The Deployment of Pistol-Mounted Lights - Training -

The Deployment of Pistol-Mounted Lights

Solid training reduces risks with and improves functionality of pistol mounted lights



Ken Good | Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Editor's note: Ken Good will be instructing the Low-Light Tactical Operations course at the upcoming HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit, taking place Oct. 29 – Nov. 2. The Summit will occupy San Diego’s entire 44-acre Paradise Point private island for homeland security training exercises, demonstrations and education. For more information, call 619/881-9125 ext. 3 or visit

In late 2010, a police officer in Plano, Texas, accidentally shot and killed an unarmed man while attempting to arrest the individual during an undercover drug operation. The officer stated he was attempting to press the activation switch on his newly issued pistol-mounted light and pressed the trigger instead.

“I was attempting to squeeze the light mechanism when my weapon fired and the suspect fell to the ground,” the unidentified Plano, Texas, officer said in an affidavit.

The officer was using a switching system that placed that switch directly below the trigger guard of his pistol. By applying rearward pressure on the surface of the switch in parallel to the pressure used to depress the trigger; the light is activated.

This incident should serve as strong reminder of the importance of selecting the proper equipment and becoming totally familiar with that equipment through proper training, prior to deploying with it.

Supplemental illumination is an absolute requirement for those going into harm’s way. Lights are used to navigate, locate, identify, communicate, and assist in the control of hostile threats. 

Over time, more and more officers have started mounting lights directly on pistols.  Pistol manufacturers have modified their designs to readily accept an array of pistol-mounted lights.

The Good News

  • If the officer’s flashlight is not present, dropped, malfunctions, or the batteries are inoperative, a secondary illumination tool is readily available through the pistol light. The old "two is one, and one is none" adage is in play.
  • If one hand is injured or otherwise occupied and cannot manipulate a handheld flashlight, the officer still has access to supplemental illumination and a weapon at the same time.
  • Officers deploying ballistic shields, handling dogs or specialty tools have ready assess to supplemental illumination.
  • The center of the beam and the center axis of the bore are in general alignment. Time/effort to acquire or maintain this convergence is eliminated. If the center of mass of the light is on the center of mass of the threat, rounds will end up co-locating in that area.

The Bad News

  • Light signature cannot be separated from the center of mass of the officer activating the pistol-mounted light in a standard firing position. Suspects will shoot at the center of mass of the light signature. A close look at a shooting involving LAPD SWAT where several officers were shot and one killed revealed that the sole suspect was bracketing the stationary, energized weapon-mounted lights. The suspect was using a .380 pistol.
  • The pistol/light combination can mistakenly become a light pointer in a manner not consistent with safe firearms deployment practices and established rules of engagement.
  • Switches on many current designs are relatively close to the trigger, which can be confused with the trigger, especially if the system is deployed with insufficient training and familiarity.
  • May increase the frequency of weapons malfunctions.
  • Different holster configuration required.
  • Draw stroke is altered.
  • Changes the balance and feel of the pistol once out of the holster.

Key Question: What does one do when an individual of interest is located and identified, but that individual is determined to be at a threat level that a weapon should no longer be pointed at this individual, yet it is still dark?

It is my stated opinion that officers must be trained to seamlessly deploy a small handheld flashlight in conjunction with their pistol-mounted light to address this exact scenario. When I say training, I am saying dry-fire, live-fire, simulation and force-on-force drills and scenarios.

I have seen a highly trained SWAT officer with extensive military background do the following in a stressful force-on-force training simulation: Officer is moving down a darkened hallway, sees an individual and elects to illuminate that individual with a weapon-mounted light on his M4 rifle. As he pushed the tape switch with his non-firing hand, he inadvertently pulled the trigger as well. The look on his face was one of total shock/surprise. He spent the next few seconds looking at his weapon as if it personally betrayed him.

Manipulation of the safety selector aside, what this clearly illustrates is that even if the activation switch is separated by a significant distance from the trigger itself, and the means by which the switch is activated is different from a rearward trigger pull, the known phenomenon of inter-limb interaction is still in effect.

Inter-limb interaction (also called sympathetic squeeze) is the involuntary contraction of an individual’s hand and finger muscles, which can be initiated by the squeeze of the other hand. 

ALL weapon-mounted light activations have the distinct potential of being a contributing factor in an inadvertent discharge of the firearm.

It’s the author’s opinion that the handheld light should be considered the primary source of supplemental illumination for most tasking and the pistol-mounted light serving a secondary role.

Mobile Category: 
Tactics & Weapons

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