While there are many advantages to using a pistol-mounted flashlight, there are also some very distinct drawbacks. Despite what many pistol light users might think, the weapon mounted light is not for searching or scanning. Massad Ayoob, a 40-year law enforcement veteran with a legendary reputation in the firearms world, advocates for using a secondary flashlight for the sole purpose of scanning an environment in a low-light combat scenario.
The simple reason why it’s a bad idea to search for a threat in your home with your pistol mounted light is that it violates the second rule of gun safety: never point the muzzle at anything you are not willing to destroy. If you imagine your pistol’s muzzle emitting a thin laser beam that kills everything it touches (as you should), you don’t want your pistol’s death beam pointed at your animals, your children, or your spouse. Some pistol instructors will argue that pointing the gun at the low ready with the flashlight illuminating the ground gives you a general idea of your surroundings without actually pointing your gun at anyone.
There are two problems with this technique: the first is that in an emergency situation, people’s senses are heightened and adrenaline is flowing. They know their reaction times have to be fast because their lives depend on it, and to someone pumped up on adrenaline, every human silhouette becomes a potential threat.
The second problem is the fact that your gun is out at all. In some states, this is considered “brandishing” even though the gun is not pointed directly at anyone. Federal law defines brandishing as follows:
The term “brandish” means, with respect to a firearm, to display all or part of the firearm, or otherwise make the presence of the firearm known to another person, in order to intimidate that person, regardless of whether the firearm is directly visible to that person. 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(4).
Depending on the state, the unlawful brandishing of a firearm could be anything from a misdemeanor to a felony. As long as the offended party sees that you have a gun and they perceive it to be meant for them, you can be taken to court, even if you have the gun at the low ready.
This is not to say we advocate for no pistol lights at all. This simply means there are other, safer ways to use them that won’t end up with you accidentally shooting the cat or being sued because you pointed your gun at a friend who you forgot was staying the night at your place.
For example, when searching a room, it’s best to use a handheld flashlight like the INFORCE TFx. As long as you remain close to cover, (door frames are perfect for this) you can scan the room with your handheld, and when you detect the threat, you can draw your gun and brace it against your flashlight hand to engage.
What if the gun malfunctions or you need to reload? Tasks like this require two hands, but manipulating a pistol while your offhand is holding a flashlight isn’t as hard as you might think. Prudence and tactical common sense dictate that you must “get off your X” and move to cover before anything else. Once in cover, the flashlight may be tucked under your armpit before you tap, rack, and clear your gun. Alternatively, you can manipulate the magazine by placing your flashlight in between your index finger and middle finger while grabbing your next magazine with your middle finger and ring finger.
If you should remember anything from this article it’s that the four main rules of firearm safety exist for a reason. If you have to violate one of them and possibly shoot your wife by accident, just know there are other ways to scan the dark, and not all of them involve a pistol mounted flashlight.