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.

Image courtesy Tom McHale

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45 thoughts on “Shooting Myths: A Laser Will Just Give Away Your Position

  1. Insanely guide is right. I hope this is a spoof on use of a laser handgun in your home. Who is going to try and focus on someone in your house at night. Next you are in trouble if your “life is not being threatened and you elect to shoot someone. I know there are exceptions but a court will have to decide that.

      1. In the state that I live Wisconsin, we have a castle doctrine law, witch allows its citizens the right to use deadly force on any unwelcome intruders interning your home / place of business or your vehicle, and thats half way in, all the way in or on their way out, with out the threat of being sued by the intruder or their relative’s….live is good in Wisconsin, Thank You Gov. Scott Walker.

      2. Scott Walker is about the last person I’d ever thank. He’s probably single handedly most of the cause of many of Wisconsin’s poor being desperate enough to rob someone else.

      3. I guess you would rather they just keep leaching off the working man, these ass holes use welfare, food stamps and section 8 as a life long career, not as something to help them though a hard time, hell to them its a family afare, as soon the girls are old enough to have kids they start popping them out like rats, hell their mama’s are collecting support, for them well their collecting support for their kids, and where are the fathers no were to be found. You see I was born and raised in Detroit, and I seen just how they play the system, and living in Detroit has thought me a lot about people, and you are either a bleeding heart liberal or one of them welfare rats that lives off their fellow man, either trough the government or criminal activity, but let me warren you, if you are out there robbing and breaking into people’s homes and businesses you will end up as a statistic on a police report….

  2. It’s always easy to criticize someone else’s arguments by continual use of sarcasm like the author does. Never once does he actually address the issue of whether the attacker can see the source of the laser, which is what the original argument was all about.

    1. One can absolutely see the source of the laser – no one is disagreeing with that. The point, and real question is, is that relevant in a likely self defense scenario? A laser is an aiming device. If you’re aiming at something, you’re already fighting, and a laser provides huge advantage at that stage. It’s not something you search with.

      At the “fighting stage” I would choose the advantage that the laser provides in terms of being able to index on a target in low light conditions any day over the perceived disadvantage of giving away position.

      The intent of the article is simple to ask people to really think about the likely scenario where any of this would apply. Likely real world world scenarios aren’t much like the Hollywood movie scenes where groups of people are sneaking around in a dark building shooting at each other.

  3. Thank you for another reasonable post about using lasers as an aiming tool. It shouldn’t replace iron sights, but it’s a great aid.

    However…aiming doesn’t proceed firing…it preceeds it…you don’t fire and then aim, you aim and then fire.

  4. One tiny item seems missing from all discussions about “home defense”, the ungodly flame and roar of a 45, shotgun, ar etc going off in a room, hallway or anyplace enclosed in what are really small enclosed rooms. I would guess that 99% of “defenders” have never seen or heard a gun off in a dark small room, hall etc. But it is best described by Ike when he said on Invasion, after first shot fired the plan is no good. So, be prepared for big shock when that gun goes off, it ain’t like TV folks.and will increase the ole fear factor by huge numbers. To bad there is not a way to “be there” for shot inside, not the clean well lighted range, known distance, and ear muffs, a whole new world, lazer of not. A shoot our doors in pitch black night with no muffs, shooting glasses is about as close to reality as most will get, and most never do that much. A 12 gauge inside building in dark will weaken the most avid shooter, same for most handguns. So forget about 30/20 rd mags etc, After first shot in small dark rooms, whole new game.

    1. I’ve tested and photographed muzzle flashes from a couple dozen different brands of ammo in 556, 9mm, 40, and 45. It’s amazing the differences between the good stuff and not so good. Some produce white balls of hell while others a small barely noticeable red orange flame. Something people rarely consider.

      1. they are making so-called “tactical” ammo in common defensive calibers that use flash-suppressed powder and lightened loads for less recoil.

      1. Try buying some for a reasonable price. I think the sticker shock will get your attention quicker than a ban.

  5. I’ve owned guns and been licensed to carry for almost 25 years. In all that time, I’ve never had the misfortune of having to actually fire one of my guns in self-defense, and I hope I NEVER have to. However, there was one occasion where I actually drew a weapon and put the sights on someone.

    About 7 or 8 years ago, I stepped out of my back door for a smoke. It was almost midnight, and I was just about to light my smoke when I heard something next door. It’s a fairly small neighborhood, and my elderly neighbor’s home is only about 20 feet from mine. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could distinctly see a figure attempting to pry open their basement window.

    Just inside the door, I have one of those single handgun “handprint” safes (you open it by putting your hand in the indentation and keying the correct fingers). I reached inside the door, popped the safe and retrieved my carry piece (a G26 with Trijicon sights and LaserMax installed). I brought the gun up and toggled the laser, placing it squarely on the guy’s mid torso, and yelled, “FREEZE!”.

    The guy spun around, saw that laser dot on him, freaked out and then ran like a man possessed. He tore and ripped his way through a large and VERY thick tangle of thorns before running straight off a retaining wall and tumbling about 10 feet into the bushes below. Last I saw of him, he was noticeably limping, stumbling and ripping his way through yet more brambles and thorns. It was like watching Wile E. Coyote getting maimed in some ill-conceived scheme. I was laughing uncontrollably by the time he disappeared out of sight. I don’t know who he was, nor did I ever get a good look at his face, but he got pretty banged up that night. Since then, there hasn’t been any criminal activity in my neighborhood. Maybe word got around that it wasn’t a good place for “easy pickings”.

    The most valuable lesson learned from that incident was that the perceived threat posed by that laser was immeasurable. I’d put good money on that guy having had to change his underwear when he got home. And that, as they say… is PRICELESS. Never underestimate that fear factor… the psychological edge that you get when you put the fear of god into someone. It can make all the difference as to whether a potential attacker’s instincts tend towards “fight” or “flight”.

      1. Given the choice between his ‘fight’ instinct or ‘flight’ instinct taking over… I’ll take flight every time. If you ever actually have to USE your firearm in self defense, expect hell to follow.

        You can expect a couple days in a jailhouse and unending police interrogations where you repeat your story over and over (while they try to get you to slip up or change your story), Also expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees defending your actions. This doesn’t always happen, but it happens often enough. There are many thousands of gun owners out there that have lost their homes defending perfectly legal episodes of self defense.

        As such, the intimidation factor of things like a laser dot or the sound of a 12 gauge slide being racked are absolutely invaluable in PREVENTING a confrontation. There are a thousand internet macho idiots that like to brag with statements like “shoot first and ask questions later”. That’s some BAD advice. Your goal as a gun owner should be to never actually have to shoot a firearm in self defense.

        Life isn’t a Hollywood movie, and ‘bad guys’ don’t just drop and die quick. They scream for their mothers, they spill quarts of blood, and they twitch and kick with death throes. You can expect to relive an episode like that for the rest of your life.

      2. So a person inside your house at night should be scared off by a laser dot and not a laser designator that blinds the intruder, because then he’ll run run away? Good deal.

      3. If you take a few seconds to read my original post, there was no mention of anyone in my home. So go ahead and read it and then blind us all with your brilliance… what would you have done? Here’s your chance to impress us all with your internet tough-guy persona.

      4. The article is the discussion, the article “If your Plan B is to go sneaking around the house, looking for trouble, then you’ve just disregarded the best… .”
        Personally you should always sneak around in the dark and use your laser guided missiles.
        Me, I would not gamble with the security of anyone in my house with a stupid laser pointer when I had the option of a flood light, but that’s just me.

      5. good point about how the LEGAL system victimizes the victim, again. if you’ve ever known a real criminal, as i have, you would know that just scaring him off only makes him wiser and less forgiving towards his next victim. the law is f.u. in many cases. if the bastids running the LEGAL(not Justice) system had a shred of sense, the criminal you had to shoot would have been done away with long ago, instead of out on parole.
        e.g.– recent case in news: two parolees wearing those ridiculous “bracelets” raped and murdered four women. LE caught them and will revoke parole and charge them with additional felonies. too little, too late; those women are dead.
        (the scum will probably be paroled again for “good behavior” in a couple of years)

    1. and because you let him escape, he lives to do it again tomorrow and the next day- to someone else who may not survive the event.

  6. I see the laser beam as an additional psychological tool not only in the favor of the good guy, but a threat and deterrent to the bad guy. Assuming the BG isn’t blind, drugged up or otherwise mentally incapacitated, seeing the light beam would get his attention pronto and he’d know big trouble was on the way from the other end. Though I’m not aware of any data on this, I’m much more inclined to think the perp is going to want to get out of the beam of light or lead than to check out what the intent and status of whatever is on the source end.

    1. And if they are young and quick they’ll drop out of view as soon as painted, leaving you with a target painted on your upper torso

      1. You seem to assume that criminals are somehow well trained and tactically adept. They are most certainly NOT. Of the ones that do have a gun, most have never even fired it. They buy it on the street and don’t exactly have access to gun ranges for practice.

        This is why so many ‘drive-by’ shootings kill bystanders, leaving the intended victim unharmed. There have been documented instances of criminals emptying entire magazines at cops from less than 10 feet away… and hitting nothing but air.

      2. Personally, I don’t like gambling, especially with odds that risk life and limb, but each to his own

      3. Your assertion that someone “young and quick” can outmaneuver a light beam is a bit laughable. If you can’t keep a laser dot ‘painted’ on a target (which is demonstrably easier than keeping open sights on target), then perhaps you’re doing something wrong?

      4. I didn’t know that laser aiming mechanisms were self mobile–you are right–who is going to out run a beam of light. Never ever had anything ever go out of target ever, nope, focused with a beam of light. What Xray world is this forum anyway?

      5. yes, a lot of them can’t shoot worth a damn. but, having worked in the firearms trade for some years, i can tell you there are others(gang members) who do practice shooting. i had a friend killed by one of these p.o.s.. your “10 feet” example applies to cops, as well.
        there are documented cases of 2-3 cops firing upwards of 40 rounds at a suspect within a few feet and landing only 4 poorly placed shots. lack of training and/or stress can do that.

    2. Absolutely correct. LaserMax, BeamShot and other laser companies have ample testimony from police about the psychological effect of ‘painting’ perpetrators with a laser. Fact is, lasers have been shown to instantly defuse situations that would likely have escalated otherwise. The very act of being ‘painted’
      with a laser dot makes one assume a bullet is about to hit that exact spot at any moment, and it takes the ‘fight’ out of most people. There have been many documented hostage situations that ended the second a laser landed on the hostage taker. The knife or gun gets dropped, the hands go up, situation over.

  7. The third possibility is to use the Laser Genetics designator and flood the area (as in blind the assailant) or if the military ever demilitarizes it, the invisible laser aiming devices that employ the goggles to view (to avoid revealing position– unless of course the object of the attention also has the same goggles)

  8. While I cannot claim to be an expert in self defense, I will thank the author for this article.
    Being 66 years old, using iron sights at night after being awakened by the sound of breaking
    glass, I will trust that the laser on my home defense firearm will provide an advantage that the
    intruder most likely will not have.

  9. when the target is acquired…… a round or two are on the way…….a laser is a ‘target acquiring tool’…it is NOT a warning event…..Semper Fi

    1. lasers have their place, but a more useful device in a dark home defense scenario is a high-intensity flashlight. it will not only light-up the target like noontime, but will also temporarily blind him.

  10. I used to like the idea of a laser and planned on owning a couple of handguns, maybe a carbine, with them for just this sort of scenario. So, one day I went to one of the big chain sporting goods stores with a large gun department and began looking over handguns equipped with a well-known laser aiming device. After experimenting with it for a few minutes I couldn’t help but notice the salesman was not particularly engaged on my buying decision. No one else was waiting around and he wasn’t being pressured to move-on, he just wasn’t interested in selling a laser-equipped firearm. I asked why. He had retired from the local PD (metro of about 3/4 million) and said that they had experimented with them and rejected them as unnecessary FOR SHOOTERS WHO TRAIN. He then had me take the firearm, hold it at waist level and told me to point at a phone on the wall about 10 yards away without using the laser. Then he grabbed my arm tight and triggered the laser. The dot was on the handset. I practiced with several items from 3 to 15 yards and he was right, it added nothing to my aim. He explained that in his opinion it made you lazy, lowered your confidence and increased your dependence on the tech. He agreed that if you had someone who was not going to train properly or regularly, had muscular control problems or was not experienced, they did provide the same things they took away from experienced shooters. I spent my money on a new Savage and scope.

    1. As a FFL dealer called Ordnance Outsellers, I sold literally hundreds of Crimson Trace and some others to customers for their handguns, shotguns and AR’s. I have Crimson Trace on almost every handgun I own, plus a couple of AR’s. The question should not be “either or”, it should be AND! Former military and law enforcement; but both before advent of lasers and having many LE customers, they usually are prohibited from using them, which is too bad IMHO! Point shooting is a skill most should try to learn, whether they have laser or not. A laser can help develop this skill by practicing and checking aim/progress by squeezing the grip and see where laser dot is. Really recommend going to Crimson Trace website and watching video and can even get DVD for free . You’ll likely be surprised by at least some of scenarios where laser can make the difference. I’m a firm believer in the old adage that “it’s better to have it and not need it, than the other way around”. Of course this could be carried to ridiculous extremes; but having laser grips on my Glocks, Sig’s, or dust cover mount for Kahr is not extreme. Personally, I always want the laser grip option, so not in favor of larger rail mounted ones or combo’s that includes a light, too. Those are fine for shotguns or rifles, just not on carry handgun. At night I either carry a weapon light or have one on pistol in holster designed for carry with one! Always want the laser, only sometimes want the light!
      You should not “search” with either a light or laser which would easily illuminate you to a threat, especially your own home! Familiarity there should permit you to navigate without using a light, which intruder could not manage. Light should only likely be used in “momentary” mode to confirm identify of potential threat and to temporarily destroy their night vision, then move some feet to new position.
      Neither should you have gun up looking beyond focus sights as you will lose a significant amount of “situational awareness” by doing so! Better to have head up and eyes moving with gun at shoulder not eye level, then if it becomes necessary to shoot, squeeze laser on to confirm impact area.
      Obviously, some of you will disagree with this and certainly entitled to your own opinion! I’m for having any tool likely to give me some meaningful advantage! Most of you think you know what you’d do; but likely few have experienced incoming fire and adrenaline dump will destroy 50% of your motor skills, especially if it the first time, so as I have numerous times, I’ll gladly use any aid that I can!

      1. did some testing of the ability to place that laser dot on target during a “point-and-shoot” exercise.
        it wasn’t so easy! just like iron sights, they most likely won’t come into play in a situation where you have to fire quickly. best bet is to develop instinctive firing ability in such a case.
        a shotgun will lessen the necessity for precise shot placement.

  11. My guns are for mulitiple purposes, one of which is indeed the event that “civilization breaks down into a post-apocalyptic battle zone”. The author and I have different perspectives apparently on the odds of that happening – I personally say it’s already underway in small increments each day.

    But more importantly than the timeframe of said “battle zone” becoming a reality is the probable need for “Plan B”. What I can say without stuttering or hesitation is Plan B for me will never under any circumstance be to “barricade” myself anywhere and wait for a cop to show up three hours later to fill out the paperwork for everyone I care about – who incidentally will have been dead for two hours and fifty five minutes by then. So while I do agree somewhat with the author on the likelihood of a sniper taking me out being unlikely, I never rule anything out when it comes to personal safety. My handgun is just as important to me to take out an intruder as to take out a sworn enemy of the state even if they’re part of “the state” at some future point.

    1. I believe you’re missing the point. Under this logic, the German defenders of Normandy beach would have been far better off running out of their bunkers, trenches and pillboxes to meet the incoming landing craft on the sand.

      The point is that as the defender, in your own home, you have the advantage. The minute you start running around your house trying to find and engage other people running around your house, you’ve somewhat leveled the playing field, which can be bad tactics.

      If you have to get to family members, you obviously have no choice. No argument here. If you’re armed, and safe where you are, you’re most likely better off making someone come to you – on your terms, not theirs. If help comes soon, even better. If it doesn’t, you’re still in a better defensive position.

      I am in no way advocating not doing what you have to do, but at least do everything in your power to make it an unfair fight – in your favor.

  12. ridiculous advice from the author. “get that person out of your house.” how stupid is that!?
    oh please, mr. badman, please just leave us alone. how’re you going to do that McHale, fire a warning shot, or beg the s.o.b. to leave? and you can’t put a laser dot on a target you can’t identify in a dark home.
    if someone breaks into your home, he’s not there to do the dinner dishes. identify the target and DO NOT hesitate to take action; given the chance, he won’t.

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