Safety and Training

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?


About the Author:

Oleg Volk

Oleg Volk is a creative director working mainly in firearms advertising. A great fan of America and the right to bear arms, he uses his photography to support the right of every individual to self-determination and independence. To that end, he is also a big fan of firearms.
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 (14)

  1. I bought a Bersa Thunder .380 with a Crimson Trace laser in the right handgrip. If I had tried the laser in a really dark room before I bought the gun (which I have put back up for sale) I would have passed. Not only does the laser light up my right hand, giving away my position, but the parallax was such that the POI and POA (for the laser) only matched at 8-to 10 feet. Beyond that the laser pointed to the left and above the POI. I didn’t realize how much until I tried the laser at distances of 20 to 25-feet. If I were faced with a hostage situation, the laser would be far enough off to make the shot difficult and perhaps dangerous for the hostage. I will buy another pistol with a laser, but it will be one that mounts on a rail beneath the muzzle. That won’t show my hand and it will only have parallax issues in the vertical plane, not also the horizontal as on grip-mounted lasers. This was my first foray into lasers so it was (and is) a learning process.

  2. Lasers are excellent for use when iron sights are inadequate, which is for about 12 hours per day, depending on the season.
    Zero your laser sight for 50 feet or more distance.
    Guys who wear glasses may hear a bump in the night and have their gun nearby with the laser. The gun will be effective instantly, and the owner will have confidence it will hit where he wants it to.
    The only alternative to a laser sight during the 12 hours of low light is a flashlight, so you decide which is for you. If they make a flashlight that has a narrow beam then it’s nearly the same thing, you will hit where the light hits the target.
    The laser has other uses mentioned previously, such as dry firing and seeing how the laser moves with trigger pulls, etc.
    The laser also helps you gain confidence in your ability to hit what you are aiming at.
    I think the green lasers are a waste and pointless. During daylight iron sights work great, and during the nighttime you can see the red laser just fine.
    Any gun I own would have a laser on it at night, the arguments against it are all baloney.

  3. This is the punish Pistol-Mounted Lasers in Combat journal for anyone who wants to move out out nearly this theme. You request so overmuch its virtually exhausting to present with you (not that I truly would want…HaHa). You definitely put a new rotation on a theme thats been printed most for age. Squeamish nonsense, simply outstanding!

  4. I’ve had several glocks(17, 19 & 40) with red laser mounts.
    What’s the best gun for a laser, and what’s the best laser for that gun?
    I ask because, even though I loved the guns, I didn’t love the lasers.

  5. I have two concealed carry handguns with Crimson Trace laser grips mounted, a Colt Commander in .45 acp and a S&W 325 Night Guard revolver also in .45 acp, though I mostly carry the 1911. What I’ve noticed is a distinct difference in shooting/aiming stance when firing these guns with and without the laser.

    Looking down the sights with the laser on obscures sight of the light “dot” on the target. I end up shooting the gun from a head raised stance with little regard for “proper” grip or sight alignment technique. This works well with the laser on, but there is a training glitch induced on the first shot as a result; I have to check the target (or the grip switch) before settling into the appropriate sighting stance (head down/focus on front sight vs head up/focus on laser dot placement). As a result, I routinely carry my guns (and practice with them) with the laser off, reserving the alternate sighting option for those times conditions allow a change to the laser.

    I concur with Oleg that the laser makes an excellent training device, especially to self-check, for flinch, trigger-pull and grip problems.

  6. Brock Manson:

    Three reasons why your response is wide of the mark.

    1) Most of “the best shooters in the world” have been shooting, and competing, since long before modern lasers were available, and don’t NEED them to shoot well. Because they’ve built up years or decades of tactics, training and muscle memory around iron sights, they will achieve relatively less improvement with them. I learned to shoot rifles with iron sights, and I don’t get much advantage from red-dot optics if I’ve got a good ghost ring rear with a high contrast front. I don’t NEED one to compete in 3 gun or place in the top few percent at local IPSC matches. But when I have one I am marginally faster and slightly more accurate, and a newbie or journeyman shooter is a LOT faster and more accurate with one than without. I used to finish in the top few places in almost all of my matches pretty handily, with only a few of the same guys always at the top of the list and not much in the way of close competition. Now, it’s a near thing, with many newbies nipping at our heels because of the advantages of red-dot sights.

    2)Lasers on pistols aren’t ALLOWED in most forms of pistol competition (at least where I shoot) unless they are on unlimited pistols, in which case the size and weight of a full optic isn’t a drawback, so competitors shoot them instead. Service pistols can’t shoot them. When we had an informal night club shoot a while back, though, with no unlimited guns and people allowed to mount lights and lasers on their stock gear, ALL the winners had lights and lasers on their gear.

    3) Where would Todd Jarrett fit in your list of “the best shooters in the world?” He’s a pretty strong proponent of using lasers for training and carry.


  7. I simply don’t have the time nor the money to go out and shoot enough to get precise with my skill.
    Having a laser on my concealed handgun allows me to squire my target without blocking my right side view and I can also light up my intended target while keeping my full field of vision on everyone else around me.
    For those of you who think lasers are for unskilled or under educated people who are “a danger to others”, you need to realize that most of us have lives to live and children to raise. There isn’t time for a dedicated focused training regimen.
    But if I ever have to pull my weapon on someone, I will take any advantage I can get!

    P.S. Having a laser on a handgun is a fantastic asset if you are in a close-in holdup situation and you have access to your gun but can’t be so obvious as to raise it up to your eye. You can literally shoot from any position and accurately dispatch the individual.
    So please spare us with your purist opinions about these things. A laser is just another little helper. not a crutch-
    Have a great day!

  8. A note on focusing on the front sight — if your eyes are on the sight three feet in front of you, they are not on the adversary (or possible innocent bystanders) fifty feet out. With optical sights on rifles and lasers on pistols, you can keep the foe in focus and know if he’s acting aggressively, surrendering or perhaps has a hostage in front of him. Front sight focus was a technical necessity brought on by the technological limitations, not the most desired condition for tactical reasons.

  9. The greatest shooters are seldom firing in low light, from compromised positions, and they train a great deal more. Like iron sights themselves, lasers trade speed for precision.
    The problem with being a good target is real, but that’s where light-laser combination work well. A white light set to strobe mode makes it hard for the other side to aim or even keep their eyes open due to the rapid change in the light level. The shooter with the strobe/laser combo observes reflected rather than direct light and can maintain awareness due to persistence of vision between strobe cycles.

  10. Simply stunning.

    Nothing I see here mentions the greatest detractor of a laser: that it keeps people’s eyes from where they should be — on their front sight.

    Having a laser causes people to “chase” said laser around the target, rather than focusing on the front sight. Ask yourself this question: if lasers are so amazingly great, why is it that none of the best shooters in the world — those who don’t worry about the cost factor described here — don’t use them, despite their availability for well over a decade?

    If you choose to use a laser on your pistol, do me a favor — don’t leave your house with it. You’re a danger to yourself and those around you.

  11. Some of the less-skilled shooters I see in classes purchase lasers for their guns thinking that the laser will somehow correct bad trigger control and help them not shoot low-left as much as they do. The other common reasons include a mystical belief that someone will see a red dot on his/her chest and comply (because under stress the first place people look is on their chest), and a belief that a laser is important for low light shooting.

    A laser, when combined with light (Streamlight TLR-2 or Surefire X400 or similar), set up to come on at the same time, with a momentary switch, can be a useful tool for low light shooting. A laser that always comes on when you grip the pistol, not as much. Put an “always on” laser on a red gun, have a friend hide in a dark room, and have him or her call out when they have a target to shoot at, as you enter the room with your laser in permanent “on” mode. From the business end that small red dot stands out very well in the dark and makes a great target.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.