History is chock-full of technological advances that overcame initial skepticism. For example, at some point, an enterprising hunter thought that setting food on fire rather than eating it raw would be a good idea. Another is when someone thought about adding laser sights to firearms.

Yes, we all know firearms have been topped with fail-resistant iron sights for hundreds of years. However, change happens, and change can be hard, but once technology proves the skeptics wrong, change can also be very good.

In the case of laser sights, they add capabilities to handguns without actually removing any of the features and benefits we already have with today’s firearms. This is an important distinction, as the debates about whether laser sights are good or bad often deteriorate to pithy judgements like, "What will you do when the battery dies."

Since there’s no law that says a firearm owner has to remove the iron sights or even stop using them when installing a laser sight, the arguments become moot. So, let’s explore some of the things that a quality laser sight can add to your repertoire.

What Laser Sights Provide

A laser sight improves sighting in low-light conditions. Whether red or green, a laser sight is virtually impossible to miss in low-light and dark conditions.

A laser sight supports the natural human tendency to focus on the threat during a stressful encounter. Our natural fight or flight responses desperately scream for the brain to focus on the threat at hand, not to revert back to handgun sights to aim. A laser sight put the dot on the threat, which supports your brain’s natural tendency to simultaneously focus on the threat and aim.

A laser sight allows the user to shoot accurately from less-conventional positions. Whether fighting or moving, holding a handgun in front of your face to maintain a perfect sight picture interferes with your vision. Since laser sighting doesn’t require your eyes to be lined up with sights and the target, you can fire from less-than-ideal positions such as from behind barriers or directly from low-ready search positions.

A laser sight is faster in low-light conditions. In daylight, laser sight dots aren’t easy to find, so they can be slower. That’s OK. Daylight use isn’t their purpose anyway. In the dark, a laser sight dot is orders-of-magnitude brighter than even high-quality night sights. Finding the aim point is virtually instantaneous.

In low-light conditions, your eye tends to auto-select which sighting method to use — iron sights or the laser sight. Interestingly, there’s no need to consciously decide between using iron or laser sights in darker conditions. Just use whatever your eye sees first. I have years and years of iron-sight conditioning under my belt, but when using a laser-sight-equipped pistol in dark conditions, I see the laser sight first.

Response Strategy

It’s important to understand that these benefits can’t be realized to their full potential unless the laser sight is an integral and automatic element of your gear and software package. In other words, laser sighting has to work naturally, without you having to think about it. This point was driven home to me during a training encounter at Gunsite Academy some years ago.

I was doing a training class using a laser-sight-equipped handgun at the Gunsite playhouse facility. The playhouse is a building set up for indoor shooting using Simunition or with frangible ammo. Good guy, bad guy and hostage simulations allow you to learn tactics, figure out mistakes and get instant feedback from Gunsite instructors as you navigate unknown situations.

Not being my first rodeo, I was perhaps a bit overconfident going in using a Glock Simunitions pistol equipped with a manually activated laser sight. Unlike Instinctive Activation, manual activation requires using the trigger finger to activate the laser sight before you need to aim and shoot. No problem, right? Well, I went through the entire playhouse, finding, identifying and dispatching bad guy targets with confidence and authority. At the end of the course of fire, my instructor deadpanned, “I wonder if it would have been easier if you’d turned on your laser sight?”

And there you have it. Having to manually activate your laser sight sounds simple enough on paper. To build the habit of doing it every time, you just need to train, right? Well, yes, I had practiced and trained. Perhaps not daily, but then again, clearing houses with laser-sight-equipped handguns isn’t my full-time job.

The lesson from this activity was no big surprise. The simpler you can make your response strategy, the more likely that you’ll be able to follow your plan in an adrenaline-fueled, self-defense encounter.

Get a Grip - Go Instinctive!

The simplicity benefit is why my concealed-carry handguns are equipped with Instinctive Activation laser sights. Here’s how they work.

Different designs allow mounting of laser sights in optimal locations on a particular handgun while maintaining the grip-activation feature.

Traditional laser sight grips like the LG-401 Lasergrips for 1911 pistols replace the existing handgun grip panels. Flat batteries like CR2032s fit in the new grip panels, and a miniature laser sight unit is molded into the upper surface of a grip. With most laser-sight-grip designs, the two grip panels are connected by a pressure pad that crosses the leading surface of the handgun grip. When the user grips the firearm normally and applies a moderate amount of pressure, the laser sight activates for as long as pressure is applied.

The first approach mounts the laser sight under the barrel forward of the triggerguard. Whether or not the pistol has a rail, the laser sight body is molded to fit the pistol’s dust cover, wraps around the edge of the triggerguard, and extends a pressure pad switch to the front of the frame just below the triggerguard. The Crimson Trace LG-443 Series Laserguards for Glock 42 and 43 pistols are a great example of this approach.

Pressure-pad instinctive activation isn’t limited to the front of the grip. Just as 1911s and many Springfield Armory pistols use a grip safety on the rear grip surface, laser sights can take a similar approach. The Crimson Trace LG-639 Lasergrips for Glock Gen 3, 4 and 5s slip over the existing Glock frame and position a pressure-activation switch on the back of the grip strap. It’s a novel approach that offers a few benefits.

While a forward-mounted laser sight in front of the triggerguard requires a new holster, the Lasergrips for the Glock approach keeps the laser sight out of the way of your existing holster, so you can use the ones you already own. There’s a second benefit, too.

When the laser sight is mounted anywhere but forward of the triggerguard, it’s possible to add a firearm-mounted light to supplement the laser sight. An example of this is combining Lasergrips featuring a front-of-frame pressure pad with a Crimson Trace LTG-770 Lightguard. The Lightguard mounts forward of the triggerguard and places its pressure pad on the lower surface of the triggerguard, just forward of the Lasergrip pad.

When the user assumes a firing grip, both pressure pads are compressed, and light and laser sight activate. If you lighten up your grip pressure, you can easily turn both light and laser sight off.

The bottom line is simple. Using instinctive-activation laser sights add capabilities to your self-defense arsenal. With no items to add to your mental checklist, the benefits of a laser are simply there and ready when you need it most.