Got a laser in your sights?

Picking the right laser for the job


     Despite their longtime market presence, lasers are more likely to have been seen in the movies by cops rather than in the hands of fellow officers on the job. However, given the advances in laser sight technology and the United States military's use of laser devices in the War on Terror, law enforcement has started to take a new look at the systems.

     Real-world experience has shown examples of laser sight effectiveness and also taught lessons, resulting in improved designs and features. Compared to older versions, today's lasers are designed smaller and more user-friendly, and have added feature options such as color, pulsation and laser-light combinations.

     How can officers select one that fits their specific needs? Is the green laser better than the red one? What is the advantage of a pulsating beam over a steady beam? These are some of the questions that must be answered before purchasing a laser, and weighing these options can help officers filter through the laser market to find a product that best fits the job at hand.

     Prior to equipping a weapon with a laser, officers must take a realistic look at how they intend to use it. The laser must be compatible with the manner in which it will be used. Some questions to ask include:

  • Will the handgun fit in its holster with the laser attached?
  • Will the laser interfere with other accessories on the weapon?
  • If placing it on a long gun, does the preferred laser have sufficient range to match the weapon's capabilities?
  • Does the weapon have a back-up sighting system?
  • Are there concerns about giving away an officer's position prior to firing?

     Another key inquiry concerns asking oneself what drives the desire to purchase a laser in the first place. For example, if an officer is a poor shot and thinks the laser will make him or her a better shot, a laser should not be added. Trying to compensate for poor marksmanship with equipment will only make matters worse. The officer is likely to abandon marksmanship fundamentals, such as sight alignment and trigger control, and instead, stare at the target to watch the laser.

     While the laser is a good tool for instructors to use in analyzing firearms students, it will not solve a flinching problem or correct any other issue caused by the shooter. If an officer falls into this category, he should seek training from a qualified firearms instructor before adding a laser to his firearm.

Laser types

     There are three basic types of lasers: rail-mounted lasers, guide rod lasers and laser grips.

     Laser grips: Laser grips, such as those made by Crimson Trace Corp. of Wilsonville, Oregon, are the most popular. These lasers are built into grips placed on the weapon to replace factory-installed grips. (Some major handgun manufacturers now offer models that come standard with Crimson Trace grips.) The grips have a small power switch on the bottom and an activation button on the front. The laser only works when the switch is in the "on" position.

     The activation button is pressed with the primary side fingers while assuming a firing grip on the weapon. They are very comfortable rubberized grips that will not significantly change the pistol's grip size. The drawback is that the laser mounts on top of the right grip panel. This means it is significantly off-set from the bore of the weapon. Also, this placement means that a right-handed officer will cover the laser with his trigger finger when indexed on the frame of the weapon.

     LaserMax of Rochester, New York, now offers a laser grip for J-Frame Smith & Wesson revolvers that has its beam located along the top of the frame. The laser goes over the cylinder and along the top outside edge of the barrel. This frame-mounted design keeps the beam as close to the bore as possible and avoids the problem of covering the laser when the shooter's trigger finger is properly indexed on the weapon frame.

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