Monday, March 28, 2016

Forget Fundamental…Call them ESSENTIAL!

Few teach something because they believe it’s inferior. I’m happy to say the majority firearms instructors teach their doctrine because it’s the best in their mind. That said, I also think there is a current trend to teach stuff that is cool looking and designed to make the shooter feel like a special ops commando…at least for the weekend… but does this prepare you for actual conflict? I think this trend is to make money and I hate believing this, but current circumstance makes it reality…at least to my way of thinking.

Awhile back, a good friend attended a course during which he shot 1,000 rounds a day over a two-day period. He never shot further back than 15 feet and no instruction was given on how to develop needed skills except moving all the time no matter what was happening. The movement was minimal due to the large number of people on the firing line leading my friend to believe the movement hurt his ability to shoot accurately more than it kept him from getting shot! The class shot this large amount of ammo with no shot placement encouraged or skills developed and it was called “combat shooting.” I could not help but think the course was two things: One, “a license to suck” (shoot poorly) but feel good about it and two, a brazen attempt to make money with no skills taught. In the end, the students apparently felt really good about themselves…even thanking the instructors for all the “instruction”… forgetting they still could not shoot well enough to save their own lives.

To me, a person becomes a combative firearms instructor because they want to save lives… to help good guys and gals prevail when their life or the lives of loved ones are on the line. It’s about offering solutions to real problems, not imparting personal doctrine at the cost of all else. When it comes to training cops, I do so because these are people who willingly place themselves in harm’s way to protect society and whether they are “into guns” or not, they need to be able to shoot well enough to save their life and the lives of those they protect… nothing more, nothing less.  If the cops loose, what does that say for the rest of society?!

I also believe there is a trend for instructors to create their own definitions for particular words to support their doctrine. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, but I prefer to refer to my old coverless, dog-eared, worn out, paperback (I know…old school) edition of the Webster’s Dictionary for such info. A few years back, after hearing some students complain about spending too much time working on shooting fundamentals, I looked at Mr. Webster to see exactly what the word fundamental meant. What I discovered was “forming a foundation or basis; basic; essential”. Essential!? Wow, that sounds important and it led me to seek out the meaning of essential: Absolutely necessary; indispensable –n. something necessary or fundamental.

Let me make this perfectly clear so there is no misunderstanding…shooting fundamentals are absolutely necessary…they are indispensible…in other words they are essential!! It doesn’t matter if you are shooting combatively or competitively, one’s ability to grip the gun, control the trigger, present from various positions or the holster, manipulate the gun and clear stoppages is non-negotiable. While they might not be as fun as “advanced” skills (high speed, low drag…whatever that is?), it would be wise to remember the words of Bruce Lee almost 40 years ago…”advanced skills are the basics mastered”. I would also call your attention to the words of the late, great Louis Awerbuck, “there is no advanced gunfight”. I have been training cops for almost four decades and I wish I had a nickel for every complaint I’ve heard while spending training time trying to anchor these essential skills. Phrases like “They’re boring!”, “We’ve done these before!” or “Lets get on to the advanced stuff!” are often heard but just because you have performed or practiced them before does not mean you are good at them! My response is usually something like “Yes you have practiced these before…you have certainly experienced these skills…the problem is you suck at them and need more practice.”  Nuff said…

The goal behind instruction followed by practice is to absorb then master a particular skill, to try and anchor it in one’s skill set (I’m worn out on the phrase “tool box”) as best as time will allow. Just because one can perform a particular essential without stress does not mean they perform it well enough to save their life, thus we continue to practice. Few law enforcement officers or armed citizens will get the training and follow up practice to achieve true unconscious competence, where they can perform a skill on auto pilot. The brain is a funny thing, it can remember doing something in the past, but it leaves out the part where it takes five or six seconds to complete the given act which is tactically unacceptable. Lt. Frank McGee, the former head of the NYPD Firearms Training Unit, once said armed conflict involving police could be broken down to a “Rule of Three”…three rounds, three yards, three seconds but don’t confuse this with a range drill as one of my former editors did. When I wrote an article about the “Rule of Three” he stated, “Anyone should be able to shoot three rounds at three yards in three seconds” and changed the article to two rounds in two seconds…obviously this computer Ninja missed the point. By the way, I quit writing for this idiot…

The point is armed conflict, especially involving the handgun is close, fast and over quickly with one or more people down, possibly dead… something my former editor did not grasp. Someone shooting back at you changes everything, which is why essential skills must be practiced to the point of “auto pilot” as there is no time to sort it out mentally. There will be no time to “orient” to what is happening, you will either rise to the occasion or you will not and the history of armed conflict has shown the person who can go from observation to action the quickest will usually prevail regardless of how tight a group they can shoot on the square range. Luck does play a part, but I refuse to fall into the old adage “I’d rather be lucky than good” as I have found the better, more skilled I have become the luckier I get. The essentials are, well…ESSENTIAL to fight instantly along with a cool head and commitment to the task, but then we have known for a long time the person who has confidence in their skills will better control fear and fight harder or with greater skill in conflict. Have you practiced your essential skills to the point required for such a high level of confidence in pandemonium? It is something good to know ahead of time…

A dose of harsh reality is in order…there is no way to prepare for every potential situation you may face in a gun fight. It just can’t be done as the variables are too great, but that does not mean you can’t prepare. The truth is, armed conflict is situationally dependent on terrain, weather, number of combatants, what happens during the fight itself, personal skill level and commitment of the combatants just to name a few. The person who can best adapt their essential skills to the fight will likely win. For example, you are sitting in a car when the fight breaks out, how different is drawing from a seated position in a vehicle than standing on the range? The physical action is similar, but the shooter must lean forward to make room in the seat for the arm to move back and draw then clear the steering wheel and either shoot out the window or through the windshield. It is the same but different, if you see what I mean. The draw stroke must be adapted to the situation at hand.

I teach a course called Adaptive Combat Pistol that addresses the issue of adapting essentials to varied situations, but I will be the first to tell you it is not enough to be truly prepared…just a start. Train the essentials on the range with the mindset you will have to shoot in varied positions so practice seated, on the ground, from behind objects, on stairs, in hallways, rain, snow, you know…adapt! This does not have to be on a range but can be accomplished in your home via dry fire or in like and similar environments with Airsoft…be innovative and it WILL save your life. “War game” scenarios in your head or from actual events reported on line or in the news and work them out, recreate them or even develop solutions while practicing. All of this will better prepare you for the fight of your life…or for your life. It’s up to you as we must all be active participants in our own rescue, as nothing else will do.

Thanks for checking in…

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hazardous Thought

When it comes to engaging in armed conflict, people want to believe they know how the fight will start, finish and how their opponent will engage. Always having a plan of attack is sound, but we all need to remember the fight will never progress according to plan, so we all need to have contingencies as the unexpected will always occur (Murphy IS alive and well!)…After all, making assumptions will put you at a disadvantage before the fight ever begins!

Over the last almost 40 years I have taught a large number of courses and in these courses, students will always share their “plan of attack” with me. This is true regardless of whether they are law enforcement or armed citizens and most will go something like "If someone kicks in my front door, I'm going to get my gun while my wife calls the cops." Or “If I roll on an active shooter call, I will clear my carbine from the rack before I arrive on the scene.”  These plans will work fine provided the suspect(s) perform exactly as they are visualized in the student’s mind. The problem is we have no idea what any criminal will do and as I have said many times before they don’t think like you do!

The truth is good guys and gals don't have the experience to “think” like the bad guys. Why, you ask? Simple, we have not had the same life experience. I sometimes question tactics and techniques developed during interactive Simunitions or Airsoft training as the people playing criminals are really cops or legally armed citizens and they will behave/respond in such scenarios as trained…not as a criminal would think and do. In the examples above, what if the suspect comes through the back door instead of the front? What if the officer wrecks his cruiser while in route because his attention was directed at the carbine? It’s been said many times before…”No plan survives first contact with the enemy”.

It's certainly important to “war game’ any plan, but it’s imperative to have several plans. When plan A doesn't work (and it probably it won’t), we move to plan B and if that fails plan C is instituted without hesitation. Yes, it is a tall order but it is essential. Attempt to consider all the possible variables in conflict and then plan for the worst possible situation. Hopefully when things don't go to plan (they won't) you are still prepared with additional options. Again, ”no plan survives first contact with the enemy”.
What happens when the unexpected happens? It ‘s always possible something will happen we never considered.  You can think a problem through a million ways…when, where, how and why…and still not come up with all the potential situations that will occur during a fight. A bit of harsh reality is in order…you cannot possibly train for every potential situation you may face! This is why fundamental/foundational (I like to call them essential!) skills should be practiced and mastered, as the person who will win in armed conflict is the one who can adapt the fundamentals/essentials to the threat they face. Threats will always be situationally dependant and we need to embrace this reality. Practice the critical skills…movement, communication, accurate shooting, manipulation of the weapon, and using cover/concealment…so they will run on “auto pilot” in any type of attack. If you have to “orient” to the situation you might not respond at all! Doing this prepares us for the unexpected, which is darn near guaranteed in any fight.

Never make assumptions in regards to how an attacker will respond to your actions. Again, they don’t think like we do so how could you possibly think such assumptions would be correct? The only control you will have over the situation you are involved in is what you will do…there is no way to predict what your attacker will do. It would be great if suspects always responded to verbal commands or immediately became incapacitated from one round fired from our carry pistol but all reading this should know such things are fantasy. Handguns suck as man stoppers, which is why carbines and shotguns are carried in police cruisers. Oh yeah, the miss ratio in police shootings is also quite high so the idea of one round fired and ending a fight might be the biggest of fantasies! No problem, you say? I will just transition to my carbine. Really? You walk around with a carbine? You must be working in a war zone because I know of no place in America where walking around with a long gun will not garner attention. Fight your ay to a better gun? How do you do this in a situation that will last but a few seconds? I appreciate the sentiment, but I would not rest my plan on such ideas.

Armed conflict is rapidly evolving, ever changing and certainly unpredictable. Even if we do have plans A, B, C the suspect(s) might do something that makes us skip over plan B to move to plan C and then maybe return to B. Who knows! Clint Eastwood was certainly correct in the movie Heartbreak Ridge, we must be prepared to “improvise, adapt and overcome”.  It has been my experience that a sizeable number of police officers dread in-service training…in some cases even think its stupid…but it is this
training that prepares each officer for the conflict(s) they are likely to face. How many armed citizens train beyond their initial CCW certification course? It is smart to keep in mind the job of every law enforcement officer is to seek out law- breakers and place themselves between the criminal and the citizens they prey upon. With this thought in mind, what are the chances a cop will become involved in a serious, life threatening conflict during their career? Will they be ready?  The search and introduction of new techniques and the skill building via repetition undertaken during law enforcement in-service equips officers to respond effectively in these conflicts. If they haven't mastered the tactics and techniques needed to fight these threats it is very possible we will be overcome, injured or even killed…unacceptable! The same applies to the legally armed citizen. 

 There are many aspects needed to prevail in armed conflict and they are difficult to accomplish…aggressive but meaningful movement, communicating threats to others, deciding what is and using cover, accurate shooting as required, and instant decision making. If your personal practice or in-service training does not include these critical components it will be all but impossible to perform them under the stress and duress of armed conflict. Keep in mind there is no such thing as a “fair fight.” That’s schoolyard BS! The difference between competition and combat is rules. If there are rules governing what transpires it’s a sport…in a fight if you are not cheating you are not trying hard enough to win! Use every skill, tactic or technique you possess to your advantage. Col. Jeff Cooper in his book The Principals of Personal Defense outlined what was needed to prevail in armed conflict: Alertness, Decisiveness, Aggressiveness, Speed, Coolness, Ruthlessness and Surprise and surprise might be the most critical component. Erich Hartmann, the Nazi Ace who killed 352 enemy pilots during 1,000 combat missions laid out the importance of surprise when he said “The man who sees the other first already has half the victory!” You can’t fight what you can’t see…

 In reality, combat is not about accurate shooting, movement, tactics or techniques it’s about continuous problem solving under the stress and duress of someone trying to cause YOUR death. It’s about one fast crisis-level decision after another on which tactic or technique to use…should I move, stay, shoot, reload, take cover, retreat, engage, are there non-hostiles in the area, am I justified in shooting, where are non-hostiles, where is the suspect? It’s about ADAPTATION! These decisions will arrive in rapid fire and the truth is you will not move through observe, orient, decide and act as smoothly as water being poured from a pitcher.  Harsh reality: if you cannot see then do you might very well freeze in the orientation phase. Considering all of the information pouring in colliding with personal bias, reluctance and disbelief it’s a wonder orientation can occur at all! But it can and does for the truly prepared…

Finally, your tactics and techniques will need to be “trained in” so you can perform at a level known as unconscious competence. It is a very good idea to keep your skill set(s) as simple as possible. No, simple techniques might not look as cool as others, but “tacti-cool” seldom wins the fight. In the end, it’s not about how tight a group you can shoot on the range or if you can win the local shooting competition, it’s about whether or not you can hold yourself together during the most stressful event you will ever experience and take the action(s) needed to prevail…not just survive. I have used this quote before in this column and it seems appropriate to repeat it here…Right now someone is training so when they meet you, the beat you. Train hard and stay on guard.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Speed vs. Emergency Reload: When, why, how

Reloading a semi-automatic pistol is not complex unless you have to do it fast. Speed comes into play in three circumstances; the timer, competition and combat with the last being most critical. I once heard a famous instructor say “competition offers the same level of stress as a gunfight”, but the only thing I can think is he has never had someone try to kill him.  The stress of having bullets whizz past is like no other and if you have had this experience, you know what I am talking about.
Serious shooters know how difficult a rapid reload can be. The hands don’t work normally, the fingers fumble and magazines don’t align with the grip quite as smoothly as they do slowly, its complex! Now add someone trying to take your life while you are moving, yelling, lacking motor skill and you will understand why reloading need be as simple as possible. Sure, reloading can look really cool, but not simple which is critical when under duress.  “Combat stress” is a bitch and any technique added to your skill sets should take this into account.

What is Combat Stress? The physical/psychological phenomenon occurring when our brain perceives danger and prepares the body for action, AKA fight or flight. Simply, sensory nerves pass danger perception to the hypothalamus which in turn transmits a signal to the pituitary gland. This gland releases a chemical messenger into the bloodstream while the hypothalamus transmits a nerve signal down the spinal cord. Both will arrive at the adrenal gland resulting in the release of epinephrine into the blood stream. Cortisol is also released resulting in increased blood pressure and sugar levels suppression of the immune system. Also known as adrenaline, epinephrine is an efficient messenger that gets the heart beating faster so the body is ready for hard physical activity. Simultaneously, the brain stem releases norepinephrine that travels throughout the body all of which create an increase in circulation and energy to certainly body systems and a downshift of less important ones into a maintenance mode where they function but not at the unstressed level.

This is why people involved in combat lose digital dexterity where the fingers do not function as well as they did prior to combat. Many misunderstand this diminished dexterity, thinking their fingers will turn into stumps but this is not the case. The fingers will perform but will be less likely to perform tasks that have not been practiced to a level of “unconscious competence”, where they can be performed without thought. What many call “muscle memory” is really “familiar task transference”, a term that came from the manufacturing boom of the 1950’s and 60’s where most of the products our country produced were built by people on assembly lines, performing one task after another all day long. When practiced to this level, most any skill can be performed, even under extreme stress, when the chemical reaction of the body might be working against them.

While interesting, you might wonder what this has to do with the combat reload. Reloading a pistol quickly is a complex motor skill, requiring both fine and gross muscle movements to work together and it is the fine motor skills that diminish when someone is trying to kill you. Add to this your gun running out of ammo at what might be the last moments of your life and I think you can see why practicing the reload until it can be performed without conscious thought is important. Good news! Reloading in a pistol fight seldom happens if you look at the history of pistol fighting, but if it does it IS a critical event.

What I am going to say now will light up the Internet gun forums…don’t shoot your gun dry!  Currently it is common in combative shooting courses to practice nothing but slide locked reloads …the emergency reload… as the argument is “You might as well shoot the gun dry in training as that is what you are going to do in a fight” and while this is certainly possible, is it wise to train to make it inevitable? Take a moment to think about it…slide lock is a really bad time to reload, especially if your opponent sees it! Exchanging magazines quickly is difficult enough but now add the time/effort to release the slide. 
Let’s also think about training only for a slide lock reload…what happens if during the fight the slide does not lock open? Maybe your shooting hand thumb was resting on the slide lock lever? You might be pressing the trigger on an empty gun as your only load stimulus failed resulting in deadly lag time. Consider an empty gun the same as a broken gun, both requiring physical manipulation, so let’s load when we can to not when we have to.  By merely changing magazines we make the task less complicated and faster to fully loaded. I know what you are thinking…why would you drop perfectly good ammo on the ground? You might need it.  This is tradition talking, but does it really stack up tactically?
Give this critical thought…are you willing to risk your life for a few rounds (UNKOWN how many) of ammunition? Before you blurt out “YES!” let me put this in perspective. You have engaged in a fire fight and expended an unknown number of rounds. Your attacker is moving, maybe trying to flank you and you have no idea what is coming next…would this be a good time to reload quickly or try to save ammo by performing a physically complex “tactical reload”. By performing a speed reload I now know I have 16 rounds in my Glock 19. How many rounds did I eject to the ground? I really don’t know since I did not count as I fired them, do I risk my life for these rounds considering I have NO idea how much time I have to reload? Could I retrieve this magazine? Simply, never give up a known for an unknown!  Is it possible I could need the few rounds I ejected? Maybe, but at the moment I reloaded I felt it was of greater importance to have a full gun with a KNOWN number of rounds! Of course, you are allowed to bet your life on whatever tactic/technique you want.
Any time you add something to sometime you will increase the time it takes to accomplish the skill. Sure, you can practice to reduce the overall time, but it will still take longer. Dropping the slide on a semi-auto will add time to simply drop the slide and this process is certainly controversial in the shooting community. Some advocate a “power stroke” where the shooter comes up and over the slide, grasping it over hand, and then pulling back vigorously actually hitting yourself in the shoulder, insuring “complete slide retraction” according to its advocates. It seems a bit excessive considering the slide only has to move a quarter inch or so to be released and full recoil spring compression occurs shortly thereafter. In addition, the shooting and support hand end up VERY far apart adding time to re-grip the pistol. At the other end of the argument are the competition based shooters who advocate using the shooting hand thumb to drop the slide, which is certainly the fastest usually adding only 2/10ths of a second to the reload process. The downside is the thumb is being tasked with multiple functions in a very short period of time (hitting both the magazine release and the slide lever) and if the timing is off just slightly, the shooter could end up with an empty gun. Why, you ask? I have seen shooters drop the slide before the magazine is fully inserted on numerous occasions, which results in a dead trigger followed by a tap –rack which slows the shooting time even further. In a competition this is no big deal, in a gunfight it’s deadly.
In my classes I show both of these skills along with their advantages and disadvantages but then offer several possible solutions. If using the slide lever, consider using the support hand thumb to push down. This adds a few 1/10ths but ensures the magazine is seated first. If an overhand grip is preferred, how about releasing the support hand, turning the slide into the hand, pull back like pulling on a rope just enough to release it and then re-grip the pistol? It’s much faster, just as sure and simplifies the process. Of course, you could dispense with this whole ordeal and just reload before you run the gun dry. Just saying…

What I hope to accomplish here is to make you give this process critical thought and choose carefully. DO NOT SUCCUM TO TRADITION! While I am a fan of competitive shooting, I will be the first to tell you what works in competition might not be best when your life is on the line…there is a difference between the disciplines. Give the techniques we discussed here a try, evaluate them and decide what is best for you in your real world of work. Thanks for checking in…

Friday, March 11, 2016

Handgun weapon lights

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.