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The Weaponlight Boogey Man

By this time you’ve probably heard about the Force Science News report on weapon-mounted lights by Dr. Bill Lewinski. Specifically examined were the pistol-mounted lights with pressure-activated switches manufactured by SureFire. The review was inspired by a negligent discharge situation where a pistol with a light attached was involved. The “suspected drug-dealer” being held at gunpoint was shot and killed by a police officer using said gun light.

Stress-based Confusion

In his report Dr. Lewinski made several very serious assertions. Of these, Lewinski asserts that despite training to do otherwise officers under stress tend to move their fingers to the trigger. He also goes on to discuss sympathetic motor response and digital/muscle confusion during stress “you think you are doing one but instead doing another.”

Here’s the thing, he is right. All those statements are absolutely true. They are also not exactly shocking revelations. Professional firearms trainers have for years understood Sympathetic Motor Response. They understand the affects of adrenaline on fine motor skills during life and death situations. Here’s the rub, all these issues were in place LONG before the advent of the weapon-mounted light.

The muscle (digital) confusion and trigger-touching issues are real but they are not the fault of weapon-mounted lights. Cops were ND’ing their guns long before SureFire hung out their shingle. So, what is the solution?

Return to the Dark Ages?

Regarding bright white lights mounted to defensive firearms, the genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. I don’t see the law enforcement community going backwards and stripping away all the tactical lights from handguns and long guns. Should we return to the dark ages and go back to using “Rayovac” aluminum flashlights that weighed two-pounds and put out a whopping 50 candle-power?

One statistic that cannot be calculated is this: How many negligent shootings have been prevented by the advent of weapon-mounted lights? Forget negligent for a minute, how many bad guys have surrendered after being bathed in white light thus realizing they’ve been had?

Many folks love to tout visible laser sights as “life-savers” because this perp or that surrendered after seeing the red laser dot dancing around on their chest. Could the case also be made that innumerable bad guys, who were otherwise prone to violence, decided to live to fight another day and submitted to arrest after they were powered down with blinding white light? These statistics are more elusive but worth considering nonetheless.

The Training Conundrum

I’ve been in the gun carrying game for better than two decades as U.S. Marine and then as a police officer. I’ve also been an instructor in one form or another since 1990 and I’ve been fighting the same fight the entire time. The struggle all trainers have is combating the thought process which views training as a luxury or convenience. “We’ll do some training if we have time…or… if we can find the money.”

When budgets get tight, and they always do, training is the first department to get cut. This goes directly back to the luxury/convenience thinking. Far too many law enforcement administrators view training days not as productive uses of time but as a waste or some kind of dodge to get out of work. They have to pay officers to for training time and that cuts into “real work”. In these cases I suspect that these administrators didn’t like or appreciate training when they were young troops so they carried that bias with them as they advanced in their careers.

If you expect to be able to use any type of gear or equipment under the extreme stress of a life or death/deadly force scenario you simply must be trained to use said gear and then practice with it regularly. All physical skills are perishable and must be practiced frequently if any degree of proficiency is to be expected.

When specifically discussing weapon-mounted lights and training this becomes even more difficult of an issue. Cops rarely train at night or in darkness and few L.E. trainers are prepared to instruct troops with these lights. “It’s just a flashlight.” They say “I think I know how to use a flashlight.” Of course, we aren’t talking about using a light to find your car keys. We’re talking about using one in deadly force situation.

Parting Shots

Whenever cops fail, and shooting an unarmed “suspect” falls into this category, there is a rush to assign blame and more often than not “blame” is assigned to inanimate objects. Consider the 1986 FBI Miami Shoot-Out. After a lengthy post-incident investigation the 9mm Winchester Silver-Tipped Hollow-Point was assigned the majority of the blame for not performing as it should have.

In the current case we have a report that says an inanimate object, tactical light, was to blame for a negligent shooting. Not the agency’s failure to train or the officer’s inability to operate the equipment properly. We could strip away every weapon mounted light from every cop gun in the nation and by next week some officer somewhere would have a negligent discharge.

Training, education, and practice are not luxuries for surgeons, heavy-equipment operators, or airline pilots. But for some reason far too many law enforcement agencies still view training as a luxury or a simple line item to be cut from a tight budget. Sadly I don’t see this changing any time soon. It’s easy to blame inanimate objects for failures, they can’t defend themselves.

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Mr. Markel  is a former United States Marine, Police Officer, and has worked as a professional bodyguard both in the U.S. and overseas. A Subject Matter Expert on Small Arms and Tactics, Markel has provided instruction to law enforcement and U.S. Military troops.

As a recognized author and writer, Paul has penned several hundred articles published in numerous professional journals and trade periodicals. Topics include firearms training, use of force, marksmanship, less-than-lethal force options, product reviews and evaluations, emergency medical care, and much more. Sought after as a public speaker, Mr. Markel is at home in front of an audience large or small.