Posts Tagged ‘Lasers’

Pistol-Mounted Lasers in Combat

Compare this X5L light/laser on a standard M1911 to the movie prop on a longslide .45 pistol!

Crimson Trace red laser on Keltec P32

Crimson Trace red laser on Keltec P32

Ever since the film Terminator brought the pistol lasers out into the public eye, the debate has raged about their utility. With the miniaturization of the actual lasers and development of relatively efficient batteries with long shelf life, laser sighting became available for almost every modern pistol. The opinions on laser sighting range from “unnecessary,” “gives away your position,” “just learn to use iron sights to “wonderful,” “liberating” and “indispensable.” Let’s look at lasers in detail. (Viridian X5L | CTC for P32)

 

 

 

 

 

Viridian C5L on a Keltec PF9

Viridian C5L on a Keltec PF9

Crimson Trace laser on a Keltec PF9

Crimson Trace laser on a Keltec PF9. The holster purse is made by Gun Tote'n Mamas.

Red or Green? While the power of consumer lasers is limited by law to 5mW, green lasers are by far better visible than red, especially in daylight. Why doesn’t everyone use green? They are bulkier and require larger batteries for the same runtime, though that also allows the integration of a weapon light into the same unit.. A green laser is very practical as a rail-mounted unit for quite a bit harder to fit into a grip panel or make fit seamlessly with a subcompact pistol. Some pistols, such as Keltec PF9 accept both types. Others, like Keltec P32 or Ruger LCP, are much too small for anything but a red laser. While 5mW is the limit for eye safe weapon lasers, some are available in colors ranging from red to blue and in power from 300mW to 2W, hundreds of times stronger than the standard consumer models. They come as parts kits provided with assembly instructions and used manly for emergency signaling. While some people have improvised gun mounts for them, those lasers lack windage or elevation adjustments and may be less recoil-proof. These lasers are not eye safe when tightly focused. Their beams may be defocused to provide coherent light illumination matching shotgun pattern spread.

 

 

 

 

X5L light/laser on a Keltec SU16E carbine

X5L light/laser on a Keltec SU16E carbine

Viridian GLK laser on an inert trainer show how subtle the laser actually is

Viridian GLK laser on an inert trainer show how subtle the laser actually is

Doesn’t the laser give away my position? In a fog or a smoked-up room, it can. However, there’s a reason why almost all advertising photos of lasers have the beam drawn in. For the photo on the left, in order to get any visible trace at all, I had to put a smoke grenade behind the shooter. Normally, the laser is invisible except for a small red or green dot at the emitter. At an indoor range, where the light level is low and the air is full of particles, lasers look like colorful wires stretching to the target, especially after you fire a few shots. At which point the muzzle flash and the report of the gun already made you a good deal more conspicuous than the laser beam ever could.

Can a laser be zeroed the same as iron sights? Yes, but with a difference. If a laser is mounted below the boreline, the near zero can be made the same as with the irons, but the far zero will be different (closer). For this reason, some people zero their lasers further, for example at 50 yards. The pistol will shoot slightly high up close but be closer to the aiming point further out. With a side-mounted laser, the parallax is usually not worth correcting. With the laser parallel to the bore but off to the side, the offset remains small and predictable. With pistol, a difference of an inch is seldom critical.

Fireing from supine position

Firing from supine position

First-time shooter uses a laser to verify steadiness of aim

First-time shooter uses a laser to verify steadiness of aim

So what kind of problems do lasers actually solve? Poor eyesight is one. Using iron sights becomes more difficult with age. It becomes impossible if the defender’s eyeglasses are knocked off early in a fight. Firing on the move is another: careful lining up of iron sights is very difficult when trying to move away from a moving attacker or his line of fire. In all those cases, keeping the aiming point on the actual target can be very helpful. Aiming from awkward or compromised positions, such as from behind a ballistic shield or from supine.

Precision shooting is another. The effect is most pronounced with pocket pistols, at least my groups shrink to half or third of the original size when fired using a laser rather than iron sights. The same effect is evident with larger handguns as the range increases. I would be hard-pressed to hit a paper plate past 50 yards with any pistols mainly because the sight alignment error magnifies with range. With a properly zeroed laser, sighting errors are taken out of the equation and the accuracy depends more on the trigger control and on the inherent accuracy of the pistol and ammunition. Much the same accuracy improvements can be obtained by using optical sights.

Lasers are also extremely helpful for training. Keeping a laser on during procedural gun handling helps reinforce muzzle awareness. Instructors can watch the laser dots from their trainees’ pistols to evaluate sight alignment consistency and trigger control. Finally, Laserlyte makes a laser training “cartridge” that makes dry-fire a great deal more useful by flashing a brief light-burst onto the target. The Walther P22 in the photo is my standard tool for training new shooters: it is sound-suppressed and equipped with a Viridian Green Laser to aid in learning trigger control. The light weight and small grip mean that even small kids can operate it without difficulty.

Viridian belt holster for S&W M&P9c with C5L light/laser

Viridian belt holster for S&W M&P9c with C5L light/laser

Sideguard belt holster for S&W M&P9c with C5L light/laser

Sideguard belt holster for S&W M&P9c with C5L light/laser

What are the down sides to laser use? The cost is the most immediate. Recoil proof adjustable lasers run from about $75 to $400. Well worth the money, in my opinion, but upgrading a safe full of pistols can get expensive. Maintenance is another: batteries should be changed regularly when laser is in storage and also after heavy training use. Laser emitter lens has to be kept clean and free of powder residue.

You may also have to get a new holster for your carry gun. Grip and slide mounted lasers can usually use the same holster, but rail mounted designs usually do not. Fortunately, most holster makers offer models designed around specific gun/laser combinations. Popular combinations have many carry options available. Since the rail-mounted  lasers fit in the recess between the dust cover and the trigger guard, the concealability of the pistol doesn’t change much. (Viridian TacLoc | Sideguard)

In actual use, lasers require training, same as any other sighting system. The small laser dot, especially with red lasers, may require some practice to pick up quickly. In highly reflective environments, such as around car windows or glass doors, reflected and refracted light can be confusing. Most shooters use a combination of iron sights and lasers, knowing from experience which works in what situation. A laser may be just another tool for rapid and accurate sighting — but it is a very versatile and useful tool.

What do you think about lasers on handguns? Have you found them useful in a way I have not mentioned? Has training turned up some unforeseen consideration worth mentioning?

 

If the Shoe Fits…You Dance Better

The rifle is too big!

This AR15A2 rifle is too big for the 4'10" shooter

Instructor's hand next to the learner's hand

Instructor's hand next to the learner's hand

Most gun enthusiasts are men. Many of them would like their spouses and children to learn firearms. Teaching the family to shoot is sometimes a more difficult task than expected, not for lack of interest but because many mainstream defensive arms are simply too big and heavy for the new shooters. Certainly, some teenagers are taller than their parents, and some women are stronger than their husbands, but they are the exceptions. A 5’2″ female trying to master an AR15A2 or another full-sized firearm would find it as difficult as you’d find dancing in shoes three sizes too big. It can be done, but introduces a needless complication into the process. The same is true when a new shooter is instructed with a hard-kicking hunting bolt action.

A small woman can certainly handle a long, heavy rifle the same way that a soldier handles a Barrett M82, by firing from a bipod or a supported position. Firing off-hand becomes a chore, as the forward balance combines with excessive length of pull (distance from the buttplate to the trigger) to make aiming and recoil control difficult. A shooter with small hands can fire a double-stack autoloader or a revolver with a long trigger reach using a two-handed grip. The same person would be hard-pressed to get a good one-handed grip on the weapon in a rapid response situation.

Traditionally, the most expensive custom firearms were fitted to individual shooters. Few of us can afford that, but fortunately the modularity of modern rifles allows extensive customization without great expense. The three rifles shown below are but a few of the many suitable for smaller shooter: they are provided as case studies. Many other caliber and type options exists, but these three are relatively inexpensive, reliable and effective. All three of these have been found comfortable by shooters who weigh under 60 pounds. Much lighter options are available in .22LR, but who would want to saddle his spouse or teenage child with a marginal stopper in case of an emergency.

Short, light rifles: Doublestar AR15, Auto Ordnance M1 Carbine, Kel-tec SU16E

Short, light rifles: Doublestar AR15, Auto Ordnance M1 Carbine, Kel-tec SU16E

The first rifle is a custom build by Doublestar. It uses a short fixed stock (a collapsible stock would have also worked), a lightweight barrel, small circumference handgrip and forend. Folding rear sight allows for a clear sight picture with an optic, while fixed front provided full-time emergency sighting should an optional optic fail. The main advantage of this option is the commonality of parts and training with other AR15s, by far the most common defensive rifle in the US. On the right, a slightly difference rifle from the same maker is shown in the hands of an eleven year old boy: light weight and oversized controls made the rifle very easy for him to control.

The middle rifle is the classic M1 carbine. Simple is design and operation, it was the originally designed specifically for the support personnel. That it trickled down to the front lines of World War Two and Korea just proves the worth of the design for short range self-protection. For those who prefer the versatility of an optic to the traditional look, both Auto Ordnance and Ultimak make replacement handguards with rails. While debate rages about the suitability of the .30 Carbine ball cartridge for stopping aggressive foes, soft point and hollow point ammunition such as the Federal 110-grain load have excellent performance.

Eleven year old rifleman with a Doublestar AR15

Eleven-year-old rifleman with a Doublestar AR15

Below is the Keltec SU16. The length of pull on the standard SU16 is quite long, but swapping the fixed stock for the “E” pistol grip and telestock kit takes only a minute. SU16 is a reliable piston design with a polymer receiver. The standard forend is very light and unfolds into a bipod. The Red Lion Precision forend shown in the photo adds no extra weight, provides better ventilation and allows mounting of additional accessories. The Magpul AFG grip can be used as design or in conjunction with the magwell hold — the center of balance on this rifle is at that exact point. Low-mounted Aimpoint Micro H1 and Viridian C5L light/laser allow rapid identification and engagement of of targets.

While the light weight of these guns increases the recoil slightly, much better fit allows to control that recoil much better. The only real performance sacrifices are in the long-range accuracy and the capability for sustained fire. The thin .223 barrels are good for about 100 rounds before heat becomes an issue. Neither consideration is of much importance in defensive or sport shooting for which these carbines would likely be used. While meant for the smaller shooters, these guns are fun for the grown men too. Even the short fixed stock can be easily used by very tall shooters — they just fire from a less bladed stance and get to use their binocular vision better.

Just like shoes, guns have to fit. It is no fun to shoot a weapon that is too big, too heavy or otherwise unsuitable for the budding marksman. It is no wonder that new shooters often recoil at the prospect of more range time with guns they cannot physically control. If giving a gun as a gift, get the recipient’s input on the type and configuration, even is that means forgoing the Birthday or Christmas surprise for the recipient. The smiles — and the improved results — of a shooters whose gun fits perfectly will be well worth your effort.

J-frame carry gear part 3: lasers

In part 1 and part 2 of the j-frame carry gear, we looked at holsters and ammo for you compact carry revolver.  Today we’ll look at a piece of gear that, while optional, is something I believe every compact revolver should have on it – a laser sighting system. There are a lot of options out there for laser sights for you carry gun, but the clear winner is the Crimson Trace LaserGrip for J-Frames or the Ruger LCR.  I do believe that your carry gun should have night sights, but in an actual self-defense situation at low light, there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to see the front sight, or that you’ll be in a position to use that sight.  The laser grip from Crimson Trace takes that uncertainty out of the situation.  Even if you’re in an unorthodox firing position, you’re still able to make aimed hits on the target, simply by indexing the red dot from the laser on the threat and firing.  Again, it’s an optional item for your gun, and you’ll probably never need to actually use it – but then again, I don’t carry a firearm for self-defense because I’m an optimist.  Having a good holster and powerful defensive ammo doesn’t do you a whole lot of good if when the threat appears you’re not able to get reliable hits on the target.  Having a laser on your defensive firearm allows you to get those hits while keeping your eyes focused on the threat.  This eliminates having to shift between two focal planes (the sights and the threat) and allows you to better asses a defensive encounter in real-time.

I also believe your carry gun should have good night sights on them.  Recently, I came around on XS Sights for carry guns – while I don’t believe they’re the right fit for every gun, for a compact revolver they are a significant upgrade over the usual gutter/front post arrangement that you’ll find.  My personal j-frame wears a Trijicon front night sight and S&W adjustable rear sight.  The goal is to be able to see the sights in any lighting condition, and have the laser as a backup sighting system should the sights be unavailable for any reason.

The compact revolver, be it a S&W J-Frame or a Ruger LCR is a great carry option.  Yes, it takes practice and discipline to master the double action trigger pull, and they hold less rounds than some semi-automatics.  But they’re far more reliable than other pocket .380s on the market, and offer the option of considerably more puissance in a .357 Magnum chambering than a comparably sized or smaller .380.  With a good holster, good ammo, and most importantly good sights and a laser, the compact revolver is one of the best and most reliable carry guns out there.