Friday, November 15, 2013

Weapon lights for home defense: pros and cons

I note from fellow blogger Carteach that Streamlight weapon lights and flashlights are currently on sale at Amazon. They're good products, and I own several myself;  but this also seems like a good time to broach a subject that many don't think about in the proper light (you should pardon the expression).

I'm not going to go into the advantages and disadvantages of lights on weapons.  This has been discussed before in many forums, and an Internet search will reveal a great deal of information.  (Here are four articles to get you started.)  Bear in mind, however, the two biggest disadvantages of weapon-mounted lights:

  1. Rule 2 of the Four Rules of Firearms Safety states:  "Never let the muzzle of a firearm point at anything you are not willing to destroy".  However, if you have a light mounted on your weapon, pointing the light at something automatically points the weapon at it as well.  If the noise you're investigating at 2 a.m. turns out to be your young child getting a glass of water, pointing a gun-mounted light at them is unlikely to promote harmonious domestic relationships - particularly where your spouse is concerned.
  2. The use of any light during a gunfight has been described as "an invitation to the bad guys to shoot me first".  An opponent who knows what he's doing will see your light and use it as his point of aim.  If that light is on your gun, which is held in line with your face . . . see the problem?

This is not to deny that weapon-mounted lights are, indeed, handy tools.  I own several, and use them, but I've been trained in how best to do so, both as a law enforcement officer and as a civilian.  I highly recommend getting some good training in that area, or at the very least reading as much material as you can on the subject.  There's a lot to learn.

I'd like to address one issue that's becoming more common nowadays, with the advent of very powerful LED flashlights and weapon lights.  These are wonderfully useful in their place . . . but that place might not be the interior of your home in the small hours of the morning.  Let's put it like this.  You wake up from a sound sleep with your spouse tugging at you, saying, "I heard something moving in the corridor!"  You blink the sleep from your bleary eyes, pick up your powerful flashlight and pistol (or weapon with mounted light), and switch on the light to check things out.  All of a sudden, there are several hundred lumens of light reflecting back at you from light-colored walls, bathroom or hallway mirrors, the interior surface of windows, and so on.  Not only are your eyes not yet accustomed to normal light, but some flashlights and weapon-mounted lights are specifically designed to blind and dazzle a suspect by throwing a very powerful beam right into their eyes.  Congratulations.  Its reflection is now being thrown into your eyes.  Seeing much yet?

For this reason, I respectfully differ from Carteach in his recommendation of the Streamlight TLR-1 weapon light.  It's an excellent unit, and for outdoor use over long ranges (e.g. on a rifle or shotgun) I think it will be very useful.  I own similar units for that purpose.  However, I regard it as simply too powerful for use in confined indoor spaces.  Its 630 lumen output may indeed blind a felon, but its reflected light is more than likely to blind you too!

For indoor use, I suggest instead a lower-powered (and lower-cost) unit such as Streamlight's TLR-3 or equivalent.  The TLR-3's 110 lumen output is more than bright enough to light up a room or search a house, but it's a lot less blinding than the almost six times greater light output of the TLR-1.  I find it much more comfortable even with eyes that are 'awake', never mind eyes that are still gummed shut with sleep!  I have three of these smaller units, and like them very much.

Note that fitting a light to a weapon (particularly a handgun) may affect its reliability, and/or change its point of impact relative to its point of aim.  (Certain early-production models of third-generation Glock pistols, the first of that brand to have integral light rails, were particularly susceptible to both problems.)  I suggest testing your pistol thoroughly at the range, with the weapon light mounted, to see whether such problems affect it.  (I prefer to dedicate a weapon and light to home defense duty on a permanent basis.  The light stays on the weapon, and the combination is reserved for bedside use at night.  I know it's reliable with the light mounted, and I know how its point of aim relates to its point of impact.  I don't have to worry about whether that's changed with the light mounted or dismounted.)

That's my $0.02 worth.  Others will doubtless have different opinions.  YMMV.



Murphy's Law said...

I agree and disagree with both of you guys. The lights have their places but they aren't cure-alls or magic tools thathave applications in every situation. There are times to use them and times not to, and certain techniques to use them properly which is why training is highly recommended. The biggest thing for novices to remember is that they are NOT flashlight substitutes and a lot of people, including police officers, have made a bad situation worse by using these lights as general-purpose illumination devices.

I like lights and I use lights, but I also know when not to use the lights.

Ben C said...

I strongly agree with you that the 600+ lumen version is WAY too much to be useful indoors. There are different versions of the TLR-1 other than the 600+ lumen monster though. One of them is 300 lumens, and another one has an [expletive deleted] useless strobe function.

I have the 300 lumen version on my rifle, and another on my bedside pistol. These both provide good light indoors without blinding you with splash off a white wall.

I prefer the TLR-1 over the -3 due to the aluminum housing vs plastic. I could see the TLR-3 being easier to keep on a carry gun, or a more compact pistol though.

As far as pointing a gun at something you are not willing to destroy just to get a light on it, the training you mention offers good ways to use the light to illuminate your home while keeping your firearm pointed in a safe direction. A 200-300 lumen light will provide more than enough light to identify occupants of a room with the light reflecting off a wall or ceiling. It also helps to walk around the place after dark a couple times using the light on an empty gun, just to get used to using it safely and effectively.

Carteach said...

Different strokes I guess. I am quite pleased with the TLR-1 HL, and the 600 lumens works for me. I've used it both indoors and outside, to good effect.

I will agree.... it's not a flashlight, and should not be used as one if possible. I have one of those next to the pistol.

Alien said...

An adjunct, but not an alternative, to weapon-mounted lights is night lights. Pass & Seymour and Cooper Lighting both make electrical receptacles with integral LED night lights, controlled by integral light sensors. On when it's dark, off when it's light. Unlike hardware store night lights that can be switched off or removed from the outlet, these are built into the receptacles.

Strategically (and tactically) positioned in a few outlets, not only do household members benefit from light easily bright enough to navigate by, it's impossible to move around the house without either being lighted, silhouetted or casting a shadow.

One still needs some sort of direct light to positively identify a target that needs a gun pointed at it, but with a few well positioned, reasonably bright night lights 90% of the identification can be done without direct light.

Another option is the "home invasion light." A strategically positioned table or floor lamp plugged into a UPS and controlled by a timer can illuminate a large area. Mine covers the hallway to the bedrooms, the family room, the front door, the back door and reflects enough light off the ceiling to also illuminate the door to the garage. Being on a UPS it operates independently of building power, and the programmable electronic timer turns it on a just before dusk and just after dawn, and adjusts itself for differing sunset/sunrise times. An LED light bulb draws 9 watts, and the on/off switch on the lamp has been crippled, so the only way to turn it off is the switch on the UPS-mounted timer, not something an intruder would know to do, or unscrew the bulb. If that light is ever off at night I know something's up. I've also got a failed circuit alarm, used to notify freezer owners of a power failure or tripped breaker. The alarm sounds like a smoke detector and is the same loudness. Irritating when it's just a routine power interruption, if your TV is also plugged into a UPS to protect it against power surges, and the only room light being the UPS-powered lamp, without the alarm you'd not know the power had just been cut and it was time to take action.

PapaMAS said...

Peter, thanks for the article! I have recently been thinking about this subject myself, and this provides me with some food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Even 100 lumens reflected off of a white semi-gloss paint wall will cause you to see spots for awhile. I found that out the hard way during a night course of fire.