Gear, Parts and Accessories

Flashlights For Defense Use — Not Optional

Railroad Detective JW Reid holding a shotgun with a flashlight mounted circa 1929

When I carry a handgun for personal defense, which is every day, I also carry a knife, light, and spare ammunition. The exact light depends on where I am going and the type of activity I plan to engage in. While a good general-purpose pocket light is essential, I also have larger lights strictly for home defense.

In common with the pocket folder, the light is used for mundane chores. Weaving through a forest or walking the dog at night, I often use the light. I live in a region that is often hot and humid. Since I have no set work hours, I have the option of taking walks after the sun has set and the air is cooler.

Bob Campbell in a home defense situation with a long gun and flashlight
A combat light may blind a burglar, but is not appropriate to have it on at all times.

The walk is essential to my health. While I don’t overburden myself, I carry what is necessary. I have the light quickly available. Within the week I have illuminated a hoot owl — quite an experience — and a few weeks ago a raccoon. My wife is leery of creepy crawlers, as she calls them.

While our pet is quite sensitive to these, and has killed several, a good light helps scan the roads and fields for reptiles. Lights are important. Your vision is a very important component of situational awareness and should be aided when possible.

Importance of Lights

If you don’t carry a light to augment your vision and awareness, you should do so. There has been a great deal written about very expensive lights and their advantages. Reliable, sturdy gear (i.e., expensive) is important some lights are surprisingly affordable.

The light must be dependable and useful. I like a quality light but not one that is so expensive that it would represent a hardship to replace. Transition from a well-lit home to a dim yard, from a department store interior to a dark parking lot, is difficult to adjust to quickly.

I like a compact light, as I can often carry the light in my hand without attracting attention. It isn’t a bad idea to quickly shine the light on the rear seat of the vehicle. There have been unpleasant incidents in which folks have been surprised by assailants who have hidden in the back seat. While unlikely, it is certainly possible and has happened many times. A light may precede your advance and give you a warning of threats and dangers, such as broken pavement or potholes.

Bob Campbell shooting a pistol with a flashlight in his weak side hand
Mating the light and gun requires practice. Start with a triple-checked unloaded handgun and work your way up to live fire.

Lights offer an advantage against an assailant hampered by darkness. They may become disoriented if the light is shown in their eyes. A shadowy figure may be a threat or an elderly or homeless person.

It is a duty to properly identify a threat before you react. Illumination and identification are important. A light provides the ability to quickly gather information.

Maintain your gear and check it often. Batteries fail. I like lights with rechargeable batteries, but it is best to use several types. You should practice with the light and use it often. The light should be held in the non-dominant hand and manipulated with the non-dominant hand freeing the dominant (strong side) hand for weapons use.

Weapon Lights

There is quite an industry concerned with convincing you that you need a weapon-mounted light. While there are obvious advantages, the art of mating a light to the firearm seems lost or ignored. There are tactics for quickly aligning the combat light and handgun or long gun. If you have a favorite shotgun or rifle that isn’t light compatible, you may learn to use a light in conjunction with the firearm.

Bob Campbell demonstrating the technique of bringing the flashlight hand to the gun hand
The first step is bringing the support hand up from under the pistol.

I like the brightest light possible in a compact package. This means strong lumens. I don’t care for multiple mode lights for personal defense. A strobe or flashing light is useful for signaling in case of emergency but less so for illumination.

I like the switch to be at the end of the flashlight body. An exception is the SureFire Stiletto with switches on the top of the light. The best advice I can give is to practice with the type you use. Twist activation demands two hands. The tail cap switch is superior for critical use.

hands married back to back with flashlight and handgun
The hands should be back-to-back when using the weapon light and handgun together.

When using the light for illumination, it is important to avoid glare. As an example, I learned long ago when inspecting buildings for suspects that light often reflected off doors with metal furniture. Aim the light just to the side of what you wish illuminated.

As for mating the light to the gun, there are several techniques. Very few civilians, and not all cops, carry a weapon-mounted light. The weapon-mounted light is often clumsy when carried off the gun. Moving the light to the gun in a critical situation isn’t viable.

For a dedicated home defense weapon, keeping the weapon-mounted light married to the gun is a good idea. For concealed carry use not so much.

I don’t like the idea of searching with a weapon-mounted light. I use a separate light. The best technique I know of is to quickly marry the back of the hands together. The gun hand has a normal firing grip. The support hand comes under the firing hand, and the back of the hand goes against the back of the firing hand.

The light is pointed out the bottom of the hand and the thumb activates the tail cap switch. This is very solid although not as solid as the normal two-hand firing position. The light-bearing hand may be quickly moved to search without the gun hand. If you are using a long gun, work with a modified hold using the support hand to point the light forward.

bore and flashlight not aligned showing poor technique
Be certain not to allow the light to drift off from its axis with the bore.

Other Recommendations

Some recommend keeping the handgun in one hand and the light far away from the body. This is so that an assailant will aim for the light, not your body. Perhaps, but the assailant has probably seen your position before you lit him up. This is a far less stable firing position, and it is much more difficult to coordinate the light and the gun in this manner.

Some place the gun hand over the weak side hand or side by side and not locked together. These hasty forms of marrying the gun and the light are not nearly as effective locking the backs of the hands together. In the home, a dedicated combat light is a good choice. The handgun may be held in a solid two-hand hold with a mounted combat light. The handgun may be used without illumination, or the light may be activated.

In the home, I am far less concerned with searching with the gun and light together, as anything in the home is likely to be a threat. In a parking lot, I am not so certain. You don’t want to point a firearm at someone that isn’t a threat.

Technique of holding the flashlight far to one side
Holding the light far to one side is counterproductive and prevents efficient use of cover.

I suppose I have conducted over 100 building, field, woods, and area searches in uniform. Don’t be startled when you find a drunk, Wampus cat, or lost child. A tragedy could occur. A lost child is much more easily found than someone who doesn’t want to be found, the same is true of tracking — an art within itself.

When moving in the home, avoid fatal funnels. This is standing in the middle of the doorway or hall offering a perfectly centered target. Those making unbidden entry will make you dead meat if you go in high, wide, and handsome. Stand behind cover, not crowding cover.

Cover of any form is a lifesaver. I cannot recall anyone taking cover and still catching a bullet. Get behind a heavy door jamb. Even a Newel post or a bench is decent cover. Even when the furniture isn’t bulletproof — and very little is — it is concealment, and this will interfere with the invader getting a bead on you.

Bob Campbell demonstrating the cigar hold with a long gun and flashlight
This is an alternate ‘cigar type’ hold the author doesn’t find as secure as the back of the hand type hold.

Take cover and use the intermittent switch when searching. Be careful and control your nerves. I like having a light hanging by the front and back doors, near the attic, and of course by the bedstead. While it is a very bad idea to have guns hidden around the house, lights are good to have.

If, like many of us, you have a firearm that doesn’t readily accept a combat light, among the best lights for home defense is the proven Maglite three cell. It is most important to have something you can rely on and to be certain it functions properly. Run the drills with a triple-checked unloaded firearm. Practice using the light alone and quickly marrying the light to the firearm.


While the most modern gear is commendable, proven firearms are easily pressed into the front line if need be. As an example, I recently helped a friend on a budget modify a vintage Ithaca 37 shotgun. This shotgun is beyond proven — it is an icon. I drilled and tapped the receiver for a TruGlo red dot sight and added a TruGlo Predator Hunt light. This light features an adjustable mounting bracket that mounts perfectly onto the Ithaca’s magazine cap. The shotgun is fast handling and has taken plenty of game. Now in the home defense role and loaded with Aguila buckshot, this is a formidable combination.

Do you have a weapon light mounted or a flashlight handy for home defense? how do you train with a flashlight or weapon light? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • Railroad Detective JW Reid holding a shotgun with a flashlight mounted circa 1929
  • Walther 9mm semi automatic handgun with a TruGlo weapon light attached
  • SureFire Stiletto flashlight
  • Selection of flashlights and weapon lights
  • Bob Campbell in a home defense situation with a long gun and flashlight
  • Holding a flashlight with the support hand and a lever-action rifle resting on top
  • Activating the push button switch while aiming a rifle with the strong hand
  • Bob Campbell demonstrating the cigar hold with a long gun and flashlight
  • The author is manipulating the lever of this .357 magnum rifle as he controls the light
  • Bob Campbell clearing a hallway with a long gun and flashlight
  • Bob Campbell shooting a pistol with a flashlight in his weak side hand
  • Bob Campbell demonstrating the technique of bringing the flashlight hand to the gun hand
  • hands married back to back with flashlight and handgun
  • bore and flashlight not aligned showing poor technique
  • Technique of holding the flashlight far to one side
  • Ithaca 20 gauge shotgun with flashlight mounted

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

1 Comment;

  1. Holding a light to the side may reduce the effectiveness of the light coverage, however, if you are in the open it is a very good technique to use because someone shooting at you will shoot for the light. This technique was taught in the SAS Close Combat Course. We practiced it and became quite efficient using it.

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