The majority of time I spent on patrol was on the night shift. Flashlights, what are now commonly called “hand held white lights” (I love it when we make things simpler), 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" under the 4th Amendment, so it was more of a “no blood, no paper” period of time. Today the use of a flashlight as an impact weapon is a “no go” and carrying a large flashlight is non-existent for cops and armed citizens alike. It is also unnecessary as light technology has advanced to the point where flashing a light in someone’s eyes can be disabling in itself…no need to hit them. I have a light the size of a lipstick tube that offers more 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 mid 1970’s, law enforcement and military units were mounting full size flashlights on shotguns and sub-machine guns with tape and metal pipe strapping which was a big improvement over trying to hold a flashlight and shoot a long gun. When Surefire introduced their weapon lights molded into the fore grip of a Remington 870 and 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.
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 temporarily attaching a white light to the frame. This allowed Task Force Agents to carry the gun “slick” while concealed, but mount the white light when conducting 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 agents chose to carry the gun they already had. Those that did carry the HK liked the quick on and off capability. Admittedly, one of my concerns with the new weapon system was agents using the gun/light combination as a lighting device and not a firearm and though I never did see any of them use the gun in this fashion, I did see a few of them looking through drawers and closets for evidence with the gun as a light. This was quickly corrected…
Today, the pistol mounted light is common not just for tactical teams but on patrol as well and 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 understand the proper use of the weapon mounted light. It seems law enforcement 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 weapon 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 handcuffs and is being used in a tactically sound fashion.
In recent years, the weapon-mounted light has moved to the concealed carry pistol by investigators, off-duty officers and legally armed citizens for EDC. Admittedly, this was not a trend I followed as I did not want to add more bulk to a gun I was trying to hide. I opted to stay with my hand held light clipped to my pocket or on my key ring, which served me well for decades. That said I make it a point to tell my students to avoid the words “never” or “always” when it comes to developing combat skills or purchasing equipment. Note that I listed developing skills first as how does one know what they need until they learn the skills required to make a proper choice? Buying before learning seldom meets with success…
I’m glad I never said “never” as it relates to mounting a light on a concealed carry pistol as we now have lights small enough to conceal. The pistol weapon light is better than ever before, offering greater power, reduced size, weight and enhanced ergonomics. Some of these lights also come with laser sighting devices, which some will like and some will not and that choice is up to you. One of my favorites 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.
If you wish to incorporate a laser into your compact white light then Streamlight has the answer. The TLR-6 is designed to fit on to the front of 18 various compact and sub-compact pistols including the new Glock 43, M&P Shield, Kahr series and SIG Arms. The unit features a 100 Lumen LED light combined with 640-660 nm read laser. A parabolic reflector produces a balanced beam with peripheral illumination for greater on-site awareness. An ambidextrous switch offers push button engagement on both sides of the unit long with laser or light only functions. The TLR-6 offers a 10- minute auto shut off to conserve batteries and these batteries can be replaced while the light remains on the gun. The unit is powered by two CR1/3N batteries, which are included, while the laser is adjustable for both windage and elevation. The unit is 2.3 to 2.7 inches in length, depending on which gun it is designed to fit, and is only 1.27 ounces in weight.
I have used both units extensively, the XC-1 on a Glock 19 while the TLR-6 was mounted on a Glock 43. I did not hold back on rough use, wanting to see if either units would loose its light, while also wanting to know if the Streamlight laser would loose its zero. I also left the TLR-6 on to see if it would, indeed, turn off on its own which I am happy to report it did. I am also happy to report the two lights stood up to everything I could throw at them which is probably more rough treatment than the average plainclothes officer or armed citizen would do, which is mostly just dropping the unit on a hard surface. Truth be told, I did just that from varied heights ranging from 3 to ten feet and both lights suffered no ill effects.
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 constant in brightness even if it offers a lower Lumen rating so I get the greatest field of view to look for additional threats, which is what I got with both of these lights. 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 compact pistol light is here to stay and I believe it will only be a matter of time before they begin to replace the larger lights found on patrol and SWAT officer handguns. Why not? They are just as tough, bright and easy to use as their larger counterparts. It’s also nice to have a gun that goes from patrol to SWAT to off-duty …”beware of the man who has but one gun for he likely knows how to use it!”