Flower Power

The firearm-mounted laser has made tremendous improvements over time. Each year, they get lighter, brighter and more compact. The new products can be unclipped and reattached while still maintaining zero. They are inexpensive enough that departments can outfit their firearms and still have money leftover for training.

While laser use was initially met with a certain resistance, more officers are using them successfully. In training, for example, a steady laser can help improve trigger squeeze, and identify and help correct shooting problems.

For some duty applications, the laser is a viable option. Several agencies have reported an improvement in officer safety after adopting lasers. For backup guns, lasers are strongly recommended.

A respectable portion of the law enforcement community can benefit from firearm-mounted lasers. Of all shooters, only 80 percent are right-handed. Of that 80 percent, 35 percent are left-eye dominant. If this percentage is shooting right-handed, a conflicting sight picture is inevitable. For this particular population, laser-sighted firearms may be more efficient than optically sighted ones.

Sighting in
A laser is a light. It originates from a point and extends to a theoretical infinity. The bullet the laser is designed to guide is a projectile. It originates from the chamber and follows a trajectory, which is never straight. A laser can only intersect the path of the bullet a maximum of two times.

If a laser intersects the path of a bullet only once, it will only be accurate in one point in space. The question is where does law enforcement want that point to be? For combat ranges with a handgun, predicting the strike of a bullet at 7 yards is probably ideal. However, if the center of the bore is several inches away from the origin of the light, the strike of the bullet and the laser dot at 25 yards may be beyond a combat effective hit.

If the path of the bullet intersects the laser twice, at what distance should they coincide? For a handgun with the laser less than 2.5 inches below the barrel, try 10 yards. At immediate ranges, approximately the distance where two people can touch fingertips, accuracy is negligible and combat-effective hits are the standard. At this distance, the bullet and the laser are closer together than most shooters can shoot off-hand. Can one make a predictable shot at 25 yards? Yes.

This concept was applied using LaserLyte's Sub-Compact Laser Sight and its Universal Laser Bore Sighter Deluxe Kit. The bore sighter has a precision mandrel that fits down the barrel. Its universal kit will fit nearly any sized firearm. To test the laser, the Sub-Compact Laser Sight was mounted to the Picatinny rail on a handgun, 10 yards were measured out, and the laser sight was adjusted so both dots coincided.

The Universal Laser Bore Sighter Deluxe Kit comes with a daylight reflective laser target, making the task easier. It is easy to back up the sighting with a few bullets. After sighting in, one can easily engage from point blank to 25 yards with a handgun.

The good and bad half
Lasers provide an updated indication of the muzzle orientation at all times, which can be both a positive and a negative attribute.

One of the strongest selling points for laser use is the fact that they are intimidating. The target painted with a laser is immediately made aware of the firearm attached to it. This reminder is most productive when a lethal encounter ends safely without a shot. If this does not work, one can resort to the primary duty of the laser.

According to the National Institute of Justice, more than 80 percent of shootings take place in the dark and within 7 yards. For whatever reason, if an officer is unable to acquire a good sight picture, the dancing dot on center mass prevails.

Since the laser is a real-time indication of the orientation of the muzzle, it also locates that muzzle. If the dot precedes the officer during a search, that officer's location is compromised. Most experts agree the laser should have a momentary switch, followed by an officer conscious of telegraphing movement.

Shooters should account for recoil when shopping for a laser. When testing them, get out the duty ammo and fire a few rounds with the laser on. If it stays on when needed and does not turn on when unintended, it passes. If the device requires changing the grip to control it or creates a training conflict, choose a different laser.

Once sighted in, dismount and remount the laser. Confirm the zero. Any laser that cannot hold a precision zero when remounted and recoil tested should be dismissed.

Proper support
The average shooter, even at close combat ranges, will get a bouncing dot or flower on the target. Without practice, the laser user will be surprised by the exaggerated motion of the laser on the target in full recoil.

This exaggerated motion is good. Officers learn that using a steadying position, like a barricade where the muzzle does not exceed cover, trims the laser's sway. Lasers make a shooter honest about limitations.

Consider the officer seeking cover from a firing felon. As training takes over, the officer uses sound barricade techniques to reduce exposure and maximize accuracy. With a mounted laser, an officer may be able to cant the gun a little, exposing less and shooting more.

This concept also can be applied when using a body bunker with a viewing port. In this case, laser use is almost mandatory.

When holding a body bunker, bear in mind that one must train to fire in this unsupported, bent elbow position. Bent around the body bunker, the handgun might be much closer to the face. This produces a different sight picture than two-handed sighting with extended arms. The laser improves the hit probability.

Sympathetic lasering
Shooters must expand their concentration on peripheral awareness when using lasers. A laser is naturally a binocular sighting device. Although it allows the theoretical peripheral vision to be extended, the distraction of a laser is irresistible. When one team member traces the landscape, it is natural for everyone's eyes to follow the dot. A laser dot is always in motion when attached, even constructively, to a human being. While the human eye is limited in its ability to focus and resolve images far from the center of vision, it alerts to motion. Motion disrupts concentration.

With undivided attention, officer teams must train to avoid "sympathetic lasering." This occurs when several officers see a single laser settle on a prospective target. In a split second, every dot gravitates to the target. If there are multiple threats, this is a real problem. This is compounded if the lasered target is not the real threat.

If agency officers train with lasers, this problem can become an advantage. Officers accustomed to scanning while laser flowers are painted in the landscape can quickly confirm who is pointing at what. If more than two officers paint a target, others should be scanning for additional targets - laser off. Just as officers who work together regularly learn to read each other, they quickly transition to team lasering.

The other part of training with lasers is being able to transition from using them to other sighting systems. There should always be a contingency for failed batteries and foggy weather.

Improving communication
Officers can create a target identification problem with sympathetic lasering. Conversely, they can resolve target identification problems. For the military, lasers have abbreviated critical communications. For example, pointing out engagement sectors, "Gunner, you have from here to here. Any questions?"

Law enforcement lasers also can improve target identification and communication. For example, during an incident where a felon has fled to an apartment complex, the shift sergeant can use the radio and a detached laser. He can point out sectors for which each officer is responsible, followed by doorways and directions for evacuation of residents. Third, he can draw a plan of action on the building by pointing out doorways. This strategy accomplishes three things:

  • Dispatch heard and recorded the plan.
  • Officers had a concrete picture and understood their responsibilities.
  • No one left position for information.

During this incident, officers also discover lasers can confirm depth perception of certain objects. This is a good way of testing certain aspects of cover before moving up to it. Running a laser across the front of a building can give an officer a better idea how much a column sticks out or how deep a doorway is.

Lasers are an excellent law enforcement tool for the patrol, tactical or off-duty officer. Agencies should use them to increase options and improve training.