I recently received news about another horrible tragedy involving an armed citizen mistakenly shooting a family member. Luckily, the girl pulled through. This, of course, brought on a number of social media arguments about gun-mounted lights, handheld lights, how much light is needed, and all sorts of good and bad opinions about the use thereof. I don’t generally speak in absolutes in this realm, but for this article I’m going to get pretty close.
First things first: Searching is not shooting. If there is no clear threat or the likelihood of a clear threat, your pistol should be holstered. Second: The light mounted on your pistol is not a search light; it is a shooting light. Any time you are searching your own home, you need to exercise an abundance of common sense. Is there anyone else living in your house? Was the noise you heard a bump? Or was it something easier to define, like broken glass? Even if it were broken glass, is there a reason to go look? Or should you hunker down and call the police? I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can tell you that in over 20 years of police work there have been dozens of times I could have shot someone, but didn’t have to. I was able to use my white-light techniques to isolate them, identify them, and get inside their decision loop before they did anything unwise.
Handheld search techniques are an important aspect of personal-defense training. First, you’ll need a good light. My current nightstand light is the Surefire Fury dual-fuel tactical (DFT), which puts out 1,500 lumens of light with an 18650 rechargable lithium ion battery. And don’t believe the garbage you hear about “too many lumens.” It’s fake news. In hundreds of hours of training with full-power lights, I have yet to blind myself on a white wall or mirror.
When searching with a handheld light, make sure to point the light away from you and downwards, utilizing the corona and the spill of the light to do the searching. Once you’ve got that down, use the brightest point of the beam/hotspot to do the identifying. You can also use the same principle by aiming the light at the ceiling, applying the so-called “umbrella effect.” Depending on the terrain, both techniques have a place, and I would implore you to practice both. You don’t even need your gun to do it. With the lights off simply walk around and practice using the beam. This has the added benefit of allowing you to memorize the layout and terrain of your home. Searching, identifying and shooting are all different tasks that require different tools and skills, and they all need to be practiced — and often. Better to stub a toe practicing than in a real fight.
The vast majority of times you’re searching, it won’t be a shooting situation, but you can’t be complacent in mindset or training. The burden of regret is much heavier than the burden of training. What if it is a shooting situation? Then you need to transition from searching to shooting. This means maneuvering the light in your support hand to maintain the beam on the threat while clearing the support hand out of the way of the primary hand as it comes onto the target. There’s a lot going on there! Luckily, the best way that I’ve found to do this is also the way that most people with a little bit of training do it when under stress, and that’s by using the neck-index technique.
As an instructor for the Surefire Institute and for my department, I’ve seen hundreds of low-light Force on Force (FoF) scenarios and can unequivocally state that a majority of people default to the neck-index under stress (with varying degrees of success). The neck-index technique is when the shooter brings the light into the support hand and directly back to their neck or jaw, then presents the pistol in a one-handed shooting technique. This position is great because it allows the light to stay focused on the threat while simultaneously clearing it from the path of the gun being presented. It’s also not great because most people don’t spend enough time shooting one-handed. Don’t be most people; Practice one-handed.
Another advantage of the neck-index approach is if further force is required, it is easy, instinctual and safe to drive the light back out to the pistol and assume the hand-held/two-handed shooting technique.
So, which two-handed shooting technique should you use? That depends on how you hold the light when you search. Most instructors teach a flashlight reverse-barrel grip with the thumb at the rear of the light. This works whether the button is on the tailcap, allowing the thumb to activate it, or on the barrel, allowing the pinky finger to activate it. This posture also lets the searcher elevate the light and move it away easily from the body. Most importantly, it lets the searcher easily transition into a shooter by using the Harries technique.
The Harries technique is where the back of the support/flashlight hand meets the back of the primary/gun hand allowing the shooter to control the recoil with isometric tension. This technique works regardless of whether or not you happen to be shooting using the Weaver stance or the Isosceles stance. If you’re a Weaver shooter, the support elbow stays pointed at the ground, creating the tension. If you’re an Iso shooter, keep both elbows bent and you’ll also be able to make tension. Case in point: An isometric contraction is carrying the pistol in front of you while the weight of the gun pulls downwards. Your hands and arms will oppose the motion with equal force to go upwards. Since you aren’t raising or lowering your arms, your biceps take on the duty of isometrically contracting. The key is to keep the backs of the hands pressed together using tension to control the recoil. If the primary hand is sitting on top of the support wrist like a tabletop, you’re not accomplishing anything.
If you search with your flashlight using thumb-forward grip on the barrel, then transitioning to a neck-index usually isn’t possible, although you can bring the light into your chest, keeping the beam on the threat. If further force is required, the shooter can then bring the light back out to the gun using the Chapman technique. The Chapmen technique is where the index and thumb encircle the barrel of the light, and the three remaining fingers wrap around the primary hand, approximating a two-handed firing grip. I do not teach this technique nor do I advocate it. My personal and professional experience has led me to the conclusion that the transition from the neck-index to the Harries technique works much better for a wider swath of students. Regardless of which technique you choose, remember: Your shooting technique must match your searching technique. Midfight is a terrible time to try to figure these things out.
This leaves us with gun-mounted lights. Are they necessary? While you are far less likely to need them than a good handheld light, it’s still a good idea to have gun-mounted light capability. If an arm or hand is compromised, you still have the ability to use a light and a gun. Also, there may be times when you have no choice but to aggress a threat, such as when children or family members are involved. This is when the gun light gives an incredible advantage. No matter how good your handheld techniques are, you will shoot better with your preferred technique and gun light; That’s just a fact.