Should You Install a Laser Sight on Your Firearm?
Copyright © May 1, 2009 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
The Holy Bible tells how a simple shepherd boy defeated a nine-foot tall heavily-armed battle-hardened soldier using a smooth round stone and a sling. While Goliath was lying stunned on the ground David ran forward and removed Goliath's sword from its sheath, and then David immediately cut off Goliath's head with Goliath's own sword. According to the Bible, that is the last recorded incident of David using his sling. From that day forward David slew thousands of enemy soldiers using a sword. David had the wisdom to upgrade his self-defense weapon when the opportunity presented itself. (1 Samuel 17:40-51)
It should be noted that David's smooth round stone was a primitive projectile, and David's sling was a primitive projectile delivery device. David was successful because he was able to quickly and accurately hit exactly where he was aiming with his projectile.
Today's modern projectile weapons are firearms and bullets.
If you already own a firearm then you will need to decide whether or not you should upgrade your firearm with the most advanced technology currently available. In other words, should you add a laser sight to your existing firearm? In order to help you make this decision this article will review the advantages and shortcomings of laser sights.
Advantages of a Laser Sight
- Helps you quickly and accurately align your firearm on the center of the target.
- Permits a more rapid accurate follow-up shot on the same target if the situation requires it (a double tap).
- Helps you to more quickly realign your firearm on a target if you move to a different location behind some more effective cover.
- Allows you to accurately shoot around or over some type of cover without having to physically sight down the barrel of your firearm. You only need to be able to see where your laser dot appears on the target before you squeeze the trigger.
- Allows you to focus on the target instead of trying to focus on your front sight and on the target at the same time. Only having to focus on one object is much easier to do.
- Permits a wider field of peripheral vision because you are focusing on a more distant object instead of a closer object (your front sight). You can see more things off to each side of the original target. In other words, if you are being attacked by multiple individuals it gives you the opportunity to see more of those people at the same time and not become distracted by the one person you are currently shooting at. This allows your brain time to subconsciously plan your future shots at those other targets.
- Allows you to more rapidly acquire and successfully hit multiple targets in different locations at different distances.
- During practice training sessions it results in more accurate results in less time using less ammunition. You will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your average accuracy will significantly improve as you practice shooting at paper targets.
- Allows you to practice dry firing your weapon at a target and visually seeing how the point of bullet impact changes as you squeeze the trigger. This is a significant training aid because it helps you learn how to hold your weapon steadier as you squeeze the trigger. This will improve your future average accuracy with your firearm even when you are not using your laser sight.
- It will significantly improve your average accuracy with a short barrel handgun (2 or 3 inch barrel). The iron sights on short barrel handguns are very close together and this introduces more variability in the accuracy of the weapon. However, a laser sight allows you to concentrate on holding the laser dot on the center of the target and you will become a better shot with a short barrel handgun. I had to personally experience this significant accuracy improvement with a short barrel handgun before I would change my opinion about the average accuracy of a short barrel weapon. (Note: Due to the current shortage of 380 ammunition I was only permitted to fire six-rounds with a Ruger LCP but I was astonished at how close those shots were to the center of the target bull's-eye when I used the Crimson Trace Laser Sight as an aiming tool.)
Shortcomings of a Laser Sight
- A laser dot is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to see in bright sunlight during the middle of the day. This is especially true when the sun is shining directly on a white or brown or red object.
(Note: In artificial light a laser dot is very easy to see. Even during the middle of the day if you are indoors the laser dot will be easy to see against any background, including white, brown, or red.)
- On a bright sunny day if you can't see your laser dot on the target then you need to be intellectually prepared to fire when see that your front sight is properly aligned on the target and the target is in a direct line with the barrel of your weapon and your forearm. If you hesitate on a bright sunny day during a stressful gunfight then you may get shot.
- Your laser batteries may expire at a time of critical need. Therefore you should continue to practice without your laser sight each time you practice with your laser sight. This will enable you to remain reasonably proficient with and without a laser sight.
- Laser sights are relatively expensive. A handgun laser sight will usually cost somewhere between $180 to $290 (more or less).
Proper Handgun Grip
Your handgun should fit into your hand so the barrel is in an almost straight line with your forearm. In other words, your handgun barrel should line up with whatever you are pointing your forearm at. This will minimize the time required to align the laser dot on the center of your target. This will also allow you to more accurately shoot your handgun in the middle of a bright sunny day when your laser sight is ineffective.
Practical Laser Sight Applications
- Handguns: Yes, a laser sight is an excellent addition to a handgun.
Most handguns are accurate at a maximum of 50 feet (usually a lot less) and this is an ideal application for a laser sight.
- Shotguns: Yes, a laser sight may be installed on a semi-automatic shotgun but not a pump action shotgun.
The major problem with mounting a laser sight on a shotgun is that you will need to periodically realign the laser sight because the recoil of a shotgun will gradually change the point of laser dot aim until it no longer corresponds to the average center of shotgun shell impact.
However, the laser dot can be easily re-aligned on a shotgun by adjusting the windage and elevation laser sight settings until the laser dot appears on the target in the same spot as the top front sight of the shotgun.
A laser can be installed below the front barrel of a semi-automatic shotgun and it will allow you to more quickly and accurately align the shotgun when hunting or when using the shotgun for self-defense in a stressful situation. The first laser I installed in 1998 was under the barrel of a semi-automatic shotgun and I was very pleased with its performance. The laser activation cord extended down under the barrel of the shotgun and the laser activation button was installed on the front handgrip of the shotgun. Since it was a semi-automatic shotgun the front handgrip was stationary and it was not used to load a shell into the shotgun chamber.
This is the reason a laser sight would be significantly more difficult to install on a pump action shotgun. The pump moves back and forth under the barrel and therefore you could not mount the laser activation switch on the pump. The pump may also interfere with the laser cord if you try to mount the laser switch near the shotgun trigger. It may be possible to work out these technical issues with a pump action shotgun but I do not have a reliable solution to these issues at this time. Therefore I do not recommend the addition of a laser sight to a pump action shotgun.
- Rifles: No, a laser sight is not appropriate for a rifle.
The range of a rifle is significantly greater than either a handgun or a shotgun and you really need a good riflescope so you can clearly see your target and properly align your shot on the center of the target while taking elevation and wind drift into consideration. A riflescope will also allow you to zero your rifle from point-blank range out to the accurate trajectory of your rifle which is usually at least 150 yards. Your rifle bullet will rise and fall over this distance but if your scope was properly zeroed then you should still be able to hit inside the kill zone of your target. If you would like some suggestions on a very reliable method of sighting in a riflescope then please click on the following link: http://www.grandpappy.info/htarget.htm
Installation of a Laser Sight
- You can install a laser sight yourself. You do not need a gunsmith to successfully install a laser sight.
- Most laser sights can be installed in thirty-minutes or less by following the simple instructions that come with the laser sight.
- Laser sights can be installed without making any permanent modifications to your firearm. This means you can remove the laser sight at a future date and restore your firearm to its original factory condition and appearance and no one would know that the firearm was once equipped with a laser sight.
Types of Laser Sight Mounting Systems
- Under Barrel Mount: Appropriate for some handguns and some shotguns. The laser sight is mounted under the firearm barrel. You then adjust the windage and elevation settings of the laser sight so the point of laser dot aim matches the average point of bullet impact on the target.
- Inside Barrel Mount: Superior for semi-automatic handguns because the laser sight replaces the internal guide rod and spring. Therefore the laser is always aligned with the bore of the pistol. And the laser is completely hidden from view and completely enclosed inside the pistol. Therefore you can still use your current holster, grips, and other handgun accessories. The laser can be removed at any time and your original guide rod reinstalled to convert the weapon back into its original factory condition.
Laser Activation Switches
- Pressure Activated Switch: The switch is mounted on the outside of the weapon. When you grasp the weapon in a normal manner the activation button is depressed. In this situation the laser will automatically come on whenever you are properly holding your firearm.
- On/Off Switch: You must intentionally activate the laser sight and the laser sight will remain on until you deactivate it. This type of switch allows you the opportunity to easily practice with or without your laser sight. This is an advantage because you need to be reasonably proficient with your firearm without the use of a laser sight.
Types of Laser Beams
- Steady Beam: The laser beam is a constant round dot.
- Pulsating Beam: The laser beam produces a blinking on/off round dot. However, the round laser dot is "on" for more time than it is "off." Field tests have shown that this type of laser dot is more quickly seen (even on red objects) because it flashes on and off. The human eye can more easily and quickly detect an object in motion (flashing).
Laser Dot Size
The size of the laser dot gradually gets larger the further the target is away from the laser sight. Since everything appears smaller at further distances you will not notice the increase in the size of the laser dot unless you have a point of reference of a standard size with which you can compare the laser dot image.
- Laser batteries will discharge at a very, very slow rate when they are not being used.
- Most laser batteries may be stored for 3 to 4 years before being installed inside a laser sight.
- Laser batteries will discharge rather quickly when in continuous use. Most laser documentation quotes an average battery life of between 2 to 4 hours of continuous use. Continuous use means the laser sight had been activated and the laser beam dot is visible. Continuous use does not occur if the laser has been turned off and the batteries are simply residing inside the laser unit. (Note: Laser sight batteries discharge in approximately the same fashion as ordinary batteries inside an ordinary flashlight.)
- If possible, select a laser sight that uses a standard size battery that can be purchased at any place that sells watch batteries or hearing aid batteries.
- Buy at least two extra sets of laser batteries. When you use those batteries buy some more.
- At least once each year, such as on your birthday, always buy at least one extra set of fresh laser batteries and replace the batteries inside your laser sight even if you have not used your laser all year. This will help to ensure that your laser sight will be operational if you should need it in an emergency self-defense situation.
Specific Laser Sight Recommendations
- LaserMax Brand: LaserMax produces internal guide rod laser sights (with an on/off switch) for semi-automatic pistols made by Beretta, Glock, ParaOrdinance, SigArms, Springfield, and the Model 1911 Colt 45.
Activation: Whether you are left or right handed when you are holding your pistol in its normal firing position the on/off switch can be activated with your trigger finger before you place your finger on the trigger.
Installation on a Glock: (See above picture.) Make sure the pistol is unloaded. Remove the magazine. Disassemble the upper slide from the lower part of the pistol. Remove the original Glock Slide Lock Switch and Slide Lock Spring. (Note: The slide lock spring is silver colored and a black circle has been drawn around it in the above picture.) Install the new LaserMax Slide Lock Spring and Slide Lock Switch. Remove the Glock Spring Guide and insert the LaserMax Laser Sight into the original Glock Spring Guide position. Reassemble the pistol. Pull the slide back. Pull the trigger (pistol still unloaded). Peel and then apply the small "Laser Warning Label" on the front barrel of the Glock. The LaserMax Laser Sight is now installed. Save the original three Glock parts so you can return the pistol to its original factory condition at some future date if you decide to remove the LaserMax Laser Sight. (Note: The LaserMax Laser Sight for the Glock Model 22 uses three Energizer 393 or Rayovac 393 or Wal-Mart 393 watch batteries.)
Accidental Activation: On some pistols the laser on/off switch may be accidentally activated when inserting the pistol into a holster, or when adjusting the pistol inside the holster. If your holster has an open bottom then you will be able to see the laser dot pointing towards the ground. Never look into the open end of your holster when you have your firearm in the holster. You will not only be looking directly into the laser beam (if it is on) but you will also be looking into the barrel of your firearm. This would be stupid so resist the temptation to do it.
Recoil Spring: If you are a high-volume shooter then you may need to replace the recoil spring based on the recommendations of your pistol manufacturer. (Note: According to the LaserMax Manual that accompanies the Glock Laser, the new LaserMax Spring that comes with the LaserMax Laser Sight is good for 5,000 rounds.)
Technical Specifications: http://www.lasermax.com
- Crimson Trace Brand: Crimson Trace produces external and internal laser sights with external button activation switches for Glock, Kel-Tec, Ruger, Sig Sauer, and Smith & Wesson.
Technical Specifications: http://www.crimsontrace.com/
- Never look into the beam of any type of laser and never point a laser beam at someone's face or eyes. Permanent eye damage could result.
- Never store your laser sight where a child may find it and play with it. This could result in permanent eye damage to the child and/or to the child's playmates.
- Attach the laser "Danger Warning Label" that comes with your laser sight onto your firearm. This will keep you in compliance with federal laws and this may help to avoid a potential future legal technicality problem.
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As of May 1, 2009 the following internet store had the lowest prices on laser sights.
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(Note: Click the MORE button on the OpticsPlanet web page to see a complete list of all their laser sights.)
At the current time in the United States an adult may legally purchase firearms, and high-capacity magazines, and laser sights.
However, new laws can be passed at any time and without any advance warning and without asking you for your opinion. If new firearm laws are passed then those laws may restrict the future sale of some items, such as high-capacity magazines and laser sights, to law enforcement personnel only.
The window of opportunity is now.
It would be sad if you let this opportunity to upgrade your firearm pass you by.
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