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.

Just in time?

Well find out come Tuesday...

Sig has released some info on a new sub-compact, the Sig P290, and in the couple days it's been bouncing around the interwebs, I have to say it's grown on me.

Apparently it's a completely new platform, so far in 9x19mm (which is pretty nice in a tiny pocket rocket) with a "6-8 round capacity," which I'm hoping equates to a stubby mag as pictured, and an extended mag with a finger rest.

No word on pricing, and probably out sometime next year.  Steve has more pictures and stats over at TFB.