Gear, Parts and Accessories

Throwback Thursday—Pistol Lasers

LaserLyte rear sight laser

Mention pistol lasers to three different shooters, and you’re sure to get three differing opinions. Some traditionalists insist that laser sights have no place on a pistol. Others swear by them, insisting that every pistol have a laser system. Some find them an interesting tool for training or use only in low-light situations, but maintain that their overall usefulness is limited.

Laser sighting systems for guns have long been a staple in Hollywood movies. Scenes where a bad guy suddenly looks down to see a red dot on his chest, or a phalanx of lasers from a Special Operations team shine in through the windows of a building are standard fare in your typical action movie. However, how useful are they in real life? The first thing many people new to laser systems notice is the fact you can’t actually see the laser beam itself, only the red dot. In the movies, digitally added beams or atmospheric contaminants such as smoke and dust illuminate the laser beam.

Still, anyone looking towards the user of a pistol laser sight will quickly see the bright red light of a laser aimed at them. Lasers allow you to illuminate your target and quickly see where the point of impact is. However, one of the primary drawbacks of a laser sighting system is it can quickly give your position away to a possible bad guy. Of course, some will point out that muzzle flash will also give your position away in a low-light situation.

Many people believe that a flashlight held in your non-shooting hand is a better tool for low-light shooting, since the intense beam can blind an attacker. Also, it can be held off-line of your body so anyone shooting at the light source has a minimal chance of landing a critical hit. While this is true, a flashlight still doesn’t help you when you need a low-light aiming solution.

Laser Aiming Systems

Black Crimson Trace red laser
I have installed a Crimson Trace system on my Sig Sauer P220 and found it very easy and intuitive to use.

Crimson Trace

Many different types of lasers for pistols are available on the market today. Crimson Trace manufactures laser grips for a wide variety of semiautomatic pistols and revolvers. Originally designed as replacement grips with a built-in laser system, Crimson Trace’s lineup has expanded to include piggyback models, such as the one pictured to the right, for polymer pistols without replaceable grips. Most of these laser grip systems use a master switch to turn the system on and off, as well as a pressure switch positioned for quick and easy momentary laser activation. I have installed a Crimson Trace system on my Sig Sauer P220 and found it very easy and intuitive to use.

The primary advantage of the laser grip is that it does not require a specialized holster. Many of the aftermarket pistol lasers attach to the rail found just forward of the trigger guard on most modern semiautomatics. The problem with these rail-mounted lasers is that you must use a custom holster in order to accommodate the laser. Custom-molded Kydex holsters are available for some rail-mounted lasers and these are the best choice for many due to the enhanced retention they have. Nevertheless, the holster usually must match the exact model of laser and pistol you have, so finding the exact size can be difficult. Universal nylon holsters are available to fit your pistol and laser combo, but while they can fit almost any setup, they fit none of them well.


LaserMax laser guide rod system
LaserMax produces an innovative system for autoloaders.

Another alternative to the rail mounted pistol laser that does not change the shape of your pistol is the aiming system manufactured by LaserMax. They produce an innovative system for autoloaders that replaces the stock guide rod with one designed by LaserMax with an integral laser aiming system. On most of these models, the takedown lever is usually refitted to function as an on and off switch.

The LaserMax system is not without its drawbacks. It is not adjustable for windage and elevation. Since it replaces the guide rod of the pistol, the mechanical lock-up of the pistol should naturally align it. The thought that an optic system has to play a structural role in the operation of the pistol makes some shooters nervous, but there have been very few instances where the pistol has failed or jammed from the failure of a LaserMax guide rod laser aiming system. I cannot fit my Para 14.45 double-stack 1911 pistol with the Crimson Trace laser grip, so I’ve installed a LaserMax guide rod. While it does not provide pinpoint accuracy like the windage and elevation adjustable Crimson Trace, it is definitely “minute of bad guy” accurate. I was able to shoot groups that are nice and tight out all the way out to 25 yards.

Installation of the LaserMax is straightforward, requiring only that the pistol be field stripped and the guide rod and takedown pin and slide lock replaced. No fitting required; it simply drops right in as a replacement for the original parts. With the unit installed the takedown pin and slide lock lever function as an on and off switch, allowing system activation without disturbing your grip on the firearm.


LaserLyte rear sight laser
A unique system by LaserLyte replaces the rear sight of the pistol with one that includes a laser.

A unique system by LaserLyte replaces the rear sight of the pistol with one that includes a laser. This little aiming system is nothing short of an engineering marvel. The unit itself is quite small, one of the smallest on the market, and it endures enormous G-forces as it reciprocates with the slide. In addition to being able to fit in any standard holster, another advantage of the LaserLyte system is that it keeps the beam very close to the bore axis, ensuring that there is little or no offset error at varying distances.

The LaserLyte unit actually replaces the factory rear sight on your pistol, integrating a notch style sight with the laser unit in a small tube on one side and the battery system on the other. It may require some gunsmithing to install the unit, although it’s a simple process on most pistols with a dovetail or Novak sight cut. Using a drift, simply tap out the original factory sight and tap in the LaserLyte unit. That’s it! A small button on the rear of the slide activates the unit, and a tiny LED light lets the shooter know the unit is active—assuming the red laser dot on their target does not clue them in.

Pistol Training

Regardless as to how you may feel about lasers in use on pistols as sighting devices, there is one role in which they can be incredibly valuable. Laser systems are enormously effective as a training aid.

For dry fire practice, the LaserLyte Pistol Trainer laser is a great training tool. Activated by the hammer or striker, the Pistol Trainer unit projects a beam for 100 milliseconds, giving you a clear indication of where your point of impact would have been. This gives you instant positive feedback during dry fire practice enabling to adjust your technique as necessary.

When giving demonstrations on pistol handling to an advanced group of students, it’s sometimes difficult for them to see what is happening during complex and rapid drills. Using the Pistol Trainer unit from LaserLyte, the students instantly see each shot as it pulls off. This, combined with an “always on” laser such the ones mentioned previously, allows students to follow each movement clearly and helps them see the movement and position of the pistol.

Picture shows a blue training pistol with laser and laser reactive target.
The LaserLyte Training Tyme Kit includes a blue, non-firing “gun,” reaction target, universal laser trainer cartridge and batteries.

For an instructor training a new shooter, using a laser sighting system is incredibly helpful when diagnosing sighting or trigger problems. Almost any of the laser systems described above will work for training purposes. They can help a trainer quickly determine if a new shooter is having problems with sighting or trigger pull. It is easy to see typical problems such as anticipating recoil and milking the trigger by observing the laser dot from a laser aiming system as it moves on the target.

Using a laser aiming system can also diagnose proper sight alignment. Teaching students how to acquire a good sight picture is much easier with a laser aiming system. By turning the system on (if necessary) but not activating it, you can have new shooters draw and push the pistol out to the target and acquire their sight picture, then turn activate the laser to get a visual confirmation. This gives instant feedback to both the student as well as the instructor, allowing for quick and easy diagnosis and correction.

Do you need a laser?

The answer to that question will vary from shooter to shooter. Some people are perfectly happy with a pistol as it comes from the factory floor. Others like to be prepared for every possible contingency and have their firearms outfitted appropriately. For low light situations, or any scenario where you are unable to get behind the rear sight such as firing from retention, a laser is a valuable tool that allows you to see that you are on target. If you’re a new shooter, an instructor, or even an advanced shooter looking to improve your shooting skills, it’s useful to have a laser equipped pistol for diagnosing and correcting basic shooting errors, or just to verify that you’re on target. Whatever your experience is, adding a laser to your pistol is a thought worth some consideration.

Do you have a laser sight on your gun? What are the pros and cons? Share your experience with others in the comment section.

This article originally published on July 1, 2010.Click Here to Start Shopping Online at Cheaper Than Dirt

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!

Comments (22)

  1. I don’t disagree with what you are saying and your philosophy but you are proving my point that you keep training as best as possible to not lose that perishable skill. I am not sure at this point if you meant what you said or realized what you said that at a certain skill level it is “not” perishable. I agree that at point blank range, 0 to 10 feet by your comments, a laser is really unnecessary, you should be able to put rounds on target. I also know that life always is there to throw us a curve. Have done the training scenario many times where a bad guy has a knife to my wife’s throat (paper/cardboard targets) and then you have to aim at the much smaller headshot at distances up to 20 ish feet. Being able to make the shot with just iron sights is great training and a great skill to have. Having a laser to point into the potential bad guys eye to let him know he isn’t going to win is what I believe and anyone else would probably call a tactical advantage. Putting that laser beam in his eye he may just drop the knife and run out the door or lay down on the floor and beg for mercy, can’t really say for sure but its a very legitimate possibility. We should not deny people to have that potential tactical advantage. But we should all train without a laser (eyesight permitting) to be proficient as best possible. Not saying at all that you should not do what is right for you or what you are comfortable with. Thanks for your personal insights.

    1. MrGman,

      You are a gentleman and a scholar. I believe from your comments that you understand my thinking. I do shoot and intend to keep doing that, to verify that I can still hit my intended target.
      However, much more important to me than my shooting schedule is a very conscious effort to avoid any possible dangerous situation. There was a time when I did not care. In my opinion, I could and would handle anything that came up. Now I realize that is foolish and so I make a very concerted effort to avoid any area and any situation that can be potentially dangerous.
      For some years, I was able to study and learn from the experience of others. It seemed to me that there was a degree of predictability, or certain patterns, that could result in a potentially dangerous situation. I plan ahead and do not go, or put my self and my family, into one of those dangerous situations. I have been doing that for the last 8 or 10 years and so far, it seems to be working. I am becoming and advocate for planning ahead and avoiding dangerous situations.
      Of course, you cannot plan for the random home invasion — other than live in a remote area of Oregon (which we do). It is obviously impossible to eliminate all risk, but it is possible to minimize the most common risks and I choose to do exactly that. For the rest, I carry.
      My early training emphasized not giving in to surprise and not letting unexpected, unforeseen dangerous situations rattle you. I had an old, retired Marine who learned the hard way not to give in to surprise or fear and he drilled us constantly on it. Some of us did better than others. I have generally been able to keep my “cool” during car crashes and one light plane crash (mechanical failure, no pilot error) and believe not giving in to fear and excitement allows better decision making.
      In any event, I enjoyed your comments and generally agree with you.

    2. You are the Senior Fellow of this Institute of personal experience. It was good to hear more of your experiences. Thanks for the kind words. I do understand where you are coming from. G.

  2. Just bought a Ruger LC9 with a Viridian green laser for my wife.

    We are watching videos about the gun. I will be training her at the range.

    The laser illuminates when it leaves the holster.

    My goal is to make the laser redundant in all conditions, but if it makes a tiny difference in the time between raising the gun and firning on target – it is worth it.

  3. I am old fashioned and was taught to shoot under all available light and other conditions with “iron sights”. Yes, it took a fair amount of rounds down range but the skill level, once achieved, is not perishable. It never needs batteries, either. Nothing to break or malfunction other than me. If I malfunction, it doesn’t matter greatly anyway now does it?
    However, for those who do not have the time, ammo budget, patience and determination to master the skill without electromechanical aids or who want a short cut to an acceptable skill level, perhaps lasers are a good idea. People can, for very good and legitimate reason, not have the time to devote to training and practice. The lack of time will not insulate them from risk of bodily harm. In that event, a crutch may be the best solution.
    I, personally, do not have a gun with a laser. However, my brother-in-law who I care for a great deal, can’t function without one. Different strokes.

    1. I would argue that it is a perishable skill. Everyone I have ever trained with has said that these are perishable skills and training is always necessary to keep them sharp. Most peoples vision only gets worse with age as well so as some have said, being able to see the sights or the target gets to be a real challenge.

      As to shooting in whatever the available light is, you have a responsibility to identify the threat before you pull the trigger. Bad guys may not care what they shoot at, but you shoot at an unintended target because you could not make out who they really were and you will be in big trouble. This goes to having a flashlight at the least not a laser. Don’t get me wrong, training to be able to shoot in low light is great, doesn’t change your responsibility to properly identify the threat in a real world situation.

    2. Mr. GMan,

      I look at shooting on several levels. I am almost 73 years old, have carried a handgun for over 50 years, on duty and off. There was a time when I trained and shot regularly and I expected to possibly be in harm’s way at some point. That was then and this is now.
      I can no longer “run and gun”. I now limp and scrimp. Still, I try to shoot once a week when I can and never less than once a month.
      However, once I expected to be in harm’s way most any day. Now, I no longer go into areas that pose a danger. I avoid any potential danger area and make sure I am home, inside with the doors locked by 9:00 PM (2100).
      Finally, I have no desire to shoot anyone. Still, I carry either a .40 or .45 24/7 and know that if me or my wife were seriously threatened, I would shoot. But the target is going to be at very close range or I will not shoot. If the potential assailant is more than 10 yards away, I have no intention of ever shooting, unless I see a gun pointed at me or my wife. Otherwise, I will not shoot. I cannot run and shoot because I cannot run.
      I am a deliberate person and after 9:00PM, I use a shotgun inside my house. Before 9:00PM, I may be out and about but only in areas I know.
      While shooting may be a perishable skill, I have shot for over 50 years and I still draw very favorable comments about my targets when I shoot. I may go a month without shooting on rare occasions but I still shoot into less than 3 inches at 10 yards with 50 rounds of full strength ammo. I consider that adequate for my purposes and I only shoot with iron non-adjustable sights. They have never failed me. Years ago, I relied upon gimmicks and sometimes they worked — but not always. Given my age and experience, and ability to shoot to point of aim, I see no reason to spend more money paying someone else to teach me to do what I cannot do anyway due to infirmity.
      If by training, you mean shooting periodically, then I train. If you mean something like IPSC or IPDA, I can’t do it. That is reality for me.
      I have nothing against those who can do more. Good for them. But, for me, unless the threat is close and very real, I have no intention of pulling a gun, ever. I hope to live out the few years left to me in peace. I go to gret lengths to avoid all possible risks. I try to go to safe areas, well lighted and lacking skells that may be a threat. I frequent few areas generally free of any threat. I drive a one ton pickup and road rage really is not much of a problem. I do not do things that will irritate others and after having 5 sons, I feel secure in my manhood. I have nothing to prove in that regard.
      But, I know that not every one shares my dream and if I am threatened with violence, I will shoot. When asked if I could shoot when the idea is to take someone’s life, the stock answer has been for years: “I shot my dog and I really liked my dog. I do not like you and if you think I will not shoot, you will soon be dead wrong.”
      Finally, I do not know if William Butler Hickok really said it or not but I like the sentiment attributed to him: “Speed is fine, but accuracy is final”. I will die happy if I never shoot anyone and will think I ordered my life successfully. Any other outcome is a failure on my part and puts me at very great risk from government that I do not trust. I have no faith in the criminal justice system any longer when political point of view is more important than right or wrong. If I were in New York or Ferguson, Missouri, and were a cop, I would quit and move. I live in a remote area with no minority populations. Just part of my precautions. In high school, I was bussed to an inner city school in a large city and learned from the experience. I swore I would never, ever live near a minority group ever again and I have been as good as my word.

  4. I’m 74 yrs old. Been shooting for 62 of them and was handed my first .45 by uncle Sam in 1958. Nine yrs Navy and 26 yrs LEO. Need to qualify annually to carry under the POSA.

    I shot competitively for a number of years in PPC matches with 6″ Colt & S&W revolvers with stages from 7 yds to 50 yds. Strong hand, off hand, barricades, no barricades, two handed, standing, kneeling, sitting & prone. I’ve also used B.A.R.s & Thompsons in the service.

    The only important criteria for a shooter is putting rounds on target, and getting them there first, when ever possible. Misses can be a danger to all involved and a waste of precious resources.

    I cannot deny there’s a bit of a wobble in my hands today, don’t like to admit it, but just looking at that laser dance reveals a less than rock steady hand.

    That said, getting down to business; I have a Colt .45 New Agent, tunnel sight, Crimson Trace laser grip. Why? Because, even with lasik surgery, I can no longer peer down a set of sights and, while seeing them razor sharp, also see that target razor sharp. I know I can just lay the top end of the bbl on tgt and get good hits, but for the sake of speed at 50-75 feet, I love that laser.

    Any LEO knows that we don’t train with sights at 3 ft or 7 ft, but as the distances open out you certainly are going to rely on your sights.

    With that laser, I don’t even care about the sights, or even raise the weapon to look down the barrel. I just put that red dot center mass and run the drill.

    Double tap, two low and one to the head or kidney, multiple threats doesn’t matter, just put that red dot on it and let fly.

    So If you are a hobbyist, do anything that suits your fancy. But if shooting as a professional, or shooting to save a life, use the very best tool available and don’t buy into all the war stories floating around at the range or your hunting campfires.

    Some old warriors I’ve known pass good advice down the line: Train like you fight, fight like you train.

    1. @ GDean.

      I agree with GDean, But there seen to be a new way of thinking when shooting. Which reminds me of a quote by Mark Grace, former 1st basemen of the Chicago Cubs. In 12 November 2012, “If you not cheating, your not trying hard enough”…

  5. At least Green Lasers will operate in “foggy” conditions, where a Red Laser won’t. A White Light Flashlight of 800-Lumens or greater with a “dazzler” feature, will also work well against an attacker…

  6. A good quality laser is worth having but they will always be of somewhat limited value. The Crimson Trace Laser Grips work great on a Glock. I can choose to activate or not activate the button prior to taking a shot simply by how tight I grip the gun around the backstrap. When I take the shot with a firm grip the laser is going on, don’t care at that point, bullets going down range. I have found the #1 limitation is their brightness. Most, even green lasers are not really visible in daylight. Indoors and even with a bright flashlight they seem to work well. A good tight beamed flashlight mounted on a pistol rail will put you on target to something that is 7 yards or less, light up the target to determine what the threat is relatively quickly. And I have found that bullets go into the center of the hot spot of the beam, making a laser redundant. Having a separate flashlight that is hand held and sweeping in a dark room makes the laser extremely useful. In training I have seen many a person shoot into the makeshift door frames of a shooting house scenario or just be way off, expecting the gun to be pointed where the flashlight was but was not. I would rather have it than not. Target acquisition advantage typically goes to the person with the laser in relatively low light conditions and as has been stated above, it is a very serious intimidation factor.

    As for it and or the flashlight being a guide for the potential bad guy to follow and shoot back at, there is always some level of potential for that. But if you have a potential threat “bad guy” identified and lit up first, you have the advantage, plain and simple. Them seeing the laser beam doesn’t mean they can put their iron sights on target all that easy or quickly. Them being blinded by a powerful flashlight may also make it hard to get their iron sights on target. But if you see them raising their gun to put the sights on target, you are already on target and can make that decision you need to make right then and there.
    With a good laser and/or flashlight that you can pulse on and off at will, you can always go dark and move if the situation is really dark to begin with and reevaluate. If its just a laser and its not all that dark, you still most likely have the advantage. In the end its just another tool in the tool box. A person needs to train with it and see how it works for them, not just assume that they have a laser and now they can’t miss.

    I have found that most are not on target out of the box and are kind of a pain to get sighed in.

    Also most are operated with some type of coin batteries that don’t work well in the cold. Step outside in really cold weather in a lot of places and that laser may be dead due to a frozen battery. Green lasers are much more temperamental than red ones due to the crystals as well as sucking down more battery power. I shoot outdoors in the wintertime and have had 2032 coin battery operated red dot sights simply go dark till I got them back into the house. Red lasers fade away to nothing.

  7. The article mentioned the S&W bodyguard. I can tell you from experience that the one I bought was useless. If I had dry fired the gun in the store I would never have bought it, and I fired it at my home , so I could not take it back. The trigger pull required strong fingers, it was way too hard to pull and it was very long. The gun had a safety on it but to use it was impossible to get it off safe unless you had a knife or another object to prize it down. I trade the gun for a mangy dog and when I got home I shot the dog.

  8. I am a 1911 shooter, trained at Gunsite 77 and 78, so that makes 38yrs of steady full time carry concealed. I’m in my mid-60s now, and it’s hard to see my front sight clearly (or at all) in many light settings other than broad daylight. Five years ago, I bought a red Crimson Trace laser for an Officer Model, used it, finally took it off b/c it was side switch activated, and I don’t need something else to do when I am shooting for real. This year I bought a green Crimson Trace for a Govt Model, front activated, and it’s perfect. Guess I’ll sell the side switch unit and replace it with a front activation unit. Crimson Trace is practical and infinitely far ahead of all other competitors IMPO.

  9. I have been in two firefights in my life. In both cases I managed the element of surprise and bewilderment on the perpetrator.
    One attempted store armed robbery and one attempted home invasion.
    In each case I allowed the perp to see me with a wall to my back standing 3/4 toward them with gun draw, ready and two hand steady.with right arm tucked to my chest. In both cases the offenders said it wasn’t so much that I had a gun, it was that I was smiling at them without a word. Each knew I had full intent to protect and they knew they would not survive. The professional criminal said it best. The most feared in a crime is a woman with a gun protecting her child. They knew I would shoot without hesitation.

    1. By the way. There was gunfire in both cases yet I did not have to fire.
      As stated they just froze and gave up knowing they were milliseconds from death.

  10. Be it a flashlight or laser, I don’t like anything which shows my opponent where to shoot…. just follow the beam. That comes from 21+ years of military and law enforcement experience. The longer the light stays on, the longer the opponent has to track your position. Sort of like the old “three on a match” concept. By the time the third guy lights his smoke, the sniper has him drilled.

    In my home, in the middle of the night, I can see just fine just from the glow from the exterior lighting and street light, coupled with proper night vision tactics (use backlight to silhouette the perp, keep eyes moving, look sideways rather than straight on, and don’t stare at a bright light and expect to see when the light goes out).

    1. @ DaveW.

      Have you considered a “dazzler/photo strobe” system. With the Bright Pulsating Light, rends to confuse the mind of your opponent and also can cause great discomfort if expose to the light source over prolonged exposure.

  11. I would have to agree with the author, Aaron and take issue with some of what Joe says. Sure lasers are a great training tool. And yes there are gimmicky lasers. For instance, there was one made “especially” for Springfield Armory sub compact models that sits in front of the trigger guard…during stress fire, the user must always engage his support hand, find a ‘pin’ sized button to click on or click off!!! That was the biggest 100 dollar gun joke ever known.

    Therefore, for self protection, real professional equipment will allow pointing the gun, laser activation, and firing with one hand.

    Of course, lasers aren’t for everyone and that’s cool. Some claim that practice isn’t mandatory if battle ranges will always be at short distances.

    I would kindly suggest to joe that distances and conditions are never guaranteed Therefore the more one prepares for various conditions, the better their chances may be for survival. Secondly, although most gun conflicts may occur at 21 feet or less, the stress of a person shooting at you also can make it a little harder to focus on gun techniques, especially if you have been hit. You don’t ALWAYS know a gunfight will occur until an attacker has begun to reach for his weapon. AND WHO SAYS YOUR ATTACKER WILL BE STANDING STILL LIKE A TARGET AT THE GUN RANGE.

    To each his own but I think the combination of a moving target, the effect of loud noise, stress, and low light…..allows the ability to focus on a small red dot on your target and firing MAKES LASERS REALLY SHINE.

  12. I agree with Joe here. The only point I’d disagree with him on in terms of lasers is the LaserLyte LT-Pro. I have one and it allows me to perform dry fire exercises at home when I’m unable to get out to the range (which isn’t as often as I’d like since I have a 16 month old in the house to take care of).

  13. I’ve never been a fan of lasers. I think they are gimmicky and are totally unnecessary if a person knows and trains with their handgun. The large majority of defensive handgun fights occur at very short ranges (7 yards on average). If you train even a little with your handgun, hitting a human sized target at 7 yards should be fairly easy, even in low light conditions. A good flashlight is a much better investment. I also don’t like relying on batteries and switches on my gun. Just more things to worry about. Get out to the range and shoot your gun, then sell that laser to some other sucker.

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