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Using a Tactical Light

Using a Tactical Light

With a lot of focus on firearm-mounted tactical lights used by the military and law enforcement communities around the country, little attention has been given to the employment of a tactical light by law-abiding, yet largely untrained civilian gun bearers.

If you have a tactical light mounted to any of your firearms, you're aware of the huge advantage to and increase in shooting ability this convenient, pointable, accessible illumination device gives you in the dark. Both hands can work to efficiently run the gun, and an ergonomically placed switch turns the tactical light on and off without breaking your firing grip. It sure makes hits easy, even in complete darkness.


As a former Special Operations soldier, I was fortunate to receive world-class instruction in the proper use of tactical lights and lasers as well as run around the battlefield for many years with them hanging from the rails of my carbines and pistols. I feel completely comfortable drawing a pistol with a tactical light and presenting a carbine with a tactical light on a target, but how can an untrained or inexperienced civilian entering into the world of fighting at night deal with this situation?

Reality Check: Pointing a Tactical Light Means Pointing Guns

How would you feel if every law officer conducted his searches or motor vehicle stops with his pistol-mounted light? As a civilian defending your household, are you ready to point your pistol at a noise you hear in the night? What if that noise is a family member getting a drink of water? Whether you are a civilian or a law enforcement officer, it is not an acceptable practice to point a gun at someone simply because your tactical light is attached to it.

So, how can we deal with the restrictions placed upon us as officers of the law or use common sense in civilian confrontations? There are a few drawbacks to this lighting system that are worth discussing.

Lights are an absolute necessity for civilians protecting their family, their property and themselves.

Alternate Techniques

You've completed only the first step when you attach a tactical light to your firearm. Realize that it is a huge responsibility to get out and train at night with your setup. With a tactical light attached to our firearm, how can we accomplish the task of protecting ourselves, our family and our property at night without violating the most basic rules of gun safety?

The only difference when employing your firearm at night versus during the day should be the use of a secondary lighting system. In reality, your handheld light is your primary source of illumination until you've made the decision to engage a target. Once you are sure of your target, simply transition to the mounted tactical light on your firearm.


I prefer to have a small bungee tied to my handheld (or searching) light for retention purposes, but you can simply drop your handheld light onto the ground if necessary. I'm not a fan of light lanyards, since they tend to get in the way. A dangling light isn't a good thing in a confrontation, as it can easily be used against you. Murphy's law also applies to gunfights, so having a lanyard that gets loaded into a magazine well or snags on other gear is an invitation to disaster.

Be ready for what might be hiding behind an open door. Use your light to stay on the offense.

Tactical Light Discipline

In the Army, we called it light discipline, not white-light discipline. This meant that all lights, to include infrared, were considered viewable by the enemy, and you should treat your tactical light systems the same way. First, when searching, you should only use your light when needed. An example would be when you're in your house, moving down a hallway you know very well; the light should not be necessary to get you to the end of the hall. Use the light to quickly clear areas of your abode that you know could provide hiding places for intruders.

Another time to use the light is for clearing behind doors. This can sometimes be accomplished from the hinge area without actually looking behind the door at the knob end. If you don't see a threat through the small crack between the doorframe and the hinge side of the door, you should quickly check to ensure that there isn't a threat on the other side of the door. Not all bad guys are giants, meaning they can easily hide in the shadows of a standard interior door.

With the handheld light attached to the back of your hand with bungee, there is no need to worry about interference while shooting, reloading or opening and closing doors.

Techniques That Work

A technique that has been used for many years is to only turn the light on for brief moments when searching. Remember, the light should be used to your advantage; it should not function as your enemy. As you move, illuminate the area of interest quickly to see where you're going or to clear unknowns; then shut it off, and move quickly from your last position to the next point from which you want to search. Standing in one location with your light on is asking for trouble; stay mobile.

Strobe Lights

I have never been a fan of strobing gun lights. However, there are instances when they can help the shooter. If you are trying to gain ground down a hallway, a strobing light will mask your movement as you aggressively advance toward an uncleared area. If a threat peeks into the hallway as you start your movement, he won't be able to tell how far you have moved toward his position. A strobe can also be used to camouflage the movement of your family members across a hallway toward a safe room or to exit the structure. As you use your strobe, they move behind you. At this point, speed is your security.

Don't be outgunned. The AR is a perfect choice for home defense if you are comfortable with it. Always have a dedicated light on your carbine, day or night, as you don't know when you will need it.

Two Is One; One Is None

Always have a spare light. What else can be said about that? Don't get caught in your house or vehicle without a spare, and definitely don't be out at night without several lighting options.

And no, the light on your cell phone doesn't count.

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