Feel free to make lightsaber noises in your head while you read this. We did. Yesterday we made the mistake of letting COWAN! get started on low light use in a CCW situation. He reckons (rightly) that people ought to understand and practice the manipulation of the flashlight (and the light) on its own as much as they do shooting with it. If you haven’t already done so, go back and read Part One.
There is no perfect handheld technique. Actually, let me clarify that. There is no technique, adaptor, light design or grip that gives you an uninterrupted and natural shooting grip. Some light designs or aftermarket parts (finger rings, hooks, etc) may aid in getting a better grip, but only by degrees. If you choose to use a non-traditional design or an aftermarket grip aid such as a finger loop, keep in mind that you may be forcing the light to remain in your grip for shooting (which is good) but also for fixing malfunctions or reloading (which isn’t so good). This also causes problems if you need to assume an alternate grip.
Another reason that there is no one perfect technique when it comes to a handheld light is the occasional need to change your grip. Think of cover. Some techniques lend themselves well to right side exposures, some better for left (or the reverse for a left-handed shooter). As an example, the Harries technique (one of the most popular) is superior for a right handed shooter and right side exposure. This same technique for a left side exposure forces the shooter to lean out further and by doing so, compromise stability and expose more of their body.
The solution is simple; be familiar with two techniques that are quick to assume, not hampered by light design or additions and can be manipulated with gross movements (such as switching from Harries to FBI/cross body). Thinking of everything with a mind towards self-defense—not range convenience. I prefer a light that is not tethered to my fingers and can be moved, tucked or stowed without interfering with either the operation of the handgun or interaction with my environment.
So, a weapon mounted light then?
Weapon mounted means more of a true grip. Some designs, of course, require minor changes in the grip such as working a rocker or pressing in/forward on a pressure switch (or squeezing a pressure tape mounted somewhere on the grip). Working the light isn’t a significant shift in grip with practice, but it does have other limitations and complications. To wit: the light goes only where the gun goes and only when it’s out. It is impossible not to muzzle things that may not deserve it when using the beam hot spot to view something and it’s also impossible to cover one area with the weapon and illuminate another. Then, of course as already mentioned, when using a light for control it should be placed on the threat’s face, this means that if a round is to be fired it is either going to need to be a headshot, or a quick transition to the high thoracic cavity must be made.
That’s not all. If you need your support hand to perform another task (opening, closing doors, holding a child, pulling/pushing a loved one to safety, etc.) then the operation of the light falls to the primary hand; this usually means putting the light in a constant-on position. Because this will telegraph your movements, it’s an obvious safety concern that has to be considered. Oh, and one more minor thing: pointing a weapon in someone’s face is generally recognized as a sign of force and can diffuse further violence. With lights that is not always the case. If the light is on the weapon there is a strong possibility that your threat won’t see it because the light hides it behind a curtain of get that out of my face. Train to verbalize that the light is attached to a weapon and you have no reservations about using it if you have to. Be as colorful in your language choice as you wish, but be direct.
General techniques for everyday carry.
As an everyday tool, the handheld light will serve a more useful option than carrying just a weapon mounted light. This doesn’t mean a weapon light shouldn’t be considered—in fact, if anything you may want to consider both (assuming your frame and wallet can bear it). Personally, I consider the handheld light to be a much smarter choice for every day concealed carry if it must be one or the other.
If you develop the habit of keeping the light in your hand, or in easy reach in twilight/low-light conditions, you will be able to quickly use a number of techniques.
Use of light, even low-output light, can harden your appearance. This can keep you from appearing as a soft target. The visual of a light being used is evidence of a more prepared an alert person; even a few random strobes or quick flashes when passing darkened areas serves as a powerful deterrence. Speaking with a number of criminals in my day job as a law enforcement officer, those who practiced profit robberies (muggings, and follow-home crimes such as a home invasion) were often deterred by appearance (i.e. the target not looking like food), large dogs and flash lights.
The handheld light can be directed into the face of a potential adversary in any encounter, whether it’s sudden or just a situation you think doesn’t feel right. The light can be directed at the face to startle, then dropped to illuminate the chest, or directly to the torso until you determine the person isn’t a threat. This doesn’t mean you should beam everyone of course. A high arm cross-body technique places the light in an optimum position to angle on the face and pre-positions the forearm to block if need be.
If a threatening encounter occurs or develops, maximum light to the face while moving for distance, giving verbal commands/warnings or drawing your weapon provides you with a sensory advantage over your threat. If you already have your support hand in a high cross-body, its there if a block or shove is needed. If/when the weapon is drawn, it is positioned to marry to the weapon in your preferred two-handed grip.
If the time comes to go to the gun, the light is already out and married to the shooting hand if you choose. A supported two-hand grip is beneficial though the situation may not allow it. Having to rapidly retreat from an edged/blunt weapon, move to cover or any other quick movement makes full body motion take priority over the more rigid demands of a married grip. Practice with close quarters shooting using supported and unsupported shooting is critical.
Identify and engage. When you move, kill the light to mask your movement then re-illuminate to reestablish control/press the fight or evaluate your threat.
If you carry a weapon light in addition to your handheld (the only way to do it, as I may have mentioned) and the gun is needed, a switch to the weapon light as soon as possible is the only choice. Immediate need will almost certainly mean dropping your handheld as you aren’t likely to have time to stow it. This may make you want to use a lanyard for the wrist or across the back of the hand, which is fine and is my preference as opposed to a finger loop or strap that makes getting the light off your hand an involved movement.
Appreciation for the light as a tool is important. Training and practicing with the light based on what you expect to encounter (from the most to the least likely) in your professional/personal life is also important. Low-light shooting is often neglected because of a lack of opportunity to do so, but much of the physical techniques can be practiced without firing a single round. Because the need for a light is going to be more common than the need for a handgun, developing the skill to use it is fundamental for self-defense and a serious force multiplier if the need for the gun arises.
It gets dark every day. Train accordingly.
For more on making yourself a harder target and maintaining the proper mindset, read Brian Montgomery’s EDC or EDR?, Matt Jacques on the Blue Collar OODA Loop and/or “Pocket Doc” Kerry Davis’ Are you a soft target? For some other opinions on WML’s, take a look at Dave Merrill’s Concerns for Weapon Mounted Lights.
While you’re at it, check out COWAN!’s Ten things to know about violence.