Handheld Lights

I will start off with a quick story. I have always recognized the value of handheld lights for searching for the source of noises. I started using handheld lights, long ago, when a friend of mine made the horrible mistake of using his weapon mounted light to check the noises in the bushes while he was walking his dog. He found a neighbor, who’s dog was watering the bushes. He also pissed off that neighbor because he was pointing his gun at him. He narrowly avoided the call to the police, but he really damaged his reputation in the neighborhood. He was lucky.

Fast forward to a seminar I attended last weekend at the NRA Carry Guard Expo. Jeff Gonzalez presented a seminar on handheld lights. After the seminar, I thanked Jeff for the great information and said that I still wasn’t buying that a handheld light can be used to blind or disorient somebody. One of the other attendees said that he could prove it to me. He took a step back, and quickly flashed me in the face with his light. OK. I was wrong. Damn! I threw my hand up in front of me to fend off that evil flash of light.

Background on Light Levels

I am odd as I was really interested in the whole concept of different levels of light and how they impact us. Jeff discussed three different types of natural light. Some of you may not care, but since I am writing this, I get to decide what to write.

  • Diurnal – Humans have two types of of receptors in the eye, rods and cones. Rods are more sensitive to dim light but do not provide good color depth and they provide course images. Cones provide sharper images and good color depth. There is a point when light is too dim to see color, and we are only able to see in black and white.
  • Mesopic – Low light, but not quite dark times fall in this category. For example, most outdoor lighting and traffic lights provide this kind of light. Mesopic is between the Photopic (where there is good color discrimination) and Scotopic levels where it is all black and white.
  • Scotopic – The lower extreme of lighting conditions exclusively using rods and your vision, if any, is in black and white.

Why do we care? Well, it is hard to be a good witness when we don’t have clarity of vision and our eyes are not receptive to the color spectrum. It is also hard to get a good sight picture when trying to use a handgun in low light conditions.

The Light Beam

There are three parts to the typical flashlight beam:

  • Hotspot – The center of the beam which provides the strongest light.
  • Corona – The area between the hotspot and the spill/wash of the light.
  • Spill/Wash – The outer portions of the light beam.

Impact of Light

As was made clear to me, the human eye is very sensitive to light. Damn! If ILightBeam close my eyes, I can still see the spots. How we react to the introduction of over powering bright light is important. In a defensive situation, the person that we flash in the face with our light will suffer the effects and respond by:

  • Closing their eyes
  • Turning away from the light
  • Blocking the light with a hard or some object

Bright light can even be painful. Yes, I promise you that is true.

Side Note: The Wife and my oldest son also got the experience of an intense beam to the face when I got back from the conference. I had to share. Smile

Use of Light

As defensive gun users, we use light in a few ways.

Target Identification – The most common use of a light in a defensive WP_20170830_18_41_17_Prosituation is to identify the target and verify the target before shooting or taking some other action. We have all heard the stories of the teenager or some other family member coming in late at night and being shot as a suspected intruder. It is vital that we identify the target before shooting.

Search – We saw the bad guy, and he evaded us. He might be in the basement or in another room, so we need to search and make sure that the area is clear. This, by the way, is a great use for a weapon mounted light, too.

Investigating – We heard noises, and we need to see what cause the noise. This is where we should never use a weapon mounted light. Ever. You should never point the gun’s muzzle at something we are not willing to destroy (Rule 2!). It is easy to explain away a flashlight to the face when it is just a flashlight by saying, “Wow, sorry, I didn’t know it was you. Sorry about that!” All will be well with your neighbor, but you can bet all will not be well if you are pointing a gun at them.

Pre-Handgun Deployment – In the case we are investigating, and we find a bad guy, we have the light in hand to use while we deploy our handgun. The light can be used for disorientation, as an improvised striking tool, and the wash of the light can be used to monitor the hands of the potential attacker while the light is shined at their face.

Choosing a Light

Power – Generally, lumens is the best measure of the output power of a flashlight. The general consensus is that 80 lumens is enough to temporarily blind somebody. However, today, most manufacturers recommend a minimum of 200 to 300 lumens. I know several instructors that recommend at least 500 lumens. The higher power, the lower the battery life, so there is a balance to be achieved. A good light is not expensive. The light shown in the attached pictures cost less than $30 and is 320 lumens. It is more than powerful enough, and if you don’t believe me, ask my son and my wife. They will tell you.

Some examples, for comparison:

  • 100 Watt Incandescent Light Bulb – 1600 Lumens
  • Car Head Light – 700 to 1200 Lumens, and more for some
  • 60 Watt Incandescent Light Bulb – 800 Lumens

Note: Lumens can be measured at the emitter or out the front of the device. Out the front is a better comparison as light is lost by the lenses of many devices. While not perfect, most companies use lumens as it is a better comparable measurement than most others.

Size – The size of a good handheld light can be fairly small and fit easily in a pocket and be held in a hand, covertly. Too small, and it is hard to hold, and there is little use as an improvised striking weapon. Too big, and it is not easy to hold and is sure is not subtle when deploying it.

Construction – Aluminum or plastic are the two major options, and aluminum is the better material for longer life, and better striking force. WP_20170830_18_41_57_ProRemember, we can use the handheld light to strike an attacker. A good strong bezel made for striking can be very beneficial. Of course, the bezel can be over done and you could end up with some ugly DNA extractor on the end of your flashlight. Construction should also include considerations for the light bulb and battery type. Typically, LEDs handle impact shock better, have better battery life, and have brighter light than incandescent bulbs, and CR123 batteries provide better power than rechargeable batteries or standard size batteries.

Switch – Tail cap. I just don’t think a side switch is a good idea as it limits how you are able to hold the flashlight. With a tail cap, it is really easy to engage the switch with your thumb. Also, I would stay away from the Rogers/Surefire Ring attachment as it will make it difficult to easily deploy a flashlight out of a pocket.

Modes – Strobe mode seems to be one of the newer fads. When you are trying to watch somebody and see their hands, a strobe might not be a good idea as you only see those split times of movement. A good option is to have a high and low brightness mode. The low mode can be used for extended use to extend battery life, and the high mode can be used for the blinding effect.

Using the Handheld Light With Your Gun

There are several well known methods of using a handheld light. Some of them are better than others. I will try to hit the high points of the more prominent methods. I am, purposefully, leaving off the Graham and Rogers techniques. I do not consider them to be better than the ones that follow as they do not provide for a good grip on the light and the SureFire ring is not helpful when it comes to deploying the light.

My personal preferences are to use the neck index and FBI methods as they allow you to move your gun separate from the light, and they can be used before deploying your gun.

Harries – Michael Harries developed this technique that is based on an ice pick grip on the flashlight and the shooters hands held back to back. The flashlight needs to have an end cap switch.


  • Gun and light work together and you will muzzle anywhere you point your lightHarries
  • Great isometric tension resulting in stable gun grip
  • Can be used with large and small flashlights
  • Can use standard stance
  • Illumination of target, surroundings, and can use sights
  • Works well with a tail cap switch
  • Can start with just the flashlight and deploy the gun without having to change grip on the light


  • Gun and light work together and you will muzzle anywhere you point your light
  • Beam is slightly off center from aiming point
  • Easy to muzzle support hand moving into the position

Chapman – This technique, using an underhand sword grip, was developed by Ray Chapman. The hands are held side by side. The flashlight needs to have a side switch. The three lower fingers of the support hand wrap around the shooting hand to improve the grip on the gun and provide more stability. The image to the right is from the video that is linked.


  • Can use standard stance
  • Strong grip
  • Can be used with side switch flashlights


  • Flashlight must have a side switch
  • Beam is center mass
  • The flashlight bangs against the gun when moving and when shooting

Ayoob – This technique was developed by Massad Ayoob. The flashlight is held in a sword grip like Chapman, but the grip is more overhand than underhand like Chapman. This technique uses a flashlight with a side switch.


  • Beam is off center, and the gun is held in a low ready while the beam illuminates the target.Ayoob
  • The beam can be adjusted, easily, up and down.


  • Gun and light work together and you will muzzle near where you point your light
  • Requires a side switch light.
  • The grip on the gun is not as strong as other techniques.
  • Tiring
  • The flashlight bangs against the gun when moving and when shooting

Neck index – The flashlight is held in the support hand at the neck. As your turn, the flashlight points in the direction of your view. Your gun is held in one hand.


  • Light points where you look
  • Light is independent of gun movement
  • Works with small and large lights
  • Works well with end cap or side switch lights
  • Flashlight can be easily used as an impact weapon if needed


  • Single hand grip is less stable
  • Stronger impact on night vision
  • Illuminates shooter’s gun and hand
  • Light can create glare on the gun’s sights

FBI – The light is held in an ice pick grip high to the support side and the gun is held in a single hand grip and the light is moved around to minimize exposure of the shooter and make it harder for an attacker to aim based on the location of the light.


  • Can use small and large lights with either end cap or side switches
  • Light held away from body
  • Hand can move around to improve searching
  • Light and gun are able to move independently


  • Single hand grip is less stable
  • Stronger impact on night vision

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