Is A Pistol Light A Good Idea?

When is a pistol with a mounted flashlight necessary?

posted on October 10, 2022
pistol with flashlight mounted

I’m on record (extensively at this point) as being adamantly insistent that a weapon-mounted light (WML) is just not any kind of necessity on a daily CCW handgun.

“Whoa, Tam!” says someone at this point, “Are you saying flashlights aren’t necessary?”

No, I’m saying nothing of the sort. I don’t leave home without a really bright flashlight in my pocket (a SureFire EDCL-1T these days) and a fairly bright one on my keychain (a SureFire Sidekick). They’re with me everyplace, including places I can’t take any sort of weapon, like planes. If your prehistoric ancestors knew you had the power to carry around a pocket full of instant daylight and you weren’t doing it, they would be very disappointed in you.

But, a weapon-mounted light, especially on a handgun, is a very niche tool and the situations that call for it don’t typically occur in private-citizen-defensive-gun usage outside the home. 

Different Roles For Your Gun Means Different Accessories  

If you hang out in certain areas of the gunternet, you’ll be bombarded with the LE/military term “PID,” which stands for “Positive Identification.” The difference between you or me as a private citizen walking down Main Street or through the MartMart parking lot in Anytown, USA is we need to have pretty solid PID of a target before we start yanking pistols out in public. 

Fortunately, that is usually made easier for us by the fact that the criminal already had to PID us to select us as a potential victim. To quote trainer and retired cop Chuck Haggard, “People don’t get mugged in the ninja closet.” If they can see you well enough to victimize you, you can probably see them well enough to know you’re being victimized and should maybe do something about it, ballistically or otherwise. 

A Pistol Light Comes In Handy When…

I have two real exceptions to the “WMLs aren’t necessary on a carry gun,” and they’re targeted toward two extremely opposite ends of the CCW audience.

On the one hand, you have the person who is probably least likely to be reading this column: the person who owns one handgun and one handgun only, and that handgun has to perform every chore from day-to-day CCW to being the gun that gets grabbed to investigate bumps in the night at home.

I think a quality, weapon-mounted light on a pistol that will be used for home defense is practically a necessity, as well as getting some training in how best to use it. For starters, just walking around with the light-bearing pistol aimed out at eye level while you wander around the house looking for the source of the late-night noise is a bad idea. Yes, they do it in the movies because it looks cool, but that’s a recipe for pointing guns at things we have no business pointing guns at. A good class—and a bright, modern light—will teach you all kinds of stuff about using “bounce” and “spill” to get that all-important PID, which becomes a thing when you’re the one moving around the house in search of the bad guy, instead of him jumping out of the bushes after picking you.

If you’ve only got the one pistol, you don’t want to have to be popping a light on and off the gun every day. That much unnecessary administrative gun-handling is just an invitation to the Whoopsie Fairy and a range of bad experiences running the gamut from needing some drywall spackle to needing an ambulance ride. If you’ve only got the one pistol that needs to multi-task, trying to find a way to keep the light on it at all times is just safer.

Alternatively, for a slight size increase, one of the more popular duty-type lights like the SureFire X300U or Streamlight TLR-1 will vastly increase your holstering options. As the most common lights for duty guns, most quality holster makers have light-bearing holsters specifically keyed to those models.

The other situation is for people at the other end of the gun-owning spectrum, the ones who have the proverbial golf bag of carry options for niche scenarios. Maybe you’ve got the FN 509 Tactical Midsize as your normal carry gun, but also an FN 503 for really deep concealment chores. There’s room for one other pistol in that repertoire. 

Tailor Your Carry Gun To Your Environment

Trainer Greg Ellifritz, also a retired law enforcement officer, has talked about the one place he really sees a necessity for a weapon-mounted light on a carry pistol—if you plan to carry while going to a movie. Criminal attacks happen in movie theaters, and thanks to the attention heaped on the perpetrators from media ghouls, any novel attack like this will, eventually but inevitably, draw a copycat.

I can’t think of a more challenging response environment for a CCW pistol, and I agree I’d want a potent weapon-mounted light on the gun in question to deal with it. Using the hypothetical FN 509T/FN 503 battery mentioned previously, I’d add a 509 LS Edge with a Streamlight TLR-1 or a SureFire X300U and a quality MRDS in a situation like that. A 15- to 25-yard shot, under terrible lighting conditions, with potential crowds of screaming people is not any kind of shot I would ever want to take. I sure wouldn’t want to take it without every hardware edge I could give myself.

Nowadays, I generally avoid dimly lit, crowded venues. Fortunately, I’m past my peak “gotta see it on opening night” years, anyway. But were I still doing that, I’d definitely have a dedicated “dimly lit, crowded venue” pistol, and it would have both a flashlight and a micro-red-dot sight on it.


Ed Brown
Ed Brown

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