Fight Lights: Weapon Mounted vs. Handheld
- For anyone reading this article, an in-depth explanation of weapon mounted lights and their intended use is probably not needed. But to build the foundation for this discussion, let's do a short summary of the weapon mounted light and its use;
- A weapon mounted light (WML) is a light that is physically attached to a pistol, shotgun or rifle. The purpose of a WML is to (1) positively identify a target and (2) accurately place rounds on the target in low-light or no-light conditions. In the vernacular of this article, it’s a “fight light” attached to a weapon.
- In the context of everyday carry, I’ll focus on the pistol WML which is typically characterized by the following operational features;
- Physically attached via a rail on the bottom of the frame directly in front of the trigger guard
- It has a single ambidextrous switch on the rear that is specifically designed and located to be operated with either the strong or support hand when gripping the pistol
- The light is single mode, and as powerful as possible given the limitations of its size
There are two primary advantages of a WML on a pistol;
- When the pistol is drawn from the holster, the WML comes with it and is ready for immediate use
- The light remains mechanically locked in alignment with the pistol bore and sights, so the light will illuminate whatever the pistol is being pointed at without any conscious effort by the user
Now for the two primary disadvantages of a WML on a pistol;
- The WML can only be used by drawing the pistol it’s attached to from the holster
- In order to illuminate an object or person, the pistol has to be pointed at it
First and foremost, in most (if not all) jurisdictions, the drawing of a pistol and pointing it at someone requires that the threshold of justifiable use of deadly force be met. Pulling the pistol in a public setting and making someone feel threatened (intentionally or not) would most likely be considered felony brandishing.
For the civilian with a CCW permit, the goal is to employ situational awareness, avoidance and de-escalation skills so that the pistol would never have to be drawn. This leaves the WML attached to it an expensive and cumbersome appendage that one hopes will never be needed.
The other (though less significant) issue is that attaching a light to a pistol makes it larger and heavier, and somewhat more awkward to carry. WMLs for pistols are available in smaller sizes (as illustrated above) to help mitigate this factor, but its output is going to be limited compared to larger models. Additionally, finding a holster made for a specific pistol with a specific WML attached to it can be problematic.
The Handheld Fight Light
Most of the lights marketed as “EDC” are designed for general illumination use. Utilizing a jack-of-all-trades design approach (multiple switches, multiple output modes, programmability, etc.) they are handy for a wide range of ordinary everyday tasks. But their design and operation is in stark contrast to a purpose-built weapon mounted light, rendering the typical "EDC flashlight" far from ideal as a substitute.
So what is a handheld fight light ?
It’s really quite simple: a powerful light intended to be used for the same purposes as a WML, but is handheld instead of mounted on the weapon. As epitomized by the Surefire series of CombatLights, it shares the core operational features of a WML;
- A single switch on the tailcap optimized for momentary-only operation
- Ergonomics optimized for established flashlight-handgun techniques
- Single mode operation - maximum output with every press of the switch
- A simple and intuitive UI that is easy to use under stress
- Typically more powerful than a WML designed for a handgun
- Can be drawn and used without fear of legal repercussion
- Can be carried in locations where firearms are not permitted
- Based on points 2 and 3 above, it can be used in ways that a WML legally cannot: situational awareness - active scanning, deterrence, etc.
For some, carrying both an EDC handheld light and a WML on their pistol is a logical choice, but the thought of carrying a dedicated handheld fight light in lieu of the WML is not something they’ve seriously considered. It was the goal of this article to provide food for thought on how this might be a more useful solution for the civilian.