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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

A laser sight is obviously only an aiming tool. It will only show where a firearm is aimed with a laser will not eliminate the importance of fundamental marksmanship skills. If a shooter has a tendency to "pull" shots due to an improper trigger press without a laser, he or she can be expected to do so with a laser.

A frequently voiced concern is that the visibility of the laser beam could put an officer at a tactical disadvantage in some situations by giving away his or her position. This potential liability can be remedied to a great extent by not activating the laser until the firearm is being brought on target.

Despite the claims of some gun writers to contrary, having a laser sight doesn't eliminate the need for a flashlight or firearm mounted tactical light in situations in which it is too dark to reliably identify targets.

It's obviously absolutely essential for an officer to be able to positively identify and evaluate targets before making a decision to use deadly force. The beam of a laser sight is too narrow to illuminate or identify targets. A laser does, however, provide a degree of illumination that may sometimes be utilized to tactically sweet dark areas to observe movement that cannot be seen with the unaided eye.

A hand-held flashlight or a firearm- mounted tactical light can be used simultaneously with a laser sight. The laser's aiming dot will still be visible. If the aiming dot can be seen without a light, it will still be able to be seen when a light is used.

The combination of a laser and light can give a officer a critical tactical advantage during low-light encounters, providing unobstructed target identification, better peripheral vision, and, if necessary, quicker and more accurate shot placement.

Although no laser should ever be intentionally aimed directly into someone's eyes, it would be difficult to cause permanent eye damage with a commercial (Class IIIa) laser. The beam on a class IIIa visible laser sight is so bright that the eye's involuntary blink reflex would normally prevent permanent eye damage from occurring.

This is not the case with Class IIIb infrared lasers. Infrared lasers are sometimes utilized by tactical teams for covert operations utilizing night vision devices. Because the infrared beam is invisible to the naked eye, permanent eye damage is possible if a Class IIIb infrared laser is aimed into the eyes. For this reason, sales of Class IIIb infrared lasers are restricted to law enforcement agencies and the military.

Training Tips

Adjustable laser sights will need to be sighted in. If the firearm's standard sights are accurate, the easiest way to align a laser sight is to adjust the aiming dot to align with the standard sights are the desired distance. If necessary, further adjustments can be done at the range.

The point of aim of a laser sight should always be compared before going on duty or use to that of the standard sights of the firearm on which it is mounted. The laser sight should always be checked for damage and loss of zero if the firearm is ever dropped on a hard surface.

Firing should be done at variety of combat distances to learn how to compensate for differing ranges. Although a laser beam travels in a straight line and a bullet has an arc-like trajectory, the bullet's trajectory will not be a major problem at the close-in distances typical of more defensive shootings. The closer the laser is mounted to the firearm's bore-line, the less distance sensitive the laser sight will be.

If a laser sight is installed on a carry handgun, it is important to practice unsnapping the holster, presenting the firearm from the holster and activating the laser sight as it is brought on target.

Presentation, activation of the laser, and aiming should be practiced with an unloaded firearm until it can be done in one fluid motion with both speed and safety. The laser switch should be activated by feel, without looking for it and the beam placed on the center mass of the target.

After becoming proficient in holster presentation and laser activation, the shooter should transition to live-fire drills. During live-fire drills, instinctive point and shoot shooting techniques should be practiced, using the standard sights to verify the point of aim. Live- fire drills with a laser- equipped handgun should start with the firearm in the holster.

Although a laser sight can significantly improve low-light shooting skills, laser sights are generally slower for skilled shooters to use than iron sights in all but the most ideal ambient lighting conditions. The reason for this is that it often takes longer to find the laser dot than it does to live up standard sights.

The speed of acquisition can be significantly enhanced by bringing the firearm up to eye level and using a flash sight picture to acquire the laser's aiming dot. With this technique the laser can provide a very rapid, accurate target index acquisition for the first shot.

The use of a flash sight picture to acquire the laser aiming dot can also be employed in situations where multiple firearms equipped with laser sights are being employed and one is unsure whether or not his or her aiming dot is actually from another firearm.

Always keep in mind that, although a laser sight can provide many advantages, it isn't a substitute for the development of traditional marksmanship skills. Having a laser- equipped firearm doesn't reduce the need for training.

Eugene Nielsen, a former police officer with more than 20 years experience, currently provides investigative, consulting and training services. He is a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers (ASLET), the author of numerous articles and an occasional contributor to POLICE.

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