There are a lot of modern gadgets on guns that are just that—gadgets. I won’t start naming them, because it’s a fairly long list and I’ll probably make some of my friends mad. I say this because I’m not easily swayed to the new and innovative. For quite some time, I regret to say, this was my position on lasers on firearms. My reasoning was that lasers don’t work well at longer ranges and they don’t work well in bright light conditions. I was wrong.
The beginnings of my conversion began several years ago, at SHOT Show on Media Day. I shot a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard equipped with a laser at an indoor range. Out of curiosity, I held the gun at waist level and fired five shots at 10 yards. I put the laser on the X in the center of the target and all five rounds went into a ragged hole. My second converting experience came when an older lady, Betty, came to me for training. Betty had never fired a gun. She’d gone to a local gun store and purchased a Charter Arms .357 Mag Pug with a Crimson Trace Lasergrip. I feared my student had bought the wrong gun, but I aligned the laser with the sights and we proceeded with the lesson.
I showed her the proper grip, but when I began describing sight picture, Betty balked. “I can’t do that,” she said. She explained she had rotator cuff issues and couldn’t raise her arms high enough to look down the sights. I’m a firm believer that all people, whether they have physical challenges or not, have the right to defend themselves, and we continued with the lesson. We worked through trigger control and she did fine. I suggested she shoot some wadcutter .38 loads to practice, but Betty balked again. “I want to shoot the ammunition I bought,” she grumbled. “The guy at the gun store said these were the best bullets I could buy and I want to shoot them.” These just happened to be .357 Magnum self-defense loads.
Arguing with grumpy old ladies is not my forte and I decided to let her try them. I told her that if the recoil bothered her, we could try something milder. She lined the laser up in the center and I stood close behind her, ready to grab the gun when the little Mag Pug bit her. The first shot was dead-center. I asked if the recoil bothered her and she said she was fine. She put the next four shots inside a silver dollar-sized group at five yards. I was impressed.
In our house, there are three carry/personal defense guns, and all now have lasers. My original issues persist—under bright light, conventional sights are much faster to align than finding a tiny point of light and aligning it with the target. Under lowlight conditions, however, lasers are completely effective at ranges past 200 yards, provided they’re used in conjunction with a magnified sight of some kind. I learned this at last year’s Midnight 3 Gun Invitational shoot in Bend, Oregon.
Under perfect conditions, I can shoot faster and better with conventional sights. The problem is that most life-or-death defensive situations don’t happen under perfect conditions. In fact, most personal defense situations happen under poor light conditions, just the time when a laser shines (pun intended). Under said poor conditions, conventional sights—and sometimes even “night vision” or Tritium sights—are almost impossible to see. In home-defense situations that might occur in the dark, your eyes require some time to adjust. A laser-equipped firearm aids in visibility and allows you to shoot more accurately and much quicker.
Lasers won’t solve issues with trigger management, the biggest obstacle to accurate shooting, but they do compensate for difficulties in acquiring a good sight picture. As a test of laser accuracy, I recently did a sandbagged 25-yard test with a S&W 637 with a two-inch barrel. With Remington Golden Saber ammunition, I shot this remarkable under-three-inch group on a silhouette target. This is impressive performance for a tiny carry gun, especially in the dark. There was just enough light to see the red bull’s-eye, yet I suspect the gun would shoot no better on a Ransom Rest.
You can now get a laser for almost any defense handgun you can imagine, and while a good laser isn’t cheap, it has potential to be an invaluable aid when you need a gun most. I prefer the models that activate when the firearm is gripped, and for this to work for me the button must be under my middle finger just under the trigger guard. In the 2013 Midnight 3 Gun Invitational, I chose a rear-activated laser for my Springfield Armory XD(M) 5.25. I found the rear grip just didn’t activate with my normal grip on the gun. I have thin hands with very little meat in the palm pad and a proper grip on the pistol precluded activating the light. I pulled a Rube Goldberg with a piece of foam and some black duct tape and it worked just fine. I could have mounted a rail laser on the gun, but I was already using the front rail for a CMR-202 white light. I should have opted for the LG-446 instead of the rear-button LG-487 I chose. As an illustration of just how many options you have, there are four different laser solutions offered by Crimson Trace, one of the most high-profile laser accessory manufacturers, for the XD(M) alone. You should carefully choose the laser activation system to suit your needs.
I also prefer a grip-mounted laser because it allows the use of standard holsters. Grip-mounted lasers have almost no effect on weight, they’re virtually maintenance-free, and they’re easy for even a novice to install. Normally, one or two screws have to be removed and replaced, just as one would when changing grip panels.
Once the laser is installed, it must be calibrated. With Crimson Trace products, this is accomplished with the use of hollow-head adjustment screws and a provided wrench. Adjustment requires no actual shooting if the sights are properly zeroed, as you simply move the laser dot to show just over the front sight. Adjustments require little movement and it may take a few tries to get it right, but once you’ve done it once or twice, it’s a two-minute job.
When aligning a laser, I like to align it for a longer distance than normal personal defense distances of less than seven yards. Like any sighting system, the sight is on a different axis than the bore of the gun, and with lasers, there is more offset than with the sights on top of the barrel. At short distances with the laser aligned at 25 yards, the offset is of little consequence. An inch or two normally isn’t an issue in a defensive situation. If the laser is aligned at three or five yards, the offset is exaggerated and can lead to a meaningful change of zero at longer range. With the laser aligned at 25 yards, point of impact will be within two inches for the first 40 yards or so, offering more accuracy than most people are capable of producing.
One of the great things about a laser-equipped defensive gun is the ability to utilize the gun in almost any position. At the 2013 Midnight 3 Gun Invitational, I realized the value of this. Laser-equipped rifles, shotguns, and handguns don’t have to be held in a position to see the sights. This can be a huge issue in a defensive situation under lowlight conditions. Rather than extending a gun at eye level, you can keep the gun closer and lower, allowing for a totally unobscured view of everything in front of you.
It’s my opinion that every citizen should be capable of defending him or herself, and I believe we all have a moral obligation to do so. If my life is taken by a criminal, the loss doesn’t just affect me. My death or impairment will have an effect on every member of my family. Further, I’m personally committed to have the capability to protect the ones I love, or strangers for that matter, from being victimized. I carry every day and in every location I can. I carry a firearm I believe is capable of doing the job and I want every advantage that’s available to me. I know that bad things don’t just happen under good conditions. That’s why my daily carry gun will always have a laser.
Images by Dick Jones