Seems like pistol mounted lights are all the rage right now among civilian armed defenders and I often get asked which light I use on my defensive pistol. Then folks are often surprised when I reveal that I don’t have a weapon mounted light (WML) on my defensive carry pistol. This is commonly followed with a deluge of reasons as to why they believe the lack of a WML on a defensive pistol is blasphemous and I should immediately repent. I agree there is value in weapon mounted lights. However, I believe the real value a WML provides for the armed civilian is not well understood and worth writing a few words about.
The most prevalent benefit I hear about weapon mounted lights is that light is absolutely necessary to positively identify a threat in a low light or no light defensive scenario. I agree with that. That reason is almost always followed by pointing out that shooting one handed while holding a flashlight in the other is difficult or at least more difficult than shooting with two hands on the gun. This is also true. Every now and then an additional merit or two is added before the offended party declares that these points make a weapon mounted light a necessity for defensive carriers and should now be fully aware of the error of my ways.
What is missing in these passionate decrees is context. More specifically, the context of the armed civilian. The mission of the armed civilian when it comes to self defense is to either avoid contact or, when contact can’t be avoided, break contact. That’s it. This suggests that if at all possible we avoid going places that are dimly lit and make use of available light sources when need be. The light sources here include everything for turning on available lights or using some sort of flashlight other than one mounted to a pistol because the pistol doesn’t get pointed at anything that we don’t intend to shoot as per the second rule of safe gun handling. It’s just not a safe thing to do. Furthermore, pointing a gun at any person who hasn’t already been identified as a reasonably imminent threat that must be shot is a really bad idea that has very serious legal consequences which makes searching and scanning with a WML a horribly bad idea.
The what-about-isms should be queued up right about now. I’ve gotten several thrown my way and I’ve yet to hear one that makes searching and scanning with a WML for an armed civilian seem like a good idea. A frequent one is the infamous bump in the night where one has to jump out of bed, grab the gun off the nightstand, and clear the house. Surely searching and scanning is a good idea with a WML is a good idea then. I disagree. My first question is, why clear the house? If the “bump” is unmistakably a home invasion, then one would probably be better off calling the police on the cell phone that is on the nightstand while positioning themselves defensively in a designated “safe room” ready to intercept a threat that funnels through the entry to that room. “So, you light up the doorway with the WML?” I suppose you could, but I’d rather turn on a light switch. Or even better, use home automation to turn on all of the residence’s indoor and exterior lighting. That sends a clear message that somebody is definitely home which can be a very effective deterrent. “But, what if the invaders cut the power to the house?” Okay, fine. Use the WML, but if, and only if, the battery life will be sufficient and one isn’t expecting other residents to come through the entry to the safe room first. Otherwise, a handheld flashlight is a better choice.
There is no way I can cover all the possible what abouts and but ifs. However, every single one that I’ve fielded can results in the use of available lighting or a handheld flashlight to be a more prudent choice for various reasons over a WML by an armed civilian unless actively engaged in stopping a active identified threat in low light conditions where there is an opportunity to switch from a handheld light to the WML without losing the ability to switch back to a handheld light once the fight is over in order to scan for additional threats. It’s a very specific use case that, to my knowledge, is uncommon in civilian armed defense scenarios.
To be clear, I’m not opposed to outfitting a defensive pistol with a weapon mounted light. It would certainly be advantageous to have in that specific scenario that is a possibility. Moreover, it provides an additional benefit that is overlooked. The additional weight of the WML and the battery that powers it on the front of a pistol reduces the amount of muzzle rise that occurs when the pistol begins to recoil after being fired and assists with recoil recovery which can result in faster follow up shots with sufficient practice and familiarity. I find this benefit to be frequently overlooked.
The flip side to the recoil reduction benefit is that weapon mounted lights make a pistol heavier and bulkier which can increase discomfort when carried and can also make the pistol more difficult to conceal well. Another thing to consider is that holster availability can be challenging or even nonexistent for certain pistol and light combinations. Perhaps one of these days I’ll write a post to recount the saga of finding a holster for the Staccato P with the Modlite PL350 pictured above.
So, do you really need a weapon mounted light on a defensive pistol? Only you can answer that question for yourself. I will say that I consider the likelihood of using it in a defensive scenario as a civilian is low and found that the benefits of equipping my defensive carry pistol with one did not outweigh the drawbacks for me. Regardless of the answer, a WML is not a replacement for handheld flashlight and I strongly suggest prioritizing a quality handheld flashlight over a WML. I also strongly suggest attending a low light shooting course before investing in a WML.