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Laser Sights Give You That Tactical Edge

Due to technology advances, laser sights can play an increasingly critical role by upping safety margins and perhaps de-escalating volatile situations for officers.

September 01, 1999  |  by Eugene S. Nielsen

Laser technology has advanced rapidly in recent years. When laser sights first became available in the 1970s, they were bulky and expensive, limiting both their applications and use. Since then, advancements in technology, especially in semiconductor laser diodes, have brought down both size and price considerably. Today's laser sights are more user-friendly, reliable and relatively maintenance free.

Why use a Laser?

While many in law enforcement continue to view laser sights as little more than expensive toys, laser sights can provide tactical edge in many situations. In potential deadly force encounters, the employment of a laser sight can reduce the likelihood that an officer will have to shoot. It if becomes necessary to shoot, the officer will often be able to do so with much greater accuracy if a laser sight is utilized.

One of the most important benefits of a laser sight is the intimidation of deterrence that it can provide. Several studies that were conducted by law enforcement agencies have shown that the use of a laser sight will often de-escalate potential deadly force encounters.

The mere sight of the laser dot is often what convinces a suspect to surrender or otherwise comply with commands in situations where he or she otherwise might not. The activation of a laser sight thus provides an additional less-than-lethal force alternative when deadly force is about to be employed or in encounters where deadly force needs to be considered but the threat level posed by a suspect is ambiguous.

The use of a laser sight will allow an officer to accurately air his or her firearm without need to align an eye with the firearm's sights. The ability can be important in reduced light scenarios or in situations where something interferes with the ability to use the firearms standard sights, such as when utilizing a ballistic shield or when wearing a gas mask.

A laser sight also allows an officer to fire accurately from unconventional firing stances and often provides improved accuracy when firing while moving- situations in which a standard sighting index is difficult or impossible to acquire or maintain.

It also provides an effective alternate sighting method when firing around or over cover. The use of a laser can reduce the exposure of an officer's vital parts by as much as 25 percent in there situations.

With a laser sight, both eyes can be kept directly on the target and the officer can maintain a full field of vision during aiming. This capability makes a laser sight a laser sight a valuable tool in handling multiple suspects and in making a threat assessment of an area. By using a laser sight, the officer can keep his or her firearm trained on a suspect while still maintaining a clear view of the suspect's hands and the immediate surroundings.

Another arena in which laser sights shine is for training. A laser can greatly enhance training at the range. It is a helpful visual training tool for both dry-fire and life-fire training. The laser dot provides immediate feedback, showing the shooter or firearms instructor how the shooter is shooting. In this respect, it can be a great help in diagnosing problems that need to be corrected. The laser provides immediate feedback and, in so doing, helps improve shooting skills.

Laser sights are great confidence builders. As every firearms instructor is aware, a shooter's confidence in his or her shooting skills is a major determinant of his or her shooting ability.

Contrary to what many may believe, the utilization of a laser sight does not result in a dependence on the laser to the exclusion of conventional sighting methods or result in an erosion of basic shooting skills. In fact, laser sights have been shown to improve basic shooting skills at a much higher rate than is the case without lasers.

Training with a laser sight seems to produce increased muscle memory. According to a study conducted by a major law enforcement agency, point-and-shoot shooting skills without the utilization of the laser showed marked improvement after laser assisted training.

The use of a laser sight can enhance safe firearms handling skills. When activated, the later provides a very visible indicator of muzzle orientation during drawing, holstering and presentation training, during tactical training and during high stress situations, such as high risk entries.


Laser sights are certainly not without their limitations. The effectiveness of a laser sight in a given situation is dependent on many variables. These include the ambient lighting, reflectivity of the target, the dark adaptation of the eyes, as well as the wavelength, power output, energy density of the aiming dot, and mode of operation (i.e. pulsed or continuous operation) of the laser.

Laser sights are most effective in low or dim light situations, such as at night, indoors or in the shade. The use of a laser sight is at it's optimum under low-light combat conditions at distances of less than 30 feet. While some laser sights may be employed in daylight, including bright sunlight at short ranges, standard sights should be relied upon for daytime target acquisition in bright sunlight.

Although a few companies are advertising their 630 nm or 635 nm laser sights as "daylight" lasers, from a practical standpoint, laser sights are not that effective in bright sunlight. Although it is technologically feasible to manufacture a true daylight laser sight, FDA safety restrictions on permissible output power prevent it.

Equipping a firearm with a laser sight doesn't eliminate the need to acquire the necessary skills to effectively use the firearm's existing sights. It is essential to continue training with the standard sights as well as with the laser sight. A laser sight is not a replacement for the existing sights. It's an adjunct to them.

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