The majority of time I spent on patrol was on the night shift. Before I had school -aged children, I liked the freedom of being a night owl and sleeping in the next morning. My wife was the same way, so working the 4p-12a shift fit our lives perfectly. In the winter, it was dark the majority of the shift and in the summer just the opposite. Flashlights, what are now commonly called “white lights”, were the size of a tail pipe and just as likely to be used as an impact weapon as a lighting device. I used my light in this fashion on several occasions and can honestly say that a large metal tube impacting the center of a suspect’s fore head was quite effective! Keep in mind this was before the Graham and Garner decisions and the Use of Force was not yet determined to be a seizure, so it was more of a “no blood, no paper” period of law enforcement. Today the use of a flashlight as an impact weapon is a “no go” and carrying a large flashlight is uncommon. It is also unnecessary as light technology has advanced to the point where flashing a light in someone’s eyes can be disabling by itself…no need to hit them! I have a light the size of a lipstick tube that offers more white light power than the one I once carried that was powered by five D cell batteries.
The next move was to mount lights on long guns, something that had been somewhat crude for many years. As far back as the late 1970’s, law enforcement and military units were mounting full size flashlights on shotguns and sub-machine guns with tape and pipe strapping which was a big improvement over trying to hold a flashlight and shoot a long gun. When Surefire introduced their weapon lights that were molded into the fore grip of the Remington 870 and the Heckler and Koch MP-5 agencies and individuals could not buy them fast enough. Today, it is a rare thing to see a combative-grade long gun without a white light attached to the fore end.
In the late 1990’s, I commanded a multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force that conducted its own raids, something we were doing several times a week at one point. Heckler and Koch had introduced their USP Compact pistol, which was capable of attaching a white light to the dust cover without permanently doing so. This allowed investigators to carry the gun “slick” while concealed, but mount the white light when “going tactical” for a forced entry. I purchased the gun and light with seized asset funds and the gun was greeted with medium enthusiasm as some of the task force officers chose to carry the gun they had previously. Those that did carry the HK liked the quick on and off light capability. Admittedly, one of my concerns with the new weapon system was the officers using the gun/light combination as a lighting device and not a weapon and though I never did see any of the team use the gun in this fashion when human beings were involved, I did see a few of them looking through drawers and closets for evidence with the gun as a light. Not good …
Today, the pistol mounted light is common, not just for tactical teams but on patrol and by armed citizens as well. I admit to being concerned originally about how these lights/weapons would be used. Talking with trainers and commanders across the country, it appears my concerns were unfounded, as officers and citizens alike understand the proper use of the weapon-mounted light. It seems trainers are doing a good job of explaining the weapon-mounted light is a supplement to the hand held light and not a replacement! The hand held light can be pointed in directions the weapon mounted light should not, but when a serious threat arises, the mounted light allows both hands to be placed on the handgun for greater accuracy, enhanced incapacitation potential and reduced liability. It seems the weapon-mounted light is as common as holsters and is being used in a tactically sound fashion. Excellent!
The pistol weapon light is better than ever before, offering greater power, reduced size and weight and enhanced ergonomics. Some of these lights also come with laser sighting devices, which some will like and some will not. That choice is up to you. One of my favorite lights is the Surefire X300, which has gone through several “renovations” over the years. The current version is powerful and versatile and features a high-performance LED that generates 500 lumens of white light focused by a “Total Internal Reflection” lens to produce a tight beam with long reach and significant surround light for peripheral vision. The Light Emitting Diode or LED is far superior in toughness to the traditional light bulb and is now standard on all tactical-grade lights. The super-tough aerospace aluminum body is hard anodized and is rubber O-ring and gasket sealed to make it weatherproof. The X300 Ultra can be attached to a pistol or a long gun since its “Rail-Lock” system permits rapid attachment to either Universal or Picatinny rails. Its integral ambidextrous push/toggle switch provides one-finger operation for either momentary or constant on/off operation.
If you prefer a light/laser combination the Insight Technology WL1-AA is hard to beat. The WL1-AA is the first tactical weapon light to offer powerful performance on readily available AA batteries. Its new “Quick Release Rail-Grabber mount” provides fast and solid attachment while keeping a low profile. I have been using this light for well over a year and have found it to be compact, rugged, and dependable. Insight Technology engineers took the same approach in the development of the WL1-AA as they did in designing aiming and illumination devices for the United States military and Special Operations Forces, combining decades of experience to the requests of high risk military and law enforcement professionals. These operators asked for high light output from commonly available and inexpensive AA batteries, which can be found in many locations in the field. The WL1-AA uses two AA batteries to produce 150+ lumens for up to 90 minutes from the durable LED. Officers and agencies using their lights on multiple weapons have noticed inconsistencies in rail sizes caused fit problems. The all new “Quick Release Rail-Grabber” mount allows for a rock solid fit on rails that meet MIL-STD-1913 as well as most that don’t.
A relatively new player on the weapon light scene is INFORCE and they are doing some great things, especially in the area of ergonomics. The INFORCE LED auto pistol light (APL) produces 200 lumens of white light with a tight beam for close to mid-range applications and balanced peripheral light for scanning of the surrounding area. The bilateral and ambidextrous paddle switching system allows left or right hand activation and natural finger/thumb movement from the weapon grip frame to the switch. The INFORCE APL is light and durable inside and out. Its integrated mounting system is compact, convenient and securely attaches without tools to most any common pistol rail system. I really like how the support side thumb, whether right or left hand, easily engages the paddle switch on the INFORCE light. I shoot with a thumb forward grip (as do many pistol shooters these days) and this thumb hovers just above the INFORCE paddle making activation as easy as lowering the thumb.
As good as all of the above listed lights are, I must admit my new favorite of this new generation of compact weapon lights is the Surefire XC-1. Specifically designed to accommodate railed, compact handguns, the unit features a high-performance LED with a Lumen output of 200. The Max Vision Beam is perfect for maintaining situational awareness and identifying threats, something that is often forgot when buying a weapon mounted light. Max Vision offers a beam with no bright center…a bright white light across the beam meaning threats can be identified at the edge of the beam and not just the center.
The XC-1 is not only compact, but also quite robust with a body made from aerospace aluminum that is hard anodized for a tough Mil-Spec finish. The unit measures just 2.5 inches, weighs less than two ounces and is powered by a single AAA battery so it adds little bulk and weight to your concealed carry pistol. The ambidextrous activation switch is both momentary and constant on so it can be adapted to the situation at hand. Momentary activation is achieved by placing your support hand thumb on top of one of the two rear downward-activated switches and pushing down, or you can position your support thumb against the same switch and push forward until the switch toggles down. Simply remove pressure and the light will turn off.
When selecting a white light, think more than just the number of lumens involved. Think about how the hand interacts with the light, how easily the light goes on and off the gun and about the beam itself. Oftentimes, the beam will have a very bright center and that is where the lumen level will be measured. I prefer a beam that is wider so I get the greatest field of view to look for additional threats. I tested a light a few months back that had such a bright “hot spot” in the middle of the beam that is was actually distracting! My eyes were pulled to the center of the beam, which is not good when the eyes need to scan as wide as possible for potential threats. The lights listed here are just a small sampling of what is available, so give critical thought to your selection and choose wisely based on your real world of work.