February 25, 2011
A laser is more than a "what if" accessory or a novelty for teasing cats. Used correctly, it can be an enormously handy training aid.
Gun-mounted lasers are here to stay, and I, for one, am not unhappy about that.
Yeah, the early ones flat-out sucked. They required bulky mounts, didn't fit holsters, could not be easily aligned, and were often awkward to activate. That was then. The various current laser companies have advanced the ball quite a bit. A laser is no longer a gimmick. Nor is it a high-end accessory suitable only for SWAT cops or officers patrolling high-crime areas.
The latest lasers are small and discreet, adding little to the gun's mass. Moreover, they are ergonomic, so much so, in fact, some activate whenever you take a firing grip on the gun, no conscious manipulation required.
A Waste Of Money Or Money Well Spent?
The only complaint I hear now is that a laser may be taking caution too far. It's unlikely that the person will ever have to use his or her gun in self-defense, but many carry as a reasonable and prudent precaution, the same way they carry insurance. That's fine. But at what point does it all get to be too much? Is a laser really necessary, or is it a sign you're going off the deep end?
Well, if I ever find myself in the unfortunate circumstance of needing a gun, I want every advantage I can get. If I pull a laser-equipped pistol, it'll only be because I couldn't get a red-dot-equipped AR-10 under my jacket.
Another point, though, one a lot of people don't seem to get, is that if you regard a laser as something you'll use only in a crisis, you're missing half of its utility. If you don't own a laser, you're not appreciating one of its best selling points, and if you do own one, you're not getting everything there is out of it. That's because a laser is an excellent training tool.
A multiple-second exposure taken while aiming at a target in a semi-dark room shows how unsteady we sometimes are.
A good basketball player, one who may be capable of hook shots, fade-aways and 3-point bombs, will often start a workout with free throws. Why? Because the fundamental mechanics of good shooting need to be reinforced to prevent bad habits and to serve as the basis upon which to build your game.
That rule of shooting applies to guns as well as basketballs. Slow, careful target shooting stressing the fundamentals is the basis upon which you build speed and technique. No matter how fast and agile you get, it's often accuracy that's most critical, and the basics of sight alignment, trigger squeeze, and follow-through remain the same no matter how good you get.
The problem most of us have is that we can't dedicate the time to such practice. Gathering up the guns, ammo, and safety gear; driving to the range; buying targets; paying range fees; shooting; schlepping everything thing home; then cleaning the guns — I get tired just thinking about it sometimes. And when you're at the range paying for time, you don't always feel like spending it working on basic marksmanship.
What to do? Lasers to the rescue!
Practice At Home
With nothing more than a Post-It note and marker, the owner of a laser-equipped gun can practice markmanship in his or her own home with remarkably little hassle.
You can effectively hone your shooting skills in your own home with nothing more than an unloaded, laser-equipped gun and a Post-It note affixed to a wall.
Simply make sure the gun is unloaded and that there is no ammo in the room. Then make a black dot about the size of a quarter on a Post-It note and stick it on a convenient wall, one with nothing of value behind it. That's just a good habit. Don't get sloppy with safety just because you're at home and no one is watching.
Activate the laser, raise the gun, and commence practicing. Use the iron sights but transition to the laser and back. Notice how what seems to be a minor tremor when viewed through the iron sights translates into a major quake on the target.
If you've never used a laser-equipped gun before, you'll likely be stunned--and depressed--by the amount of movement you see. Even good, experienced shooters are often surprised.
The erratically defined space covered by the laser is your "wobble area." It's caused by breathing, pulse, muscle tremors, nerves, and/or a lack of concentration. You can never eradicate it, but you can minimize it through hard work and practice.
Another shooting flaw easily detected by a laser is flinching. Here is a half-second exposure tracing what happens when a shooter anticipates recoil and pushes into the gun while jerking the trigger. The bottom of the "V" is where the gun fires, lifting the laser trace straight up.
What you want to do is--through proper stance, grip, breath control, self-calming, and concentration--reduce the wobble area so that the laser stays on the black dot. You want it to stay there all the way through your trigger stroke and follow-through. Neither the hammer going back or falling should move the laser off the dot. When you can consistently do that, then you'll be ready--ready to draw a smaller dot.
By the way, don't dry fire a rimfire gun; you'll eventually peen and damage your firing pin. If you want to do this sort of practice with a rimfire, get plastic snap caps. Not expended rimfire brass, but plastic snap caps. The other is just an accident waiting to happen.
No, you aren't having to acclimate yourself to the muzzle blast and felt recoil of actual shooting, but you're not being distracted by those things, either. You can focus entirely on accuracy and smooth manipulation of the controls. And you can do it any time, and frequency and repetition are at least as important as realism when practicing.
The advantage of lasers for practice doesn't have to be limited to routine shooting mechanics. A laser-equipped gun is a great way to test and practice your firearm presentation.
If you are like a lot of armed citizens, you have to vary the way you carry, depending on your anticipated activity, the weather, and the professional or social dictates of proper attire. Well, something as seemingly simple as presentation from concealment can be more complicated than it looks, and learning assorted techniques takes time and practice to master.
How does a laser help?
Drawing a gun from concealment means getting it out quickly and smoothly, to be sure, but safety also requires muzzle awareness. The muzzle of your gun should not "sweep" over any potential bystanders, and your draw must keep the gun pointed in a safe direction until it is on target. That is fairly easy to do with a presentation from a strong-side belt scabbard but gets complicated from a crossdraw or shoulder holster. In those cases, you have to remove the gun and sweep the muzzle down towards the floor, only rotating it up as you get the gun in front of you and start raising it to the target. By activating the laser and watching the beam while drawing in slow motion, you can see the exact sweep of the muzzle during your gun presentation.
You can expand your practice by making sure you don't break the beam with your off hand while performing typical actions that may be required during an armed confrontation. Mime using a flashlight, using a phone, opening doors, or fending off a take-away attempt and see if you ever sweep the muzzle over your off hand. It's easy to do if you aren't careful.
Refine both your presentation and off hand/strong hand coordination until you develop safe techniques, then work to build speed while maintaining muzzle awareness.
Drawing from a holster, particularly a shoulder rig or crossdraw, necessitates good muzzle awareness so that you don't "sweep" bystanders. The correct technique is to rotate the gun down, then up. A laser can show you the path of your muzzle.
From The Hip
A more advanced bit of training you can do with a laser is hip shooting/point shooting. Prior to the advent of lasers, the only way to know if you were on target when aiming from the hip was to drop the hammer on a live round. That's not very safe and not something many ranges permit. However, a laser allows you to see exactly where your empty gun is pointed, regardless of where you are holding it relative to your eyes.
With a light grip that doesn't activate the laser, aim from the hip. When you think you are on target, tighten your grip, activating the laser. You'll see instantly how far off you are or, occasionally, that you are dead-on. With continued practice, you can improve your point shooting to where you have a pretty good idea of where the gun is pointed even when it's at waist level. That, of course, is mostly for entertainment. Though such skill may help you get a gun out and ready as quickly as possible in a crisis--time permitting--confirm the gun's alignment with the laser or, better yet, raise the gun and confirm alignment with the iron sights, the laser, or both.
Current gun-mounted lasers are refined, highly desirable tactical tools that can give you a real advantage in an armed confrontation. But they can also serve as a training tool, helping you become a safer, faster, more accurate, more skillful shooter, and that might be the biggest advantage of all.