Lasers for Firearms Practice and Defense

Smith & Wesson Model 637 Revolver with laser sights in action
Smith & Wesson Model 637 Revolver with laser sights in action
Student of the Gun
Student of the Gun

LUVERNE, AL –-( If you are child of the eighties like me, I’ll bet that Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first one to introduction you to the visible red laser on a handgun.

When the Terminator walked into a Los Angeles gun shop and asked for a “.45 longslide with laser sighting” the die was cast.

From that moment on, American shooters wanted red lasers on their guns.

An interesting bit of trivia that younger readers might not be aware of is the origin of that particular movie prop. The laser sight and longslide M1911 pistol can now be found in the headquarters of SureFire LLC in Fountain Valley, California. Laser Products Corporation, the maker of that ‘laser sighting’ was the precursor to SureFire.

Questionable Practicality
When I started carrying a gun professionally three decades ago, laser sights were still in their infancy. The units were relatively fragile in that they would not hold a zero if they were bumped around, battery life was limited, and they had wires sticking out of them for pressure pad switches. All of those issues made laser sights rather impractical for genuine fighting work.

Here in the modern 21st century, visible red, and green, lasers are not only practical for daily carry, but they are affordable for the average shooter. As a shooter and instructor my biggest issue with lasers has always been the misconception by the public that installing a laser sight on a handgun, rifle or shotgun, negates the need to practice or train.

“You need to get you one of those laser sights for your gun, you can’t miss” is a quote echoed and paraphrased over and over by uninformed and misguided individuals. I love the retort from my friend Max Michel when someone commented that using a red dot optic on a handgun was ‘cheating’. “The red dot doesn’t shoot the pistol. It doesn’t press the trigger.” Max stated.

The same can be said for a laser sight. The laser doesn’t hold the gun steady and press the trigger. If you have no shooting skill without a laser, buying one isn’t going to magically impart skill to you.

S&W 637 Revolver w/ Crimson Trace LaserGrip
S&W 637 Revolver w/ Crimson Trace LaserGrip

First Time Out
The following scenario has played out innumerable times at indoor ranges all across the United States. A shooter will purchase their first handgun equipped with laser sights, such as the Crimson Trace LaserGrip or LaserGuard. The shooter steps out onto the range, posts a target at five yards and takes aim with their new laser-equipped handgun.

The red dot dances around on the target paper. As the shooter presses the trigger the laser can be seen jerking spasmodically all over the place. Frustrated, the shooter shakes his head and comments that there is something wrong with the laser, it won’t hold still. In every movie or TV show he’s ever seen the laser dot is rock steady on the target. Lasers don’t jerk around when Schwarzenegger is using them.

He’s right, laser sights are perfectly still when an actor is holding one, because they live in the land of make believe. Here in the real world where gravity is a factor and the human body, if alive, is always in motion, lasers on handguns move. And, you know what? That’s okay.

What most new laser shooters don’t realize is that the movement they can now see via the red dot has always been there. They simply never noticed it before. That unforeseen movement is also the reason most of their target groups look as though they were patterning a shotgun.

Getting the most from a firearms practice session with a laser sight.
Getting the most from a firearms practice session with a laser sight.

Laser Training
The sales pitch for most laser sight devices has normally centered on shooting bad guys, personal defense. There’s nothing wrong with that, however, defensive shooting is only part of the equation.

As we touched on, using a visible laser during live-fire training can be an eye opening experience. But what about using a laser for dry practice or snapping in? Many might initially dismiss the idea because nothing is coming out of the muzzle. So, why use a laser?

Crimson Trace
Crimson Trace Laser Sight Grips

It is precisely because you can see the movement of the laser dot that makes the technique so valuable. If the red dot is bouncing all over the landscape so is the muzzle. Unfortunately, some folks who believe they are dry-practicing are actually engaging in nothing more than a trigger snapping exercise. Without realizing it, they are ingraining the bad habit of snatching the trigger. As no projectile leaves the barrel to mark a target, they don’t understand the impact of this subtle error.

When you incorporate a visible laser into your dry-practice you are able to see how the muzzle moves as you apply muscle tension on the handgun while pressing the trigger. Your goal while using the laser is to hold the visible red or green dot as still as humanly possible while pressing the trigger.

After only a few sessions you’ll have a good understanding of the value of dedicated dry-practice.

Keep in mind that the laser dot with always have some motion as living human beings are never truly still. However, that slight movement is of little consequence after you learn to master the trigger press on your gun.

Sig Sauer P226 Pistol with a Crimson Trace LaserGrip
Sig Sauer P226 Pistol with a Crimson Trace LaserGrip

Benefits are Two-Fold
If you have a handgun equipped with a laser sighting system, such as the CT LaserGrip, you can realize a two-fold benefit. The laser allows you to dry-practice effectively and truly master the trigger press. That skill can be taken to the range to help you get the most of your live-fire practice.

Should you ever be forced into a situation where you need to defend your life with the aforementioned pistol, you will now have a carryover skill that you can apply to that problem. As long as you are willing to put in the time an effort to train and then practice it’s a win/win situation.


Paul Markel c 2012

Follow Paul Markel at Student of the .

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