Shooting Myths: A Laser Will Just Give Away Your Position

   04.08.14

I’ve been a big fan of lasers on handguns for years. At first, this was because they sounded great on paper. After actually running around shooting in the dark at various training events and nocturnal competitions, my “fanboy” meter has maxed out.

But to be really clear, I want to stress that I am talking about gun laser applications for home defense and self-defense. Not door kicking in Afghanistan. Or serving no-knock warrants with the Department of Education’s new SWAT Team. Or anything else “offensive.” See what I did there?

I’ve had all sorts of responses to my discussion on lasers for home defense. One commentor informed me that a laser would clearly show my position and a sniper positioned 600 yards away, who would subsequently easily take me out. I don’t know about you, but I don’t anticipate this event in my home defense scenario—at least until civilization breaks down into a post-apocalyptic battle zone. I’ll take the risk that my burglar has not had the foresight to set up sniper overwatch in the nearest cell tower.

To put the discussion in perspective, let’s walk through a potential home defense scenario. It’s the middle of the night. It’s pitch-dark. You are sound asleep in your bedroom. You are awakened by the sound of crashing glass, which indicates someone has just entered your house. By the time you wake up and figure this out, they are probably already in your house. This is a defensive, not offensive, situation.

Now what? I don’t know about you, but my goal is simple. Get that person and/or their friends out of my house before they cause harm to me and/or my family. If that person happens to get hurt in the process of achieving the goal, then that’s an occupational hazard of breaking into peoples’ homes in the middle of the night. But that’s not my primary goal. Encouraging them to turn tail and leave is far easier for all involved than splashing them all over my new duvet cover.

Pretty simple goal right?

In order to think through my best plan for home defense, I’ll take this goal into consideration first, then apply the most likely scenarios I might encounter. Most likely scenarios. This is where folks get all wrapped around the axle when it comes to using gun-mounted lasers.

Stop and think for minute about the most likely scenario you could encounter in your home. Who is that person that just broke into your house? Is it a team of trained ninja marksman who intend to engage in a cat-and-mouse running shootout in your home, just like on TV? Were you waiting in your laundry room sniper hide anticipating their arrival? Maybe, but not likely. The more likely scenario is that some crackhead is looking to steal your Xbox to fund their next fix. And they woke you up. And they’re already in your house by the time you get your wits about you and get moving.

Dang, there’s goes that running ninja shootout plan. It’s time for Plan B.

If your Plan B is to go sneaking around the house, looking for trouble, then you’ve just disregarded the best advice of most every credible home defense trainer in the country. If your Plan B is to dial 911, then barricade yourself in a safe place until help arrives, you’re on the right track. Of course there are exceptions. Maybe your kids are on the other side of the house, and you need to get to them. I get that.

I also get that a laser is an aiming aid designed to help you put shots on target in a time of stress. It’s not a tool for waving around all over the place to create a light show for your intruder-guest. Aiming is the action that immediately precedes firing, right?

I think Crimson Trace’s Kent Thomas sums up the situation nicely: “If you have your gun drawn and pointed downrange (or down your hallway), you’re already engaged in a gun fight.”

An armed encounter in your home in the middle of the night is most likely to be a fast and surprising event—not a 45-minute stealth operation with night vision gear and suction cups for climbing interior walls. If you have to draw your gun in your own home, the odds are that you need to be ready to, or actually put, shots on target almost immediately. That’s where the benefits of a weapon-mounted laser come into play.

A laser will give you a definite aiming point in poor lighting conditions. If threatened, your body and brain are trained by a few million years of human-ness to focus on the threat. If you’re focused on the threat, you’ll see your red or green dot on that threat.

A laser will allow you to accurately (and safely) aim from a less than ideal firing position. To me, this is the single biggest advantage that I’ve found to using a laser while seeking and engaging targets. When you’re looking for a target to positively identify in the dark, your gun is down, at a ready position. Your eyes are focused on potential targets. A laser allows you to aim without taking your eyes off-target. It’s ridiculously fast to identify a target with your eyes, and move your gun until you see the dot. Until you do it in near-dark conditions, it’s hard to see how big of a deal this is.

What does all this mean? Here’s what I think. Spend some time thinking through the most likely scenario is you want to prepare for. If you really believe the most likely breaking and entering scenario in your home is from a squad of ninja commandos, then go for it! Knock yourself out! Get your night vision gear, and set up sniper overwatch from your neighbors treehouse down the street.

On the other hand, if the most likely scenario for you is a common break-in, then plan your strategy accordingly. Think about the goal: get that person out of your house or immobilized before anyone on your side is harmed.

Another commenter, Sean, summed up my thinking on this more likely scenario somewhat eloquently.

“Me screaming ‘I’ve got a gun and I’ll shoot your @ss if you don’t get out of my house right now!’ is what’s going to give away my position.”

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

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