Thursday, October 28, 2010

One of the best things... can attach to a defensive gun is a white light.

A couple years ago I had the opportunity to play the part of a bad guy for some force-on-force training with the local PD.  They were doing low-light/no-light cold weather training, so we were in the basement of a city park building with all the windows blocked off, and being an unheated building in February, the cold was readily available.

The scenario was pretty straightforward, the "responding officers" would enter the building, come across the caller, a "parks employee" who had come into work and heard somebody down in the basement.  Officers were told there had been a rash of armed robberies in the area and to be ready for anything.  Unfortunately there was a problem with the building's electrical system so the heat was out and the lights did not work in the basement.

The "bad guys" were to wait in ambush in the blacked out basement.  We were armed with a couple old S&W .357s loaded up with Simmunitions, and if we had the opportunity to tag a cop, take it, and if you could make it to the stairs you "escaped."  If the cop got you, react accordingly (i.e., one got me in the knee in the first group after I had emptied my cylinder at them. I let them know just how much getting shot in the knee hurt and was not a very cooperative suspect as they cuffed me.)

The police, on the other hand, were armed with Sig P226s with attached Surefire weapon lights.

By the time the final group was making it through, me and my partner in crime had the scenario down.  We had "home field" advantage, having spent the day in that freezer of a basement, as well as being well acquainted with the layout with the lights on.  I had found a nice little closet directly across the room from a doorway, which provide me with plenty of cover (concealment in reality, but stout enough to stop a sim round.  What kind of bad guy would I be if I didn't cheat a little?) My partner was laid up under the main stairway, and would wait for me to fire before making a break for the stairs.  Being the end of the day, I had a full six rounds, and he had three, since I was further back in the basement, and would be tripping the ambush. We did not have any light sources of our own however, it being assumed that we'd have killed them to try and sneak past the cops.  We settled ourselves in and waited for the scenario to start.

After hearing the commotion upstairs, we put on our game faces (er, protective masks...) A few minutes later I could see the officers' lights making their way through the next room.  Thankfully they had broken right at the bottom of the stairs and were clearing the basement in a counter-clockwise direction, giving me the best position to use my nice little closet.  Cue the action!

As the first officer stepped into the doorway, his partner hit the switch on his light behind him.  You know those black on white silhouette targets?  I almost felt bad for the guy as I put two into his center mass.  Turns out my second shot went a nudge high and tagged him right on the lens of his mask.  He went down, and his partner returned fire through the doorway, pelting the wall and door frame as I ducked back into the closet.

One down, three to go, one half out of ammo.  I've got a measly four rounds left, but only one guy between me and the stairs; Officer BravoFoxtrot had fallen back across the next room after realizing his partner was toast.  Freedom's a-callin'!  I move out, step over the "dead" cop, and dive through the door.  I know the room is about 30 feet across, and has two foot pillars every six feet or so down the center, and being an "uneducated baddy" I don't bother slicing the pie or anything remotely tactical beside running to the first pillar, my numb feet clumsily shuffling across the concrete, no doubt alerting the officer to my general location.

Now it's on.  The officer's light snaps on, catching my last few steps to cover.  The pillar is pelted with detergent filled .40S&W rounds as the officer empties the remaining half of his mag at me.  I figure it's time to go big or go home, so I peak out and empty my cylinder at the bright light.  However I am so dazzled I can't make heads or tails of my sights on this unfamiliar gun.  As the cop tries his hardest to reload in the dark, I make my move and duck past him and get to the stairs.  My partner has also managed to "wound" another officer and make his escape while I was engaged in my epic shootout.

Thankfully, this all occurred in a controlled training environment, and the only thing injured was some pride.  It was fun, despite spending 8 hours in a freezer, and lessons were learned.  But what were those lessons?  Let's break it down (full disclaimer: take all of this simply as advice.  This is no substitute for hands on training with a qualified instructor, simply things the writer has experienced in his short life and time around guns.):

  • Shooting in the dark it not easy.
It's tough.  You can't see your target, you can't see your sights, and if you're moving, you're constantly worried about smacking into a wall.  

Unfortunately, the breaking glass seldom sounds at noon. If you need to use a defensive firearm, chances are pretty darn good that it's going to be dark out.
  • If you do utilize a white light, you need to train with it.
And this doesn't simply mean going to an indoor range and turning the lights off.  Yes, it is important to get some live fire time with a light, but you also need to get to know how stuff is going to look with your light.  Every type of light is going to shine in a different pattern, and depending on the system, they can have a wide variety of colors.  The LED powered Streamlight on my pistol and the old incandescent Surefire on my carbine couldn't provide more different light without slapping a filter on one.

If you use a light on your home defense setup, walk around your house at night with all the lights off and see how things look (you may want to do this when everybody's out of town for the weekend or something...)  Start in your bedroom and work your way to the exterior doors, or whatever route you would take if something were happening, and note where the shadows lay.  Pay attention to the doorways and try to see where your lights going.  If you've got a willing partner, have them wait in the other room and tell you when they can see your light so you know where to kill the light to prevent alerting the intruder too early.

Also notice how much splash your light has.  Can you tell if that silhouette is a bad guy or just your 16 year old trying to sneak in late without pointing your gun directly at him?  (If this is a real possibility you may want to look into a separate light.)
  • Proper techniques are key!
Go back to the final shootout in the story above.  There were nearly 20 rounds fired between the officer and myself, and not a single hit was scored.  There's numerous reasons for this.  I don't know why the officer was unable to his me, I can only assume that it was due to his rush to get rounds downrange, and my use of cover.

I do know why my shots missed: I couldn't see a damned thing in the space of time it took me to get my four shots off.  The officer's light hitting my eyes, fully dilated after sitting in a pitch black basement for an hour, had completely dazzled me.  I try to aim for what I thought was the light, but my rounds sailed clear past him since everything was a bright white light.  Some people don't like white lights on their guns because they think it will simply act as an aiming point for their opponent.  This may be true if you're participating in infantry maneuvers across a wide open field, but in a close quarters room clearing type situation like an armed home intruder, proper light discipline will turn that light into the best tool (after the gun of course) available for you.

If you're working with somebody, don't be a Blue Falcon and silhouette them in a doorway either.
  • Don't relay solely on the light.
The officer had not simply freaked out because it was dark.  He had deduced through my "killing" of his partner that I was willing to harm him to escape, and his ears told him that I was dangerously close.  At this point it is fully justifiable to shine that light directly in my face and serve it up with a forty-caliber chaser.
This was not the first time I had dealt with low light situations (there's another good story there, and I'll get to that in a gear related light post in the future) but it was the most dramatic example I've personally had as to why people hang lights on their stuff.  Are there times when a weapon mounted light aren't the best solution? Sure.  But there's plenty of situations where they are a massive force multiplier, and you always have the option to simply not turn it on.  However I'd rather have the light hanging there and not need it than be stuck wishing it wasn't sitting in the workbench at home or something.

All that being said, what are your thoughts?  Let the comments roll baby.


Jester said...

You bring up a lot of solid points there, Though there is now the addition of red/green dot lasers attached to those lights or Crimson Trace Grips to accompany those white lights. While in very close the thought of the laser may or may not be needed (talking point blank, to about 10 yards away, the confines of most houses) The laser can help to put the shot on your target in the middle of that light. With that being said you would have to find a laser, (Green may be your best bet) That you can actually see while your eyes are twitching out from dark/bright light adjustments. Also with that, the fact that you have the option to just trip the laser may be an additional tool that could be used.
Overall you have the topic solidly covered, the addition of laser's may be another topic.

Fred said...

I'm planning to do another post on the actual gear options in the future, and I'll probably mention lasers there briefly, however I haven't really done enough research on the subject, and me experience doesn't extend past playing with one at a gun show and going "neat!"

I think a lot of laser use is quit similar to light use though, that in it's not magic and it takes training and practice. Past that, it's a whole fresh can of worms (just made me think of "laser-guided worms"... heh.)

I would love to get my hands on a TLR-2 for some extended range time though.

Jester said...

Likewise. From the hands on I have had with weapon mounted lasers, both in Army settings and civilian settings, IR included its another few articles right there. Though pistol mounted lights are great to help identify how you are shooting, you can actually use that for dry fire to see where your flinches may be headed.

One big thing to add in to your weapon light thing however is battery selection, IE there are the 123 Lithiums, the N's and the AA's as well as a couple others I think. Something to consider for those of us that have Rifle and Pistol mounted lights is battery interchangability, and the fact that lets face it 123's Are not cheap or found at every store you look at. Also with your training that will do a solid drain on batteries. With flashlights more than anything else I suggest having batteries in your light and two full replacements for every light you may have. While the 123's have I think a 10 year shelf life other battery types do not. If your light is not used, I would suggest rotating fresh batteries in yearly with your Ammunition change out. Most weapon lights have a 1 to 2 hour run time on the stock batteries so factor in your training time with that to replace them.

Six said...

Fantastic post Fred. I'm impressed by your knowledge, experience and ability to write.

I am of the unmounted light school but, in all frankness, it's more of an experience/comfort thing as opposed to reticence. We didn't have pistol mounted lights at my agency so all my training and experience is with hand held lights (long guns excepted).

With such it's crucial to have a light that is easy to manipulate one handed. It needs to have both an intermittent on and constant on switch that you can operate without taking it or your pistol out of battery. Lights with the intermittent switch at the butt are great (I have both button and twist operation) but side switch will work just as well. If you have to move the light in your hand to get to the constant on it can be an issue when the adreneline is running hot. Get one that lets you cycle between off, intermittent on and constant on with the push of one button or twist on one switch. Button on is best in my opinion but the less expensive models of twist switch can work if you're willing to put in the time to get good with them.

I've trained a lot with different holds of pistol and light and come to the conclusion that what works best for you is probably best. Harries works well for my style of shooting and I buy my lights accordingly. Side activated is best for Ayoob (wrist to wrist) and rear activation for Harries. Valhalla teaches a compressed high ready where the light is held near the strong shoulder and the gun is fired one handed.

When using an unattached light avoiding muzzle sweep of the light hand is a crucial safety issue. Dryfire practice is key and is best done with an observer. Lu and I routinely do our practice in the house with a chamber flagged handgun and the partner positioned for best observation. We go through light drills before moving on to tactical problems. Every time.

I've been considering trying a pistol mounted light for years. I guess I need to throw off my Luddite tendencies and move into the 21st century. After all, my first exposure to weapon light training was in the Academy in 1985 and they were still teaching the old FBI techniques!

Nice job Fred.

Jester said...

Oh, extra bonus, Folks should get a feel of the range or brightness total of their light. For instance both of mine, the pistol mounted and the AR mounted one are good to illuminate to 100 yards or so, while I can not say I would be taking shots at that range, pistol in particular it does tell me that I can get a pretty conclusive threat or no threat ID with them.

Tango Juliet said...

Great story! I helped train with the local PD using Sim guns. It was fun as well as educational.

I think I helped them out too. :)