforcement officers and military personnel bring light to the darkness via white lights (or night vision equipment, which is cost-prohibitive and beyond the scope of this article). The use of light, when combined with proper tactics, will help you prevail in a reduced or inconsistent light environment. This article focuses on the hand-held light, which in many ways is more versatile than the weapon-mounted light.

Today, many training courses make use of slick flashlight techniques that include rapid movement across dark areas, hitting an attacker's eyes with strobe lights and a number of other new concepts. I have attended several of these seminars and suggest you should, too.

However, I just can't help but think back to my 30 years in law enforcement and remember how simple it was to just turn on the light everywhere I could. While not the ultimate solution, it worked far more often than not.

Before I would enter a dark room, I would hook my arm around the door frame and try to find the light switch. This turned a dark environment into a bright environment where my eyes would work quite well, and I would not trip and fall over something.

Be careful not to back-light yourself when doing this as it will make you a target, but I prefer this to shining a flashlight into a dark room and letting an intruder know exactly where I am. Remember, most interior walls are concealment, not cover, and any incoming rounds will penetrate.

Lights can help keep you safe in many situations - not just defense - and small lights like this Surefire Titan are handy to have.

But many times there is no working, easily accessible light switch, or you can't locate it quickly, and that's why flashlights are vital tools. Going without one is silly--if not actually life threatening. And they're not just for personal defense but also for personal safety. Read the "9/11 Commission Report" and you will learn how valuable a small light was to those trying to escape the Twin Towers.

Carrying a small but powerful light is easy due to current technology. The ability to light up dark areas in times of fire, natural disasters, power outages and, yes, armed conflict can literally mean the difference between life and death.

I have flashlights tucked away in my home, car and on my person at all times, and so should you. One reason people do not carry a flashlight with them always is they think they're too big and heavy, but that's not true. The small but powerful lights now available from several manufacturers are the way to go for a personal/defensive light, and there's no excuse to be without one.

Flashlights come in two styles: incandescent bulbs or LED, which stands for light emitting diode. Incandescent bulbs offer a very bright white light that cannot be matched in power, while the LED offers a softer white light that is longer lasting. While they have gotten more durable over the years, the incandescent bulb is more fragile than the nearly indestructible LED, and LEDs are getting stronger and whiter all the time.

For the defensive hand-held flashlight, you also need to consider how the light is turned on. A model that has a momentary switch is vital. It needs to be turned on and off quickly, and a tail-cap model offers greater diversity of technique than one where the on/off switch is on the barrel or head of the light.

A few defensive lights worth considering include the new Surefire Back Up, which is only four inches in length and weighs just 2.8 ounces while offering either five or 80 lumens of power. Designed for plainclothes law enforcement, the Back Up should also prove popular for personal defense.

Blackhawk offers a similar light with the Sentinel PL3 XTR. With a length of only 3.75 inches, it offers 65 lumens of power and can easily be clipped to a pocket or belt. Streamlight's NightFighter delivers 78 lumens (120 lumens in the LED version) from a 4.5-ounce light that measures 4.8 inches.

Moving up the power scale, Surefire's E2D Defender LED is thin and just 5.4 inches in length with a weight of 3.7 ounces. What sets it apart are the crenellated bezel and tail cap designed for striking. I know several folks who have used the 120 lumens not only to blind an attacker temporarily but who have also hit the assailant with the light itself, which is quite painful.

Blackhawk (Gladius) and Insight Technologies (H1X Proxima) both offer hand-held lights that are bright and offer a strobe feature that not only blinds but confuses an attacker due to the rapid on/off light. The eyes are actually overwhelmed, and looking in the direction of the light is difficult.

However, do not become overconfident when using a white light. While it is true an attacker can be temporarily blinded by the light, he can still shoot, so count on your opponent shooting at the light.

Although there are newer methods, the FBI flashlight technique is still a viable tool for low-light combat.

Understanding how to use a hand-held flashlight for defensive purposes is essential. For actual shooting, the first thing to remember is that you will be shooting with one hand, regardless of technique, because recoil is going to separate your hands during multiple shots.

No single technique will work for all situations, so have several in your skill set. The FBI Technique (holding the flashlight away from the body) was dismissed by many, but I used it to great effect when looking around corners or down long corridors.

The Harries Technique is one of my favorites--probably because it was the first one I learned--thus it feels quite comfortable. Many use it improperly, with the support arm as a rest for the shooting arm. To use the Harries' isometric tension, the support side elbow must be pointed down to the ground, camming the back of the support wrist into the indent of the shooting wrist, locking them in place.

It is solid but fatigues you quickly. It also places the light to one side of the gun, which could be a disadvantage if a corner needs to be cleared on the opposing side.

With any technique, "splash-back" of light against a wall or other object can seriously affect a shooter's vision. A light beam that does not make it downrange will be of no assistance and may light up the shooter. Avoiding splash-back requires training and practice.

Another popular technique is the Rogers/Surefire, which places the light in the support hand in a syringe position, using the fingers to pull the light back into the palm. It offers more of the support hand to help mate with the pistol, but it is inferior to a weapon-mounted light in terms of control.

The technique requires a light that has some type of ring around it so the fingers can pull back, though a few rubber bands around the body of a conventional light will work. As with the Harries, the light is to the side of the gun, so you must be careful when working corners to reduce splash-back.

The technique that I find myself using most these days is a true one-handed technique that I call the Puckett Technique. The first person I saw use it was noted author/trainer/cop Brian Puckett, and I believe in credit where it is due, but others call it the "neck index" as the light is held against the neck, which directs the beam forward.

This technique helps illuminate the gun's sights for a more accurate shot. It is the fastest of all techniques to execute, and I think its advantage is that it keeps the firing and non-firing hands separate from the beginning, so there's no concern about the hands coming apart during multiple shots.

Practice is essential with any of these. This can be difficult at clubs and public ranges as shooting ceases at dark in most locales. If you have access to an indoor range, your problem is solved, provided you can use it alone.

Don't just turn off all of the lights. Set up an inconsistent light environment with pockets of light and dark. If you have a shooting partner, different scenarios can be set up to surprise and challenge one another.

If nothing else, use your home via dry-fire practice and work the rooms, stairs and other corners. Make sure your gun is empty before you begin.

It's impossible to cover everything one needs to know about night work in a single article, so think of this as the first step in a journey to prepare yourself for what you may face when the lights go dim. Vision is our strongest sense, and when it is inhibited, we are disadvantaged. Learn to use the light so that you are never caught unprepared in the dark.

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