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Clarifying the Issues Surrounding Gun-Mounted Lights

John T. Meyer, Jr., Police1 Columnist
FVTC Tactical Training Division/Team One Network

At Team One Network, as well as through the Police1 Training Advisory Board, we have been asked many times about gun-mounted lights and their use. In a recent Police1 survey, nearly half of the more than 1,100 officers polled worked in agencies that allowed the use of weapons-mounted lights. Indeed, one of the reasons for writing this article is to assist law enforcement officers and administrators in decisions about purchasing, training and authorizing the use of gun-mounted lights.

Here’'s the conclusion we have reached:

The gun-mounted light enhances an officer’'s ability to identify and engage a target IF THE OFFICER HAS JUSTIFICATION/REASON TO HAVE THEIR GUN DRAWN IN THE FIRST PLACE.

A gun-mounted light is not an illumination tool; consider it to be an element of a law-enforcement weapons system.

Therefore, we at Team One strongly recommend that officers who install lights designed to be mounted to a pistol purchase a holster to accommodate the pistol with the light attached. The Police1 poll referred to above found that about 40% of the officers polled who used a weapons-mounted light carried a holster that allowed the light to remain on the handgun. There are many manufacturers making duty holsters that hold the weapon with the light mounted. This will also address the issue of reholstering when de-escalating the use of force.

We at Team One do not contradict manufacturer’'s policies, nor do we teach installing the light on the gun while the weapon is loaded. Installing a light on the gun requires fine motor skills. Attempting to do this with the gun loaded could cause the officer to laser themselves, or worse have an involuntary reflex action and a subsequent negligent discharge.

Furthermore, we are also of the strong opinion that being in a situation requiring you to draw your weapon, yet then having to unload it in order to install the tactical light, is neither practical nor safe.

Our position at Team One is that the justification for drawing and pointing the firearm SHOULD NOT CHANGE SIMPLY BECAUSE THE OFFICER HAS A LIGHT ON THE FIREARM. Officers should still carry an additional flashlight even if they have a weapon mounted light. This reflects on the fact that the time spent using the light as an operational tool far exceeds the time spent firing the weapon with a light. Indeed, similar doctrine has been addressed for many years with relation to lights mounted on long guns.

Again, our position is that when mounted to the gun, the light becomes part of a weapons system. Therefore, we must teach our officers to point the light-equipped firearm weapons system in a safe direction at all times, and point the light-equipped firearm at someone only when justified. Once drawn, however, the light-equipped firearm carried at a ready position can and should project sufficient ambient light for navigation.

That is why we at Team One strongly recommend that officers carry both a primary flashlight and a secondary flashlight in addition to the light-equipped firearm weapons system. These are the working light sources that would be used for all illumination/identification/tactical lighting scenarios. Having these lights eliminates any concern that the officer would have to draw his gun to be able to employ a light.

In conclusion, I’'d like to reiterate five cornerstone concepts related to the safe use of weapons-mounted lights that officers should consider when training:

1. Carry a primary flashlight in addition to your weapon-mounted light.

A weapon-mounted light does not eliminate the need for a primary flashlight. At no time should you be forced to draw your weapon solely because you need illumination…for obvious reasons. Once a light is mounted on a weapon, it should be considered part of a law enforcement weapon SYSTEM, not simply a source of light.

2. Carry the appropriate holster.

Be sure you’'re equipped with a holster specifically designed to accommodate your weapon-mounted light. Being forced to remove your light before holstering hinders your ability to promptly de-escalate and may force you to handle a loaded weapon in a manner that could be dangerous.

3. Avoid mounting your light when your weapon is loaded.

It’'s best to always abide by the policy that nothing, including any part of your body, should pass before the muzzle of your loaded weapon unless you plan to shoot or destroy it.

4. Ensure sufficient ambient lighting.

Be sure that your weapon-mounted light issues enough ambient light to illuminate the peripheral while your weapon is held in low-ready position or off to the side of the target you want to see. This will help you avoid the need to point your weapon directly at a subject or location simply to illuminate it. Again, it’'s best to abide by the rule that nothing should be in line with your muzzle unless you are in a situation that would justify your use of deadly force. At no time should you be pointing your weapon at a subject simply as a means of illuminating him in a situation that does not warrant the presentation of that level of force.

5. Train for the realities of low-light situations.

Officers operate in low-light conditions more than they actually fire their weapons in those settings. Be sure that your training isn’'t solely focused on firing your weapon. It must also include substantial focus on all other low-light operational issues.

  • Related Training: Full list of John’'s Tactical Training Courses

  • Related Information: Police1 Survey Results on the Use of Weapon Mounted Lights

    About the Author:

    John T. Meyer Jr.

    John is Director of Tactical Operations for Fox Valley Technical College Tactical Training Division in Appleton, WI and a member of the Police1 Training Network. He is responsible for the development and implementation of new curriculum offerings for Fox Valley’'s tactical training courses. He is also President of Team One Network, LLC a company established to test, evaluate, train and market various manufacturers’’ products to the Law Enforcement community as related to officer survival. John spent 15 years with Heckler & Koch, Inc., ultimately rising to the position of Vice President of Sales and International Training. John was a Lieutenant with the DOD Police, where he served as a special reaction team leader. He is Vice President of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) a member of the Advisory Board and a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers (ASLET) Firearms Committee.