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The Weapon—Mounted Light

Lights on handguns are increasingly popular, but Mind Those Caveats!
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So there I was on the range, shooting my little .40 S&W Shield with its compact Viridian light attached, thinking how far we’ve come in the last quarter century with the WML (Weapon-Mounted Light). In the early 20th century, an inventor managed to attach a flashlight to a Colt Police Positive, but it apparently seemed a little too Jules Verne and never caught on.

By 1990 LAPD had proven the effectiveness of SureFire WeaponLights, dedicated units semi-permanently attached to the firearm. I had one on a Beretta 92 that Bill Jarvis customized for me, and with a 20-round 93R 9mm machine pistol magazine, it became a “bedside home companion.” Concealed carry, of course, was out of the question. But within a couple of years, HK introduced their USP pistol, pioneering the concept of attachment rails integral with the dust cover of a pistol’s frame. The idea caught fire, and has become a common feature today.

Police took the concept to heart. First with SWAT, whose missions often entailed searching dark places for individuals known to be armed and dangerous. Then K9 units embraced it. With one hand on the dog’s lead and the other holding a service pistol, until the WML there had been no practical way to hold a light during night operations. By the early 2000’s, it had already become popular to mount flashlights on duty handguns even for regular uniform patrol, and today it’s generally optional and often standard for everyone to be so equipped. I know plainclothes officers who carry light mounted guns. We have concealment holsters for them now, including inside the waistband designs.

For search, use dedicated light in your free hand keeping the WML (here on a SIG P227 .45 ACP) in low-retention position. The light here is a Streamlight TLR-2 with laser. If you have to shoot, drop your handheld light.

The WML greatly improves hit potential in poor light (above). Here’s a SureFire X200 on a Springfield XD LE .45 ACP. When fitted with a Viridian Reactor TL (below), the S&W Shield in .40 S&W is still pocket-size.

Meanwhile, a whole industry of WML’s, sometimes combined with laser sighting capability, has sprung up. Units like the aforementioned Veridian Reactor TL and the Crimson Trace Lightguard literally allow pocket carry of a light-equipped pistol in a serious self-defense caliber.

One of the biggest advantages of the pistol-mounted light has gone largely unrecognized: standoff capability. Some lethal fights occur at belly-to-belly distances and may require the Good Guy or Gal to fire into their opponent at press-contact distance. I’ve seen cases where this pushed the barrel/slide assembly out of battery, preventing the Good Guy from firing. So long as the business end of the WML is at least a little out ahead of the muzzle, this won’t happen.

A classic example is a shooting in which hero cop Jared Reston of the Jacksonville, Fla., Sheriff’s Office was ambushed by a punk with a stolen 14-shot .45. Wounded seven times, Jared was down but still fighting, thanks to his concealed Safariland body armor and his own indomitable will. The perpetrator, shot four times with .40 hollowpoints, was still in the fight too… until Jared rammed the front of his Glock 22 against the man’s head and fired three more shots, bringing the matter to a predictable and very final close. What allowed him to do that without the gun going out of battery was the Streamlight TLR he had wisely affixed to his duty weapon long beforehand.

Lights can be mounted on the fore-end of an AR-15. This SureFire Weaponlight (left) also adds a pistol grip to the rail. The SureFire X200 on Mas’ Maglio custom Glock 19 (right) also prevents the pistol from being taken out of battery.

With X200 SureFire light attached, the Glock 19 rides comfortably and discreetly in Concealment Solutions Black Mamba IWB holster.

Be Careful, Though

We can’t discuss this topic responsibly without some caveats. For one thing, some polymer pistols have evinced malfunctions when so equipped. The weight of the device, and the lateral tension of some locking units, can alter the function and “harmonics” of a light-bearing polymer pistol. Shoot it at least a couple hundred rounds with your chosen self-defense ammo, and don’t trust it until it has proven the combination will run without any stoppages.

We who use WML’s need to always remember that, when mounted on the gun, their use is not indicted for routine searches for “the thing that went bump in the night.” We’re pointing a loaded gun at everything the light beam hits! If the figure we illuminate in the dark turns out to be a family member or a guest a family member unexpectedly brought home, we’ve just committed felony aggravated assault by pointing a loaded gun at that person. Startle response resulting in unintended discharge is also a very real possibility. Yes, the perfect human incapable of making a mistake will always keep his finger off the trigger… but the last perfect human being incapable of making a mistake that I ever heard of got crucified 2,015 years ago. Keep a separate flashlight for search and the WML gun in a low retention position or holstered until the threat is identified. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: The WML on a firearm is like a telescopic sight on a hunting rifle. Use either one for scanning, and you’re likely to come to grief. But when you think you’ve seen something you need to shoot, the magnification of your hunting scope or the centered beam of your WML is a last ditch confirmation of target identity that can prevent us, in either case, from shooting something we had no business shooting.

Concealment Solutions
438 E. 1910 S.
Orem, UT 84058
(385) 208-8914
https://gunsmagazine.com/company/concealment-solutions/

Crimson Trace
9780 SW Freeman Dr.
Wilsonville, OR 97070
(800) 442-2406
https://gunsmagazine.com/company/crimson-trace-corporation

Streamlight Inc.
30 Eagleville Road
Eagleville, PA 19403
(610) 631-0600
https://gunsmagazine.com/company/streamlight-inc

SureFire
18300 Mt. Baldy Circle
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(800) 828-8809
https://gunsmagazine.com/company/surefire-llc

Viridian Green Laser
Laser Aiming Systems Corporation
5929 Baker Rd, Suite 440
Minnetonka, MN 55345
(800) 990-9390
https://gunsmagazine.com/company/viridian-green-laser-sights