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Advantages and Disadvantages of Visible Weapon Mounted Lasers

Lasers are neat! Who didn’t love the original Terminator flick and the “.45 Long Slide with laser sighting“? That was totally sweet!

It was also 1984. Keep that in mind.

Properly used, a laser can be a genuine force-multiplier for both real life encounters and training purposes; properly used, and properly understood.

There are many myths about lasers that need to be addressed first, however. One must understand truths vs. myths before getting into the real nuts and bolts of genuine visible weapon mounted laser advantages and disadvantages.

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Myths of Lasers (and why Hollywood is largely to blame)

Most of us don’t get gun advice from blockbuster films. Does anyone reallybelieve that magazines never come to an end after screening, ‘Suburban Commando’? I don’t think so. Be it due to ignorance, inexperience or some combination thereof it seems that lasers are held within their own special category wherein Hollywood mythos permeates into the thoughts and minds of otherwise perfectly rational and intelligent people.

“The bullet goes where the laser goes.”

This is probably the one I hear the most. It is also the one which is the least true. This statement should really read, “The bullet goes where the laser goes provided the laser is properly zeroed at XYZ distance, the target is XYZ distance away, and all human and environmental error is eliminated, i.e. only if the shooter is a robot, shooting indoors under perfect conditions”.

The above folds right into the next myth.

“Lasers are more accurate.”

Though that may work for the Terminator it doesn’t work for either you or I. (Note: if you are a cybernetic organism from the future feel free to disregard this advice.) This statement or something like it may also be one of the reasons some purport that a laser can and will somehow overcome insufficient training. This is incorrect. Even assuming the laser device is properly zeroed there are still many human errors that come into play. Some include:

-Improper Trigger squeeze (Jerking etc)

-Recoil anticipation

-Improper grip/hold

In short: anything that happens between acquiring the target and pulling the trigger.

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“Lasers are faster than using iron sights.”

Instead of addressing issues such as target focusing and chasing, let me say this: Go get a shot clock and try some drills for yourself. I have never seen a laser beat irons in a speed contest (provided irons can actually be used; more on that in a minute).

For some reason, lately I’ve seen this question crop up on various gun forums and during shooting events:

“What’s more important on an SD/HD pistol, a light or a laser?”

The answer is, most definitely, a white light. While lasers may assist the shooter in some situations (outlined below) a laser will positively not assist in positive target identification. Positive target identification is something that is totally paramount for both defensive and offensive shooting scenarios.

After all of that, you’d think that I don’t advocate visible lasers but you’d be incorrect. Let’s talk about some realistic uses for them.


My very favorite use of lasers is for training. Some of the training techniques described require the cooperation of a friend or camera, but nothing that includes a hen’s tooth or an eye of newt.

Tracking Angular Deviation.

One of the reasons why shooting a pistol has a larger learning curve than shooting a rifle is because of the relative lack of firm support. Any sort of angular deviation of the muzzle of a pistol is exponentially increased downrange (be that 15m or 300m). While this may be easy to demonstrate to college math majors on a piece of paper, it’s far easier to simply demonstrate this with a laser on a pistol to the layman.Advantages and Disadvantages of Visible Weapon Mounted Lasers photo

Speaking of angular deviation, let’s talk about human error. In the Mythos part of this article, I talked about various errors one can make. A laser can clearly demonstrate bad trigger pull, recoil anticipation or other problem by virtue of simply having recording video downrange (or having a knowledgeable range buddy giving proper input).

Dedicated Demonstration Guns

One of the best demonstration pistols currently on the market is the Next Level Training (NLT) SIRT gun. Why? Because unlike a Blue Gun, it shows “hits” quickly and accurately. It is unable to accept and feed actual, live, ammunition; in short, SIRT pistols also allow the user to perform enhanced dry-fire repetitions. Why do I say enhanced? Because the shooter gets immediate feedback.

NPOA (Natural Point of Aim) Exercises

Frankly, I find the phrase, ‘Natural Point of Aim’ to be a bit of a misnomer. NPOA can be both taught and engendered (doesn’t fit well with that whole, ‘Natural’ term, does it?) NPOA falls into the same league as ‘instinctive fire’ and, ‘reflexive fire,’ i.e. although you cannot learn it from a two or three day course, you can grasp it via time and repetition.

My favorite action regarding the development of NPOA requires both a partner and a properly zeroed visible laser. In this drill the “Shooter” keeps his/her eyes closed and the partner calls out a target (a light switch, door knob, picture etc). The “shooter” points the weapon, with an active laser, at said named target and then opens their eyes to see how close they were (via the laser) to said target. Some onlookers invariably call it a ‘parlor trick’ the first time it is seen. We call it a good NPOA drill combined with demonstrating knowledge of the environment.

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Other Uses of Visible Lasers

Military/LEO Use

Visible lasers serve another purpose: escalation of force. Due to the ‘hollywood mentality’ many people have about lasers, they [the public of any nation] may buy into the mythos. As such, multiple visible lasers blazing through a windshield of a vehicle failing to slow when approaching a military checkpoint may stop the vehicle before deadly force has to be used. If an officer has to draw his gun, a visible laser may change the intent of the suspect before deadly force has to be used.

There are many other military uses for lasers (especially IR) but we’ll leave those for a later article.

Unconventional Shooting Positions

Right here is the real meat of lasers for defensive use. If one is involved in a situation where, due to cover/concealment issues, they have to take a shot at someone from an awkward or uncomfortable shooting position, a laser can help make that hit.

Closing Thoughts

Whatever laser system one decides to use, that person should do a lot of research first. It may be harder to find a holster that accommodates a laser. Some have better reputations regarding battery longevity and retaining zero over time than others. Lasers have become more compact and durable as time has gone on; they have also come down significantly in price. As such, many aftermarket products have come out in recent years (such as laser-sensitive targets for home use and even some iPad/iPhone apps). For less than the cost of a case of ammunition one can obtain a visible laser and the assorted accoutrement for hundreds of thousands of rounds of practice.

About the author: An experienced Marine combat veteran, Dave Merrill was formerly an urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men. Dave is currently an instructor and operating manager for MilCopp Tactical. MilCopp teaches and advocates a constantly evolving amalgamated method of military and law enforcement tactics. These TTP’s are based on a combination of hard lessons learned and practical real-world results.

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