Laser sights get a bad rap from gun know-it-alls. You’ll hear pithy and condescending comments like these…
• Laser sights are a crutch.
• Lasers are only for people who can’t use iron sights properly.
• Laser sights are slower.
• What are you gonna do when you’re laser battery runs out in the middle of a gunfight?
• Lasers are delicate and will break at inopportune times.
• Serious shooters don’t need them.
Those folks are missing the point. Completely. Lasers add capabilities to your existing knowledge, skills, and equipment without taking anything away. Who wouldn’t want that type of tradeoff?
Also see: A Handgun Laser Primer
To better understand the laser sight debate you might make an analogy to car headlights. There was a time when cars didn’t have them. So maybe that vehicle was more like a horse, but we’re making an analogy here so stick with us. Without headlights, you could drive in daylight conditions. With some care, you could also drive at night, but you’d have to go slower and be much more careful.
But if you add headlights to your car, you now have improved driving capabilities. Those headlights you installed do nothing to diminish your ability to drive in the daylight. However, at night, the lights allow you to see more clearly and farther ahead, so you can drive faster with less risk of running off the road. You’ve added benefits to what you already had.
Lasers are similar in that respect. There’s nothing preventing you from using your good old iron sights in light or dark conditions. Knock yourself out. However, you can do some things with lasers that you can’t do with iron sights. In other words, they add new capabilities to your pistol configuration.
There are four big benefits to laser sights.
Non-traditional sighting positions.
With iron sights, you need to raise your gun to eye level and line up the rear sight, front sight, and target with your eye. Simply put, your gun has to be in front of your face in order for you to aim.
When using a laser, you can be holding the gun in virtually any safe position and still aim at the target. Since the dot on target provides aiming information, the gun does not have to be at eye level. This can offer flexibility when shooting around or over barricades like furniture or walls.
Focus on the target or threat.
Our human survival instinct encourages the eyes and brain to focus on a threat. That’s why so many self-defense shootings result in hits on or near the attacker’s gun hand. The gun is the threat, so that’s where the brain instinctively wants to aim.
When using iron sights, we have to train “around” our natural instinct to focus on the threat and bring the focal point back to the front sight. Lasers support the natural instinct of focusing on the threat as that’s exactly where the dot is - on the target itself.
Speed in dark conditions.
While you can use a laser sight, especially a green one, in daylight conditions, that’s not the ideal usage scenario. Lasers shine (see what I did there?) is low light conditions. It’s in the darkness that the bright laser dot jumps into view. If you ever have the opportunity to shoot under safe but dark conditions, give it a try. I’ll bet you a nickel you’ll be surprised at how fast you’re able to get shots on target using a laser compared to night sights or standard sights with a weapon or hand-held flashlight.
Your handgun doesn’t have to block your field of view.
While related to the first benefit, we’ll detail this one separately. If you have to navigate while holding a gun, a laser sight allows you to carry the handgun lower yet still be able to instantly shoot if needed. By holding your gun below face level, you’ll have a clear and unobstructed view, and if you need to fire, you won’t need to raise your gun to establish a proper sight picture. This is one of the reasons that laser sights can be faster in certain conditions.
The bottom line
If you know what lasers can and can’t do, and train accordingly, they can add to your toolkit of available options. They’re not a substitute for standard sights; they’re intended to provide additional options in certain conditions.