Carrying a gun without knowing the law? Words just fail me. (sticky)

If you carry a gun for self-defense, you have to know the law.  Just because you are skilled at driving a car does not mean that you know the laws of the road and are safe driving on them.

Invest the money you’d spend on shaving a tenth of a second off your splits with Andrew Branca’s book or seminars — it’ll pay far greater dividends. Visit this link to learn more, and use the discount code “streetstandards” for a 10% discount.

Also, strongly consider shooting self-defense legal “insurance” plans.  They are NOT all the same.  I believe in the model and services of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network.  This link explains the different models of after-the-event legal aid.  Caveat emptor!


Policing needs reform; don’t blame the police

If you get a bad car, do you blame the workers who made the car?  No; you understand that the workers simply implemented the design, using the manufacturing process, that they were handed.  You understand that it’s the process, not the people, that’s to blame.

It’s the same with the problems in policing these days.

I came to police work as an adult in my mid-30s.  Along with the decade-plus of life experience that that implied, it also meant I had a fully formed frontal cortex – the part of the brain that makes judgements and decisions.  (The frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until at least 30, which explains why the words “young” and “stupid” are so often paired in a sentence.)   And while I was raised in a blue-collar family, I was then in a white-collar profession, which added another unusual twist to my perspective.  Later I spent some years in management consulting, adding a private-sector management perspective to my way of thinking.  And finally, for years, I spent a lot of time at conferences and training events with some of the very best hearts and minds in the police business, giving me insight into the way the top 1% of the profession thinks and behaves.

I have come to believe that the police profession needs some significant reform.  Now, when I say “significant”, I mean that some central things need to be re-thought; I do not mean that the system is FUBAR, needs to be blown-up, or that most cops on the job aren’t good people doing a darn good job within the constraints they face.  I’ve worked with many such excellent officers locally, for example, and I’m proud both of them and the 20 years I spent doing the job.  (For a complimentary perspective from one really good cop, see Greg Ellifritz’s piece: “Peace Officers vs. “Law Enforcement Officers”.)

But the very nature of policing is that “very good on average” isn’t good enough.  The job is too important, and too central to a free society, to be done merely “very well”.  You wouldn’t want your heart surgeon to be “pretty good on average”…because the job is too important.  Likewise, policing.

Here’s the main symptoms of the problem that I’ve seen (my root cause analysis follows):

  • I speak for anyone with some experience in the field when I say that we have too many “kid cops” on the job these days: immature, inexperienced, incompetent, cowardly, either lazy or over-zealous, and generally unsuited for the job
  • Cops sometimes make serious serious mistakes, often tragic ones.  In the context of the hundreds of millions of citizen contacts over the course of a year in the U.S., these are tiny in number — teeny tiny.  But they get a lot of publicity and do far more damage to the reputation of the profession (and by extension to its effective practice) than their immediate tragic consequences.  Almost all of these mistakes are completely avoidable.  Yes, the law of large numbers says that mistakes will happen, but we have a way to go before we are at only that statistically inevitable number.  Yes, many of these mistakes are “good faith” mistakes, but they’re mistakes nonetheless.  That said, the reasons cops have to, say, shoot someone, aren’t always clear to someone uninitiated in the tactics of the situation; what appear to be bad decisions or even murders to a lay person (or politically motivated activist) are sometimes in fact good, even necessary, actions.
  • For an anger-inducing compilation of some recent serious mistakes, see this guy’s list here.  (I know nothing about this guy other that what I read on his website.  I doubt I agree with him about much; he seems like a very angry person.)  I can argue the cop’s side of things on some of these events — even as I argue that many shouldn’t have happened.  But still, it’s a bad list.
  • Cops are too often rude to the general public (I’m talking about the people they serve and the taxpayers that pay their salary — not the genuine BGs).  Been guilty of that myself a couple times, and ever since I’ve kicked myself over them.  Never should have happened.  (OTOH I’ve had complaints about being concerned and polite, but that’s another story.)

OK, so far nothing new to anyone.  Now here’s where my (probably unique, or close there to) perspective may come in.  Here’s what I see as the root causes of these symptoms.  And they aren’t the cops themselves:

  1. Policing is viewed as a blue-collar job, not a high-status profession.  It’s viewed, for the most part, as a civil-service, union-protected, public-sector job, that almost anyone can do — not an inspired calling.  (And for the wrong kind of person, a job that also comes with a badge and gun.)
  2. Policing is often boring.  Boring jobs attract, or breed, some people happy to be not busy.
  3. Policing in the United States is Balkanized (fragmented).  Every state, and most towns and cities, have their own selection criteria, training curriculum, performance standards, pay scale, and even laws to be enforced.  There’s little to no standardization among agencies.  This and civil service rules lead to…
  4. Lack or cross-pollination among agencies.  In the private sector, a company pulls talent from anywhere in the world into whatever position that person can best contribute.  But a cop that moves from one agency to another has to start at the bottom of the rank, pay, and seniority ladder (the chief’s position usually being the exception).  So no agency can effectively pull in middle- or upper- management talent from another.  Providence effectively can’t hire a great sergeant or captain from Boston, and so on.  This leads to inbreeding of personnel, procedures, training, and internal politics.  New, fresh, and good ideas don’t spread throughout the profession the way they should.  In the private sector, a new CEO immediately staffs the company with fresh talent, at least a the top; not so in the government sector.
  5. Related to the 1, 3, and 4 above, most cops are local boys and girls.  Policing is strictly a local job  – yet another indication of its non-profession status.  I had a young friend in Massachusetts who, upon deciding that he wanted to be a cop, interviewed at agencies all across the U.S.; at LAPD they were dumbfounded as to why he was there.  Part of the problem is that in some states (like mine) you first have to be hired by a department, then you’re sent to the academy (while drawing a salary), and when you get out you have to go to work for that department.  If you want to change agencies, you’re certification is only good within the state.  Some states have a better process in which you, at your own expense, go to a community college to study law enforcement (a.k.a. criminal justice) and you get your certification there.  Once graduated you can apply for open jobs anywhere in the state.  But you’re still limited to the one state (with occasional reciprocity).
  6. Low standards.  It’s no secret that recruit standards have fallen considerably over the last decades.  Physically of course, but also as everyone knows, mentally (test scores), and also psychologically (Minneapolis, for example, has dropped almost all of its psychological screening because it was screening out too many minorities.)  I’ve been on academy training grounds where barely a single recruit could hit the target with their pistol, but the instructors had to pass them anyway because…well, I think you know.
  7. Low pay.  Yes, I know that some police jobs pay quite well – these are usually federal and some state police positions.  But at the local level the pay can be pretty low – low enough that raising a family on it isn’t possible.  This problem is worse in the South in my experience, where deputies make barely above the minimum wage in many places.  Heck, I even know of state police commanders making not a lot more.  You only get great people in low paying jobs because of altruism, there’s only so much of that to go around, and in any case it has a pretty short half-life. One of my pet peeves here is using cops for off-duty traffic details.  These privately-paid gigs pay much better than their actual job, and cops soak them up.  As a result they routinely work 16 hour days, boosting their income to a nice level, but at the cost of their health, marriages, alertness, and job effectiveness.  This is not the way to raise cops’ pay.
  8. Lack of respect.  I’ve had bad experiences with cops (even when I was one).  I trust the reports of minorities that I know (or know of) who relate stories of undue hassle.  But this does not reasonably translate into a wholesale condemnation of all one million cops (in the U.S.), or of the entire profession.  A few vocal activists and their media accomplices  have nonetheless done just that, and labeled routine, legal, effective, appreciated, community policing as racist.  No one wants to go into a job where merely doing it gets you labeled as a racist, so naturally you get fewer good recruits as a result.

Here’s what I see as reform solutions (numbers correlated to the root causes above).  In a nutshell: make police work prestigious, well-paying, difficult to get into, and demanding to stay in.  (Why yes, I am familiar with the terms “pipe dream” and “pissing into the wind”.)

  1. Policing needs to be made into a true profession, complete with very high standards of selection, training, and ongoing performance.  To include rigorous continuing education/training requirements, and national accrediting bodies.  It should be hard to become a police officer, and easy to be fired for truly bad behavior or not meeting performance standards, but hard to be fired for actually doing your job.
  2. Much of the really boring administrative and paperwork stuff, and much of the non-dangerous activities (like office-based investigations) can be given over to non-sworn personnel.  Keep the dangerous, street-based stuff for the guys and gals with the guns.  This would lower overall costs (allowing the cops to be paid more), and by reducing the number of cops, reduce the pressures on inappropriate selection.
  3. Fragmentation leads to bad outcomes; total centralization leads to bad outcomes; we need to find the right balance.  We are totally fragmented now and we could use a greater degree of national standards regarding selection, training, and performance evaluation.   I’m told that countries like Norway with a significantly centralized selection and training process, have had good things come of it  (although they naturally have problems, particularly the inevitable ones that come from any large-scale undertaking, especially a political one).  I know that this is a balancing act; what I’m suggesting that we are not as balanced as we can or should be in this regard.
  4. This should be easy to solve.  Chiefs should be able to hire the best people – into lateral positions or promotions – without loss of pay or benefits to the sought-after officer.  Make policing part of a national civil service.
  5. If it pays well and has national career mobility, then the profession will attract good people from across the nation. If there are nationally-recognized certification programs in law enforcement, just as there are in medicine or engineering, officers can move about freely without loss of pay or grade, allowing their talents and experience to percolate throughout the profession, enriching it just as the free movement of, for example, engineers, enriches their profession.
  6. To be sure, police agencies had a racial, ethnic, and sex gap relative to their communities for a long time, which is bad – the entity that enforces the rules of society ought to reflect that society.  The way to fix that, however, is to give preference once an appropriate standard has been met, not to lower the standard.  Poorly selected officers only hurt the very segments of society that they were selected to represent.
  7. Implementing very high selection and retention standards allows us to demand high pay.  In fact you can’t have the former without the latter.  Paying well would diminish the allure of energy-draining law enforcement-related side-jobs.  Public safety is one of the very few essential, foundational jobs of government.  It (and the justice system) should be fully funded before we fund silly things like art centers…or almost anything else.
  8. I think that implementing the above reforms would go a long way towards reducing inappropriate police behavior and restoring respect for law enforcement.  Ultimately this is a cultural issue, which is above my pay grade.  But it is certainly as true as it is often derided, that “culture counts”.  In fact, nothing counts more.

So today we have a totally fragmented profession, with poor entry standards, poor retention criteria, inbred procedures, poor pay, lack of mobility, that’s of fundamental importance to society, and that is difficult to understand from the outside.  And we’re surprised that so many people mistrust or hate the police, and that whole police-hate movements can get traction?

I’ll end with a saying that anyone who’s taken Management 101 has heard: Every system  is already perfectly designed…to achieve the results it’s getting.

How to pay only $60 for your next training course – the best you’ve ever had

“How can this be,” you ask?  “How can a first-rate training course be had for so little?”

It’s easy.  Don’t take one.  (h/t here, albeit obliquely, to Steve Martin’s famous old routine.)

Because, as Ken Hackathorn points out, you probably already shoot well enough (if you don’t, well, then go ahead and take that course you were planning on).

But my way’s still gonna cost you about $60, and it’ll still be the best experience you’ve had.

First, buy an inert replica of your handgun.  Blueguns are great if it’s not a Glock (Glock won’t let the Blueguns folks sell Bluegun Glocks to the public), or use an airsoft replica.  That’s $50.

Second, buy my DVD on how to safely conduct force-on-force simulations from the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and Armorers Association here (I make not so much as a penny on the sale).  There’s another $10.  Several cops, and God knows how many civilians, are killed each year during simulations with “unloaded” weapons.  Do NOT use a real gun – even one that you know is unloaded.  Ever.  Get an inert replica, and watch my DVD.  And stick to the protocol!

Stick to the protocol!

Don’t even load the airsoft guns – just say “bang”.

Then search for real-life violent altercations caught on camera.  There’s lots of them.  John over at Active Self Protection posts a few a day.

Then, STICKING TO THE SAFETY PROTOCOL OUTLINED IN MY DVD, re-enact them with your buddies.  Go ahead, ad lib, and modify them to make them more relevant to you, BUT KEEP THEM SIMPLE AND SHORT.  Simple.  Short.

Then discuss what you did, debug it, and re-run the scenario until you get it right.

You’re trying to learn to: 1) pick up on the cues of impending attacks, 2) react with the appropriate level of force, if force is necessary at all (use a tomato sauce can as an inert OC canister), 3) verbally control a situation effectively, including challenging if appropriate, and 4) good judgement.  This last is of two kinds – to defend yourself in time, and more important (because it’s likely to be your deficit), learn to not use force until it’s absolutely necessary…and legally justifiable.  (If you don’t know what’s legally justifiable, you HAVE TO read Andrew Branca’s book, the Law of Self Defense.  I’m assuming that any half-way responsible gun owner has already done this.)

There’s no other way to learn this stuff, and it’s far more valuable than learning how to shoot a Bill Drill faster.

Far, far and away more valuable.














), learn appropriate and effective verbalization, challenge, and control skills, and (don’t forget this part) 4) drill home the aftermath skills (witness management, leave or stay decisions, calling the cops, etc.)

The unwitting incompetence of too many rifle owners

The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed–where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.” — U. S. Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski

Judge Kozinski is hardly a right-wing nut – after all he served on the ultra left-wing Ninth Circuit.  I fully appreciate and support his sentiment here.  Every society in history that disarmed its citizens ultimately devolved into tyranny, because power is increasingly self-accumulating without constraints.  It’s happening more slowly in the 21st century perhaps, and the iron hand of tyranny is often clothed in a velvet glove, but the inexorable laws of human nature tell us that it will happen.  I don’t see it soon, or even in my lifetime here in the U.S., but I’m not optimistic for my descendants (if I had any) in the long run.

That’s a long way around saying that I value the fact that citizens can own and train with military weapons.  It’s a rare right that Americans have, and we should  do all we can to preserve and exercise it.  We’re talking, of course, mainly about AR-15s and their variants.  It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that every American should own and know how to use one.

Make no mistake about my position.

And yet, perspective is appropriate.  This is 2018, in America.  Your pistol (or revolver, for gentlemen) is the weapon you will need for self-protection.  Some couple million times a year Americans exercise their second amendment right, for real.  With handguns.  I don’t know the number of times a rifle would have improved those outcomes, but I’ve got a chunk o’ change that says it’s de minimis.

And yet the kids (of every age), with week-end scuff and 5.11 rags, want to learn all the advanced secret-Delta-ninja-SEAL-SWAT tricks of using a rifle.  (Spoiler: there ain’t any – it’s all basics, all the way down.)  Because, you know, they might need it, like, you know, at the mall, like tomorrow.

First, and most relevant, no one schleps a rifle around on their person.  Rifles live in vehicles, houses, and safes.  You will have to run and get it if you need it.  And yet, in contradiction, violence is, as John Farnam says, a “come as you are affair”.  Right here, right now.

Second, and nothing personal here, but you don’t know what you don’t know, and I don’t necessarily trust you with a rifle in public.  A rifle assumes long range, and the longer the range the more confused, chaotic, and uncertain the situation is, and the more moving parts there are to the problem.  You may know how to shoot the rifle – you probably do, it’s not difficult.  But do you have the experience — stress-tested experience – to process the far greater amount of information that you have to in, say an active shooter event, than you have to in a personal armed robbery or assault?  Do you have the practiced, proven ability to remain calm in that situation so that you can make good judgements?  Can you understand and process chaotic events happening 25 to 100 yards away (is your eyesight even good enough to do that)?  Have you ever done scenario training in a long-range, many-person, interactive, 3-D environment — or has all your rifle training been on the range?  Do you even have good – that is, stress-tested good – judgement under extreme stress and in overwhelming chaos?  How do you know?

I know, and know of, a few people who can answer “yes” to all the above, and who  almost always have a rifle nearby.  That makes me feel good – their environment is safer for their presence.  Conversely, I know of (but fortunately don’t know personally) some people who make a point of carrying a rifle everywhere, who can’t.  That makes me uneasy.

The idiocy of vehicle fighting classes

I’m hear tell of a lot of back and forth on the internet (where else?) lately about shooting from/around cars.  I’ve only had a little training in this – not much, and certainly not enough to speak as even a very low-end SME – but I have two observations.

  1. There are a few things that are simple facts, these facts place severe constraints on the use of a vehicle in a fight, and people seem to forget about them in their zeal to TRAIN LIKE  SEALZZZ.
  2. There’s one fact that I haven’t seen discussed much if at all, and that makes the use of vehicles as cover even more problematic; this is something that fire fighters know more about than cops.

Physical facts about vehicles

  • The only thing on a car that can half-way reasonably stop bullets is the engine block.  The engine block is the only cover on a non-armored car.
  • Yes, other parts of the car will maybe deflect bullets.  So if the BG is a) a precision marksman and b) is aiming at my center of mass, and c) I’m not moving, it’s sure a relief to know that I’ll only get hit somewhere other than my center of mass.  Probably.
  • There isn’t even much concealment on a car.  The posts (pillars) will only conceal part of you, and anywhere except behind the tires you also have a foot of exposure  on your feet and lower legs…
  • …and it’s easy to, and fairly well-known how to, skim rounds along the ground to hit those exposed feet and legs.
  • So behind the engine block and the front tires is your only half-way reasonable option.
  • Yes, all this sucks.

About those pillars

Well, the pillars are better than nothing, right?  Let’s ignore the fact that standing behind them you fully reveal your location – and provide a good aiming point – for the BGs that you’re fighting.  Let’s ignore the fact that they aren’t cover.  Let’s remember (or learn) that inside those pillars are cylinders of compressed gas that fire and fill the pillar airbags.  These cylinders pose a severe threat to fire fighters during a vehicle extrication.  They do to you, too.  They’re little bombs/projectiles, right next to your body, that pose a real threat to your retirement plans should the pillar take an incoming round.

Besides, why you shooting anyway?

Your car has a couple hundred horsepower powering more than a ton of vehicle.  Why are you shooting instead of driving anyway?  The only reason would be that you can’t drive away, which in turn means that your car is pinned in or disabled.  If pinned in, there’s ways to drive out of that (usually).  If disabled, well, let’s think about this.  You’re saying that you now plan to fight – surprised, alone, and with only a pistol (get real – yes only a pistol) – the team of BGs that had the skill and did the planning to disable your car.  Seriously, your best tactic here is to make sure your life insurance is paid up.  Or live a better lifestyle.

Look, I’ve bailed out of cars, laid sideways, and fired my rifle from underneath the car.  Ran around and shot targets from behind the trunk.  Good fun.  My biceps and penis got bigger.  But now as a civilian, if I thought there was even a small chance I’d need those skills, I’d move to Kabul where it’s safe.

Fighting from or around cars is a bad, low-probability situation.  It’s bad enough for teams of mil guys in full armor.  It’s even worse for a lone, unarmored civilian.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can train yourself to have a good shot at success (no pun intended).  Honestly, there’s better ways to spend your training time than at a “vehicle fighting” course.

But then you can’t be a wannabe SEAL.

You should not carry a gun…

Do you have a right to read any book you want to?  Including Mein Kampf?  Racist screeds?  Conspiracy theories?  Sure you do.  Should you?

Do you have a right to vote?  Even if you can’t identify your state’s federal senators?  If you’ve never read an economics book?  If you can’t accurately articulate the roles of the three branches of government?  Sure you do.  Should you?

Do you have a right to carry any gun that’s legal to buy?  Even if you don’t have a clue about the law of lethal force?  If you have no training?  If you can’t shoot worth shit (despite the fact that all men are born with the innate ability to shoot from the hip and hit targets 100 yards away)?  Sure you do.  Should you?

The answer to “Should you?” in all cases above is “no”.


Children whine about rights.  Adults recognize that all rights come with concomitant  responsibilities and practice them.

Training to shoot (too) fast is jail practice

I’ve stressed in several posts below (here for example), and in a few of my videos that one of the training scars we get from “tactical” training is ingraining too-fast shooting.  After all, we all want to shoot fast and straight, with small splits, right?  Wrong.  We should not be shooting any faster than we can assess what’s going on in front of our muzzle, because we are responsible for every shot we take.  That’s the way your DA looks at it, and that’s the way every responsible person should look at it.

Most people think I’m kinda an east-coast sissy for suggesting that we not train to shoot fast.

Well, here below are the comments of a not-east-coast, not-sissy on the subject.  Marty Hayes runs the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, my choice of self-defense shooting insurance.  He’s a seasoned street cop and a practicing attorney who has seen lots of the good and the bad things that people do to help or hurt them when trying to stay out of prison.  His experience is in the real, cold world of the courtroom, not the teenage, testosterone-infused, ignorant, experience-free rants of the range and gun store.

The excerpt below from an interview with Marty in ACLDN’s latest (free) newsletter:

“…I pull my hair out when I hear garbage like, “You have to get your shot to shot times down to two-tenth of a second splits.” Give me a break! This isn’t a darned IPSC match, you know, and you are not Rob Leatham…Every time you pull the trigger, it needs to be a purposeful act, not an ingrained habit…Let me explain what I’m talking about. For many, many decades it was in vogue to teach, “If you have to shoot once, you have to shoot twice,” and the term “double tap” came about, and the term “controlled pair” came about, and the term “hammer” came about, as a result. That’s all good, and in fact there had been a whole shooting sport centered around two shots fired at each target. The general sport of practical shooting is that way and the individual disciplines of USPSA and IDPA shooting pretty much center around requiring two hits on each target all the time.”

You will do for real only what you’ve practiced, and you’ll do it faster and clumsier.  Slow down and aim (even if you don’t sight) every shot.  Shoot only based on some stimulus from the sharp side of your muzzle, even if that stimulus is only the mental one that you are on target, you see the target, and you have made a deliberate decision to shoot.  I  shoot fast occasionally to hone sight re-acquisition skills, but I practice mostly at .33 split times because that’s as fast as I can see and process what’s going on in front of my gun.

Everything there is to know about handheld tactical lights

Well, at least everything I’ve come to believe about them.  In regards to civilian defensive firearms and self-defense.

Do you need a light at all?

For typical civilian defensive firearms uses, probably not.  Tom Givens, the man with the data on such things, explains why here.  Essentially, bad people attack good people in low light, but in enough light that 1) they can see what they are doing, and 2) you can see them and feel sufficiently threatened.  This is because most violent attacks are co-incident with robbery.  I hear the whining…but data.  And logic.

That said, I do believe in carrying a light.  Shined in the face of an assailant or unknown contact it’s a low-level force tool, and it can illuminate unknown areas (think a dark parking lot, or unseen hands).


I really don’t like lights on handguns.  I used to have one on my service pistol when I was a cop, but we’re talking civilian self-defense here.  (Handgun-mounted lights have the same advantages and disadvantages regardless of who is using them, but cops are often offensive and pro-active, in comparison to the mostly defensive and reactive use of weapons by civilians, and the trade-offs are thus weighted differently.)

1) There are two methods of activating a handgun-mounted light, and they both suck.  Any operation by a finger either compromises your grip or (in some really faulty designs) causes your trigger finger to risk hitting the trigger.  And designs that operate off of grip pressure become death traps when your grip, under stress, squeezes the button unintentionally and gives you away.  Besides, you’ve spent your entire shooting career learning how to tightly hold the gun…and now you have to delicately modulate the pressure??? Under stress???

2) Rail-mounted lights cause you to violate Rule 2.  Yes, academic theory says you can keep the gun lowered and search or ID threats with the periphery of the beam…but seriously??? And again: under stress???  This is a lifetime of free room and board in the making.  We all get stupid under stress!

3) Least important, but a factor: they require funky holsters and make concealability more difficult.

What I prefer is a hand held light, with a nice ergonomic length of five or so inches, held to the neck or cheek, and operating the handgun one-handed with the strong hand.  By far and away most defensive gun uses are short-range affairs, and you should be reasonably competent with your gun — shot one-handed — at short distances.  If I really need to shoot two-handed with a hand-held light (very unlikely), there are a number of well-known techniques for so doing; pick the one that is most comfortable for you and retain some competence with it.

Of course the advantage of handgun-mounted lights is that two-handed shooting is easier (and more accurate).  I can only see the trade-off of using a rail-mounted light if you have good reason to believe that your defensive handgun use is likely to be (not might be) at a long distance — quite a bit longer that Tom Givens’ data indicates is likely.  In which case you might consider schlepping a long gun instead.

Long guns

As I’ve said many times before, every defensive long gun needs an attached white light, one that can be easily and independently operated with the support hand.  1) There is no other option for a light — you can’t hold one in your off hand and run the gun.  2)  Attached lights are tactically free – you don’t trade-off any other capability by having one: they don’t add significant weight, don’t affect function, and they don’t compromise carrayability.  3) Long gun engagements tend to be longer range, where you may well need the vision enhancement.

Now, employing a light on a long gun forces you to violate Rule 2, but there’s no other option except to not use a light.

Light attributes

A tactical light is not a utility light, and should not be used as such.  A small utility light can be carried on a key chain or in a pocket, but a tactical light has only two  purposes: searching and target identification, and it should be dedicated to those tasks.

A tactical light should have only one switch function: momentary-on, because that’s the only mode in which you can search and ID without yourself drawing fire.  And it should be located on the tail cap.  Most tail-cap switches are a combination momentary/constant-on switch, and these are suicide switches.  Under the strength and clumsiness of stress you severely risk depressing the switch to constant-on when you only meant to blip it…and now you are an easy target for incoming fire.  These two-stage switches are so common only because most light buyers simply do not understand the issue, and you know, more modes have to be better!

Even worse are the lights with multiple modes: constant-on, momentary-on, low output, medium output, high output, disco (strobe), fade, and reading your astrological chart.  1) It takes a user manual to figure out how to use them.  2) They always get into a messed up state, just when you need them.  3) They are too complicated to operate under stress.  4) You put them into the wrong state when you try and operate them under stress.  5) The only useful state is momentary-on anyway.  These lights are sold mostly to nerds who have never actually used a light in, at a minimum, a realistic scenario.  Consequently they sell well.

The light should be ergonomic: approximately five inches long and 3/4 to 1-inch thick.  Any shorter and it  becomes clumsy to operate, especially under stress, which means that it’s unreliable under stress.

Surefire got it right out of the chute, what – 25 years ago?, with the 6P.  The more ergonomic 6Z shortly followed, although I preferred the less expensive polymer-body Nitrolon versions because I live where we get real (that is, damn cold) weather.

Lumens, and the other geeky stuff

The introduction of the Surefire 6P with an amazing 60 lumens(!) was like entering the jet age from the horse-and-buggy days of the old Maglites (or Kel-Lites, which was before even my time).  No one in the tactical community complained about too little light then, and the whole discipline of tactical while light use (with handguns) was born.

60 lumens still gets the job done, most of the time.

Now with 1000 lumens available in reasonable quality packages for cheap, the temptation is to get seriously geeky about lumens, candlepower (it’s making a comeback!), coronas, throw, white color, and a dozen more technical characteristics of small, handheld LED lights.  Places like candlepower forums are a great resource if you love the techy stuff, but really, it mostly doesn’t matter these days.

Color (that is, how “white” the white light is) certainly doesn’t matter.  Nothing that you will ever have to see or identify, even at great speed, will suffer from a slight blue (or whatever) tint to a light that’s, for all intents and purposes, white.

Indoors, beam concentration doesn’t matter, because, and this is the overriding factor at work in all of this: we gotta lotta lumens these days.  Lumens to excess in fact, and that makes a lot of things that used to matter irrelevant now.  It’s like MIPS; do you know how many MIPS your PC has?  Probably not because they are cheap and abundant these days, and all PCs have them in excess for most tasks.  Twenty five years ago, if you knew anything about computers, you certainly knew the MIPS of your machine because it mattered for ordinary tasks.  Progress.

Outdoors, at long distances, beam concentration can matter.

The great debate now is the question: Can you have too many lumens?  One side says that you can easily blind yourself indoors with too much light, especially in rooms with reflective surfaces and white walls.  The other side claims that you want as much light as possible to see into every dark nook.  I’m kinda in the former camp, but not dogmatically.  It is certainly true that, say, a million lumens would blind you, but handheld lights these days are in the range of, mo’ less, 200 to 1500 lumens.  In this range what constitutes a blinding amount of light will vary by person, and for each person, by age.  I find 200 lumens more than sufficient to see anything, anywhere, in any house I’ve been in, and past 400 or so it starts to feel too bright.  YMMV.

Three pieces of context: 1) any reasonable amount of light will degrade your night vision for a time, and the more light the longer the degradation, 2) you only need a couple lumens to see a remarkable amount at room distances, and 3) outdoors you want all the lumens you can get.

Quality & ruggedness

Here’s where I stop being a Luddite curmudgeon.  These are things worth caring about and spending money on.  1) Your light has to work when it has to work.  2) Shit happens at the worst times and you want your light to  take a good drop — or follow you down when you fall — onto a hard surface and keep going.