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Should Tactical Lights Be Handheld or Gun-Mounted?

Should Tactical Lights Be Handheld or Gun-Mounted?

Posted by Warrior Poet Society on Jul 21st 2023

There’s no question that a high-lumen and versatile light should be in every defender’s toolkit. About 80 percent of violent encounters happen during hours of limited visibility. But there is some debate about how lights should be deployed during a tactical encounter. Sure it’s convenient to have a mounted light that points wherever you aim your gun, but is it the most effective use of this tool? 

Once upon a time, I was an Army Ranger, and if we couldn’t see, we couldn’t fight. Most of our missions took place during low-light or no-light hours. Owning the night meant owning the battle. 

This is why as a tactical instructor I’ve taught lots of low-light tactics involving night vision and the many uses of flashlights when engaged in violent encounters. 

Flashlights aren’t just for seeing inside cars and houses. Lights are important for navigation and even communication between teams. They can be used to surprise, intimidate, control, distract, and deceive the enemy. 

It can temporarily shut down a person’s will to fight. If you’ve ever had 2,000 lumens in your eyeballs in a previously-darkened room, you’ll know what I mean. 

I have a whole bunch of experience dealing with what really works and what really doesn't work. Knowing when and how to use lights and when not to is of critical importance. A rinky dink gun-mounted light used at the wrong time, for instance, just becomes a bullet magnet So your light needs to be versatile, powerful, and durable. 

All my tactical field experience in the Rangers and in training events has heavily influenced my opinion on the handheld versus mounted debate. Ideally you should probably use both handheld and gun-mounted, but if you have to choose just one, I am definitely handheld all the way. Still, let me lay out the good and the bad.

The Convenience and Comfort Factor of the Handheld Flashlight

I have to admit, when I’ve been driving an interstate for hours and I need to make a pit stop at a gas station where I feel fairly certain I’m not going to be mugged for the five minutes I’m in there, and all I’ve got is my full-size pistol with its blinding X300 SureFire light on it, there are times I’m tempted not to holster up. 

This is rare, because usually I’ll appendix-carry my subcompact, and this has a hard time supporting the kind of mounted light I require. So I’ll go with a handheld light for my EDC. 

In other words, pocket-carrying a handheld light actually encourages me to conceal carry more consistently, because there’s no compulsion to carry the large gun a large light requires. Of course there are times when life calls for the big guns and the big lights, but don’t let a big gun-mounted light determine your everyday carry. 

Carry the combo that encourages you to carry it consistently. This is one reason a subcompact weapon and handheld light are my EDC combo. 

John’s EDC Combo WarPoet CR920 | SureFire Stiletto

Handheld Flashlights Don’t Usually Cause Legal Problems

With a handheld, subcompact combo, I don't have to point my gun at something to be able to use my light. This is significant. 

If I'm walking through the Walmart parking lot at night with my family and I sense something suspicious lurking between the rows of cars, I don’t have to brandish my weapon to see who’s there. I can keep my gun where it is and shine my bright white light instead. 

This could be enough to encourage any would-be perps to find an easier target, and it keeps me from the legal mess that comes with brandishing a firearm. You want to be able to use your light for other purposes than the need for lethal force. Do you really want to have to use your 9mm to find your keys?

Handheld Flashlights Give You More Tactical Flexibility

As I mentioned before, flashlights are used in tactical scenarios as a weapon all their own. They are important tools for psychological warfare. 

You can deceive and distract, drawing fire to where my body isn’t. I extend my arm around an obstruction and flash it toward a possible ambush location. They shoot at the light, and reveal their location. Only, they’re shooting at the light, not at me. 

If I just want to stun or intimidate a perp in a dark alleyway, or just want to make them think twice about their intent, a powerful handheld does wonders on night-adjusted pupils. 

And as mentioned before, it’s difficult to get a 2000 lumen light that properly fits a subcompact pistol, which, of course, is the kind of pistol I’m more likely to EDC.

Now for the Mounted Lights

In situations where I’m outfitted for full-on battle, I’m more likely to carry a full-size pistol on my war belt with a powerful mounted light, and there are some significant advantages to this set up. 

If you’re in a scenario where fast and accurate is your only consideration, then being able to manage your weapon without balancing a handheld flashlight provides you the quickest deployment. Reloads with a handheld are really balancing act as well. They’re possible but certainly not the easiest to do while holding a flashlight.

Mounted Lights Provide a One-Package Deal

If you’re comfortable with holstering a full-size pistol with a full-size mounted light, and you’re committed to carrying that thing as your EDC, you certainly have a simpler all-in-one set up. And if your light is only there for sending rounds accurately down range, then the mounted light is certainly your best bet. 

You can deploy quickly from one location and put a shining on target pretty quickly. This could be a necessity in some situations. I’d still be more comfortable with a handheld option in my pocket. Whichever combination you choose, get good with your gun and your light. It’ll pay dividends when the split seconds really count. 

The split seconds and the lowlight fights are won by those who Train Hard. Train Smart. Stay Free.


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