A Shot In The Dark!

Responsible firearms instructors recommend carrying a small tactical flashlight along…

Responsible firearms instructors recommend carrying a small tactical flashlight along with your concealed handgun, and keeping illumination readily accessible for home defense guns. And for good reason.

In Case One, in the darkness of a pre-dawn morning, a man awoke to perceive a stranger entering his bedroom. Panicking, he grabbed his bedside shotgun and fired one round at the shadowy figure. The shotgun blast killed his wife, who had apparently been unable to sleep and was returning from a morning jog.

Death Of A Child
Such mistaken identity shooting tragedies can even occur to trained police officers. In Case Two, California a few years ago, a police officer responded to a call of clamor coming from a certain apartment. Making entry and searching alone, he made a point of not using his flashlight because he’d just completed a bloc of training where the instructors had told him it would just make him a target.

He entered a room illuminated only by the eerie light of a television set. Suddenly, a figure loomed up between him and the television, a human being holding a revolver in a threatening manner. The officer reacted and fired one shot. The figure collapsed.

It turned out to be a little boy, who was left alone at home with “the electronic babysitter.” (His mother was later accused of neglect.) The revolver was a realistic toy. The officer’s single bullet had struck the child in the neck, killing him.

Investigation showed that the clamorous sounds that had caused neighbors to call the police had been made by the child, trying to get to the shelves to find some food after being home alone more than 24 hours. The mom had left the lights out, and the child hadn’t been tall enough to reach the light switches.

The officer later told me that he was convinced that if he’d had artificial illumination, there was no way that he wouldn’t have been able to identify that shadowy figure as a child, and he would have held his fire. Unfortunately, “don’t use a flashlight ‘cause it’ll make you a target” was a common, if erroneous, police training theme at the time. Those who put it forth never did explain how you were supposed to identify your target in the dark without artificial illumination.

Going Blind
In the darkness, we’re dealing with a factor called “scotopic vision.” In essence, poor light means that even a person with 20/20 vision is now, in effect, legally blind. An internet search for the names “Tom Aveni” and “Bill Lewinski” will turn up several links to the excellent research of these two credentialed experts on the low-light topic.

Another authority who can teach you a lot is Ed Santos. I had the privilege of writing the foreword for Ed’s new book, Rule the Night, Win the Fight: A Practical Guide to Low-Light Gun Fighting. Santos wrote, “The fact is most officer-related shootings occur in low-light situations. I remember reading FBI data for law enforcement officers killed in the line-of-duty, which stated that between 1995 and 2004 over 65 percent of the deaths occurred between 2000 and 0800 hours. Working in a low-light environment raises the bar for everyone.”

Fortunately, today’s technology allows us to cope with this problem better than at any time in the history of armed encounters. We have the best handheld “white light” tools. We have flashlights that mount on firearms. We have Tritium night sights. We have laser sights. We have an ever-increasing array of techniques that allow us to coordinate target identification with target index to deliver accurate, threat-stopping defensive gunfire.

Nightfighting Key Points
Here are a few things to keep in mind as we assemble our technological armory for nightfighting:

• Night sights and projected laser dots do improve our hit potential, but neither can identify the target for us. The responsible armed individual will always want to have the white light available as a separate source to identify the target.

• Night sights and projected laser dots do not blind the opponent and impair his ability to shoot us at critical moments. Bright, intensely focused white light can.

• Gun-mounted lights should not be used as primary illumination tools. It’s like using the telescopic sight on a hunting rifle as a spotting scope: It points a loaded gun at everything we look at. At worst, this can lead to a startle-reflex-induced unintentional shot that kills an innocent person. At best, it can leave us open to serious criminal charges of felony Aggravated Assault when we point a loaded gun at a person we had no right to threaten in that fashion. This is why the gun-mounted light is special purpose emergency illumination, not general-use search illumination.

• Consider the new First-Light unit, which mounts on the support hand and leaves that hand free for barehanded self-defense, or for a proper two-hand grasp of the firearm while clearly illuminating the target.

• If you have corrected vision, always keep a pair of eyeglasses as accessible as your bedside pistol. You won’t have time to insert contacts when home invaders kick down your door.

• We should always have some sort of illumination available on our person, and preferably, a backup light to go along with it. For as long as anyone currently serving can remember, uniformed NYPD officers have been required to carry flashlights on duty, even on day shift. Small flashlights come in handy in numerous ways during ordinary daily life.

• Get as much training and practice in “night shooting” as you can. For citizen or cop alike, there is an excellent chance that when you need the gun for real, lighting conditions will not be perfect. 

Improper Use Of Gun Light
In Case Three, Florida not long ago, an evening session of “dog school” was wrapping up. One K9 officer offered to show another his new dog. As the owner led him to the back of the pickup truck where the dog was caged, the other officer decided he didn’t have enough light to view the animal in the cage. 

Reflexively, he drew his Glock from his uniform holster and used the lamp mounted on its dust cover to “light up” his friend’s new acquisition. Fortunately, his training caused him to keep his trigger finger on the frame, and he didn’t “light up” the dog in the ballistic sense. Even so, pointing a loaded weapon at the animal was a thoughtless act that nearly triggered a fistfight on the spot.

Proper Use Of Gun Light
 I was along for the ride with an ace SWAT team that was raiding a drug house in Case Four. As the raid team approached the structure, one officer cried, “Man in the window!” We could see a subject looking at us through the curtains, but we could not see his hands.

The team leader swung up his Benelli shotgun and “hit” the man in the window with the powerful beam of the SureFire WeaponLight affixed to the fore-end. As the beam caught him full in the face, the suspect closed his eyes with a pained grimace, raised an empty hand to shield his face, and spun away from the beam. 

The potential threat had been stopped by the potent light in the hands of a highly trained police specialist who kept his finger off the trigger and his weapon “on safe.” It was a classic example of the utility of a gun-mounted light in an emergency. With both hands tied up on a long gun, it would not have been practical for the team leader to wield a separate flashlight for this purpose.

Defensive Use of Laser
Many readers ask, “Will opposing lawyers try to make me look like some kind of a ‘mall ninja’ if I defend myself with a gun that has a high-tech laser sight?” Yes, they might do that, but you’ll be able to win the argument if it’s handled correctly.

In 2005, one of my LFI (Lethal Force Institute) graduates, call it Case Five, was brought to trial on a charge of Manslaughter. He had been forced to shoot and kill a man who attacked him with a deadly weapon without provocation. 

In his mid-50s, the defendant had discovered that his middle-aged eyes no longer gave him a clear sight picture, even with night sights. He had fitted his Glock 23 pistol with a LaserMax, which incorporates a laser sight below the barrel in a module that replaces the recoil spring guide. 

Even in very poor light in a driving rain at night, he had been able to see the pulsing red dot on his opponent’s center mass area, and when that man came at him, he was able to score a center hit that fatally stopped the attack.

When someone like me comes in on a defense team (which I do for no charge when it’s one of my graduates who stands accused), part of the job is advising the defense attorney how to cross-examine witnesses brought against the defendant by the prosecution. I suggested that the lawyer ask a certain series of questions for each of the cops and evidence specialists called by the state. 

To a man, they admitted that laser sights are widely used by police, that they have been known to intimidate suspects into surrendering without bloodshed, and that in directing accurate fire in poor lighting conditions they concomitantly reduce the danger of a wild shot that could strike a bystander.

By the time I got on the stand to confirm it one more time, it was already clear to the jury that the prosecutor had been blowing smoke when he implied that only an assassin of the night would use laser sights. They acquitted the defendant in the shooting. 

Final Notes
We have to recognize that any of us could find ourselves in a situation where darkness had rendered us the same as legally blind, and the attacker’s wanton violence gave us no choice but to shoot or die.

We must be prepared for that. We have the best training and equipment that has ever been available for “night shooting.” It is up to us to take advantage of that training and equipment, and be prepared beforehand.

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