A Nurse with a Gun

Friday, February 06, 2009

Thoughts on Crimson Trace Laser Grips

Crimson Trace laser grips are endorsed by some well known and celebrated shooters in the gun world. Several readers have written asking me my opinion of lasers on handguns, and in particular, Crimson Trace's laser grips. I am no where near the level of experience or accomplishment as some of the advocates of laser sights, but I have owned and used the product. I'm not sure why my opinion is worth much, but for what it's worth, here it is.

I own one pistol with Crimson Trace laser grips, a Beretta 92FS. I rarely shoot the pistol any more, but because it was the first gun I bought after leaving the US Navy, I have kept it. Mel Gibson was shooting bad guys in Lethal weapon with a laser sight at the time, and as soon as I could obtain laser grips, they went on my black Italian high capacity blaster. Years later, I purchased a used SW1911 that wore Crimson Trace laser grips. I quickly sold off the laser grips to lower the total price I paid for the pistol.

I have kept the laser grips on the Beretta so people I take shooting can try them out if they like. Laser grips have a few advantages. They are another sighting option besides conventional sights. What they are not is a panacea for poor marksmanship skills. If you can not hold the front sight on target as you pull the trigger towards sear break, a laser will not help you. There are no laser guided bullets, and the bullet will still go where the muzzle is pointed when the primer ignites the charge.

Laser sights do help a shooter to see what is happening during their trigger pull when used with dry fire practice. The red dot bouncing all over the place as the muzzle twitches around is undeniable proof that the shooter needs to work on trigger control. Laser grips can be the reality check that spurs the shooter in the right direction towards marksmanship.

Many people harbor a childhood fear of the dark, but darkness can be a friend and a great equalizer if used to tactical advantage. Advantages in low light are quickly negated by the improper use of the laser or a flashlight. While demonstating how these tools can be used in conjunction to engage a threat in a dynamic environment, it is easy to forget one of the most important principles of survival. Keep it simple. I have to wonder if a low light situation might have a higher survival rate if the defender holds a position and depends on their dilated pupils to see an approaching threat, and then suddenly illuminating it to identify and blind it while the decision is made whether to fire. House clearing with a handgun is complicated enough in a crunch. Placing flashlights and lasers in the mix does not make it less complex or more survivable.

Being able to accurately shoot on the move is one of the most essential skills to surviving a gun fight. One must not only be able to shoot accurately while closing and escaping a threat, but also while moving laterally to it. When exposed in the open, a shooter's own movement is what helps protect them from being shot. Although it is possible to contine the fight once shot, a defender's ability to persevere drops dramatically if they take a bullet. In my experience, if a person can not hold the sights on target while moving, they will not be able to hold a red dot on target while moving. Again, the laser might be a useful teaching tool, but it is not a substitute for the skill needed.

Some cite the advantage of being able to shoot around corners, and from your back with the laser as an advantage. Shooting around corners is a tactical problem, not an equipment problem. I figure if I'm on my back, my attacker is on top of me, and I will either be at close enough range that the laser will not make a difference. I will shoot to stop the attack in progress, or I will be getting to my feet and seeking cover. Of course, anyone can be surprised and end up fighting from the ground. This is when alternative skillsets come in handy, and a laser can not replace them.

Most advocates of laser sights cite the "shit in the pants" factor a thug supposedly receives when he realizes a red dot is placed on his breastbone. This may or may not be true. Thugs are individuals and may not react like normal people. The red dot on the chest may have the same effect as the sound of hand cuffs clicking or a pump shotgun chambering a round. The stimulus that compels one thug to comply may cause the next thug to attack. Red dots don't stop threats.

And another thing..... When holding a gun on a threat, assuming a civilian even has the occasion to do so, conventional wisdom states that the finger should be off the trigger, especially when using a single action firearm such as a 1911. This is done to prevent an unintentional discharge that may kill a compliant person who was previously a threat. I personally index my trigger finger alongside the frame of the gun to prevent a startle reflex from initiating a sympathetic trigger pull that could result in an avoidable tragedy. The Crimson Trace laser is frequently obscured when the trigger finger is indexed in this way. I encourage every shooter considering this product to also consider how it will be used, and how it fits into the training they have already cemented into their psyche. It is that training they will revert back to in a crunch, and the new gizmo they are dependent on may not work as they expect.

Recently, I have looked through a series of advertising videos with the byline "The One with the Laser Survived." In fairness, I have embedded these videos here. I embedded these videos not to dispute the conclusions of the distinguished luminaries advocating laser grips, but simply to allow their views to be heard as well. The end decision is up to the individual shooter. I may very well purchase a set of Crimson Trace laser grips for my Model 649 Bodyguard. Heck, if I don't need the laser, it isn't there. I use the gun for training though. If the laser can help me with training, and perhaps help in a crunch, why not?

But as far as the person with a laser being the person who survives? I challenge anyone to point to a person who was mortally wounded in a gun fight because they lacked a laser sight. One conclusion appears over and over again when considering laser grips. They are not a replacement for basic marksmanship or tactics. A shooter must integrate the laser into their training if they are to use it effectively. Expecting a laser to perform a magic trick in lieu of proper training is a recipe for disaster. In my experience, the person with awareness, training and a bit of luck on their side will be the one who survives. You can't buy that at the gun counter.

Syd's thoughts

Mas Ayoob's Thoughts

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Blogger Sean said...

So... what you're saying is with defensive shooting, there are no magic talismans, period? WOW!

Thank you for posting this post, helps prove the point perfectly.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Mr.Potato said...

I personally think laser sights on a 'real gun' are not my kind of thing but I do have them on miniguns like the Ruger LCP.

I think the miniguns either don't have sights or have sights that are pretty much worthless. Because of this and due to the nature of the minigun's stopping power (small bullets) it would be to an advantage to shoot from the hip and to improve precision when shooting from the hip. IMHO laser sights are usefull under these conditions.

There are exceptions however with miniguns and laser sights. The Beretta Tomcat with laser grips has the grips so thick that they look like you'd be holding a zuchhini. I do believe that the benefits of the Keltec and Ruger LCP are the size of the pistol and the thinness of the pistol. They can be easily carried in a wallet or in a SQUARE neoprene pouch without raising any suspicion. You can take the wallet out of your pocket and put it on a table if you needed to and no one will get nervous about packing heat. I find it funny that the Ruger LCP comes with a pouch which countours the shape of a gun. Why, why, why? The pouch should be square and have no gun insignias. The Crimson trace setup for Keltec and Ruger is in front of the trigger, adding to the square profile of the gun while keeping the thinnes of it.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Erik said...

Something just occured to me when I read this.
What would you think of laser grips as a training tool? If used at the same time as the ordinary sights, it would give instant feedback as to sight alignment, and also possibly any flinching. The goal of the excercise would be to keep the sights and the dot aligned at the target during the shot, and to return there after the recoil.
I would think this would be a good way to spot any problem with firing technique, in a somewhat more obvious way than "not hitting the target".

10:52 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Good summary, Xavier.

In my experience, and as a trainer of disabled students, I find the laser grip to have four very distinct advantages.

1. If one's using a gun with minimalist sights (e.g. a typical snub-nose revolver), in low light, the sights are often almost invisible. The laser dot really helps at such times.

2. If one is driven to the floor, and must draw and use one's backup weapon (e.g. from a pocket holster), one may not be able to get a proper sight picture (and there's the risk that extending your arm to get one might allow your assailant to grab the gun). Under those close-combat conditions, to be able to put the dot on the target and squeeze off a round is useful.

3. If you zero the laser at the range of your choice, in low-light conditions (and with a weapon with minimalist sights) the dot can allow you to make a shot that you wouldn't normally take. For example, I can routinely make head-shots with a J-frame .38 Special snub-nose revolver at up to 50 yards, using the properly-zeroed laser grip. This is virtually impossible for me with the standard sights.

4. As one gets older, and one's eyesight isn't what it used to be, the dot is sometimes more visible than the sights of the gun.

However, I completely agree that the laser dot is no substitute for training and experience with the weapon, including mastering the trigger-squeeze, using the sights in normal and low light conditions, etc. Without that, the laser will just be a distraction.

11:19 AM  
Blogger tom said...

I, like you, use it to show people how much their muzzle is jumping around when learning trigger control, the same thing can be done with a telescopic sighted handgun.

In most all lighting situations I've found Front Sight-->Press to be much quicker than playing the "find the red dot" game. I still have the Traces on one Smith DA revolver for instructional purposes, but I never have it turned on when I'm shooting it. Novelty and training tool is my vote.

If you want to scare a person by putting a red dot on him, you can do that with a 2.99 laser pointer. I'll take a flashlight instead, please, and not attached to my handgun.

11:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since when is Michael Bane on expert on gunfights?

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since when is Michael Bane an expert on gunfights?

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few years back my youngest was contemplating a S&W 637 with the CTGs installed because the S&W rep was at the range and was offering a 'discount'.
So, the range had one to try out. He did. He learned a couple things.
1-- the 637 had a longer trigger pull than he imagined it would,
and if he fixated on the dot, it was detrimental.
2 -- having gotten used to the trigger pull, he found he was shooting the 637 comfortably and in the double tap area he was aiming for -- but he realized he wasn't seeing the dot, he was using the front sight as he was used to with his Glock.
I agree, if they didn't cost as much as they do, I'd have at least 1 for some training exercises.
Instead, I try to spend time shooting and practicing what-if's and have someone else watch for bad habits or tactical errors.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use laser-equipped guns with students as a training tool, and it does speed the process. When they claim they have a good sight picture but the dot is 3" low and 5" right, that immediately tells me they need more assistance understanding what sight picture is.

And, especially with DA revolvers, if the dot is flying all over the target while they cycle the gun in dry fire we have hand strength and grip issues to resolve.

I've tried them in house clearing drills and am undecided; they may be an aid to hitting, once one reaches the "automatic" point with them, but at usual CQB distances muscle memory from extensive training is more useful for hitting the target. I suspect a number of people get a laser in lieu of that training and practice, which I think is to their detriment.

One thing I noticed deals with the "automatic" part: one needs to not activate the laser until one actually needs it. Inadvertently activating it will send the dot dancing all over the walls and furniture, and it's doubtful the bad guy will ignore that. If one is to actually use a laser one needs to practice enough with it to be able to automatically control it, and that will require very close examination of one's grip. Buy lots of batteries....

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do any law enforcement agencies require laser sights on their duty sidearm?

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Caleb said...

I doubt you'd find a knowledgeable advocate of laser sites that believes that throwing a laser on your gun is a substitute for training.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Tanner said...

Good post, as usual. You bring up several disadvantages of the laser sight that tend to get over looked.

However, I agree with the videos when they place importance on having a flashlight. While they require additional training and do make a high stress scenario more complex, I consider them to be almost as critical as your firearm.

Gunfighting in the dark seems to me to be a chancy thing, at best. Your earlier article about the stalker attacking the family was a perfect scenario where a flashlight would have helped the defender.

Once the first shot is fired in the dark, all night vision will be gone from the muzzle flash. If you can't see what you are shooting at, most likely you shouldn't be shooting. Even if you are in your own home.

Plus, if you use the light properly, it can disorient and stun the attacker. As a cop, I have a hard time remembering to shine the light in the suspect's eyes. I am usually looking at their hands and that is where my light used to go before I was properly trained.

I have had the opportunity to play the bad guy in our force on force training, and an effectively used flashlight is an excellent tool.

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One benefit of Lasers that I have heard of is they help negate the reduced sight radius of shot barreled guns like snub-nose revolvers.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you xavier.I put CT grips on my smith 442 for a while and ended up replacing them with smooth wood grips and having a Tritium capsule put in the front sight only.I had the same problem with my trigger finger obscuring the sight,found that the grips printed a LOT more than wood grips and have a STRONG preference for simple and sturdy when it comes to survival tools.I also agree with your other points,however the person I sold the grips to is very happy with them,they suit his needs and preferences.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I have two guns with CTGs a Taurus 605 and a Springfield V-10 Champion
Both have short sight radii, and the laser is always off unless I am dry firing. It is easy enough to snap on the main power switch when drawing, and I practice that often. I liked the idea of blanking the beam with the trigger finger for safety and stealth. I have the models that have a single pressure switch on the front of the grip, under the middle finger. I can modulate it in practice, but in the stress of a real confrontation, I doubt if I would or could ease up any part of my grip.

The laser on the snubnosed 605 did help with some plinking last month, 50 yard hits on dark rubber silhouettes at the end of the day against a dark dirt berm. The dot scattered on the dark earth but shown like a beacon on the rubber squirrel spinners.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Nate said...

Just last night, for the first time, I went and spectated a bowling pin shooting match. I've no experience with lasers, though I admit I want one for my Kel-Tec, but watching some of those guys put a red dot on a bowling pin, and then seeing the pin disappear was pretty impressive.

I'll have to watch those videos this weekend and see if I get an opinion about defensive use.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Farm.Dad said...

I do not now have a laser equipped pistol but have in the past on various occasions . Now most of my experience with them is not with what imho is the best of the bunch ( the crimson trace system(s) ) . With that being said as a firearms instructor for a while i found them handy in the sense that they were valuable training tools for dry fire drills with students . Tracking the dot was helpfull in correcting stance, grip , and trigger pull issues without resorting to live fire . They were also useful for building search training as the student could have immediate visual feedback on muzzle control while negotiating corners , stairwells, ladders , ect. I dont have and wont have a set on my firearms for the simple reason that on either a 1911 or on a small revolver i seat the pistol too deep into my grip and they seem to interfere with a smooth trigger pull . I do like night sights but that would be an entirely different topic lol .

9:52 AM  
Blogger Tam said...

It's a tool in the toolbox.

Hating screwdrivers because they're not good at driving nails just doesn't make sense.

(...and "The One With The Laser Survived" is Ad Copy. Ad copy is a fact of life in a free market capitalist society, which we sort of once were.)

Anyhow, that's all "YMMV" and "FWIW"; I don't rappel out of helicopters with a knife in my teeth every day, so take my comments with a grain of salt...

9:19 AM  
Blogger Jerry The Geek said...

The video series is a slick piece of marketing, and the shooters featured are all professionals. Any one of them can put the bullet in the bull in any position under any circumstances.

I have watched Julie Goloski shoot in competition, and have squadded with both Michael Bane and Todd Jarrett. Mr. Jarret and Ms Goloski can hit any target at any range from any position, and believe me they use the sights to make quick, consistent hits. They do not need a laser sight.

I have also squadded with Mr. Bane in competition. He's a versitile, knowledgeable shooter ... but he and I are both no Todd Jarrett. Well, who is? (There are a few others ...)

The point is, they are not the best representatives of people who "shoot better by using a laser sight" regardless of Mr. Jarrett's assertion in the video series.

I've tried the laser sight in a store, using a mounted Elk Head as a target (unloaded pistol, of course). If found that I was always hunting the dot. I eventually used the sights and immediately found where to place the dot because I knew where the sights were. It didn't work the other way around.

I saw a Master Class IPSC competitor attempt to use a laser sight at a "concealled Carry" match. After the first two unhappy stages, he quit trying to use the laser dot; it took too much time to find it on the target! In fact, he would have done much better, in terms of both time to get on target and the accuracy of his hits, if he had merely resorted to "Point Shooting" techniques.

Ultimately, there is no substitute for practice and experience with using your gun in a variety of training exercises. The human body may have been originally designed to "fight Saber Tooth Tigers", but the mind has developed far beyond that priority. So has hand-and-eye coordination.

Laser-projection sights have their place. They are very good training tools. But after a certain point of expertise has been achieved (and that can be accomplished in a single afternoon, with a regular program of practice to fine-tune the learned skills), the advantage of laser sights is quickly overwhelmed by muscle memory and weapon familiarity.

I suspect, Xavier, that this conclusion is close to your own.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a model 22 glock and I just bought a laser grip for it.I have been a little frustrated with it to tell you the truth. Could you help me out? I shot the gun for with the laser grip attached. After the first clip I noticed the laser dot became larger than .5 inches. I have tried cleaning the diod with the provided swab however there still remains a dot size issue. Why would the dot expand into a 3 inch line?

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Laser Grips are not a substitute for iron sights.

However, I have found them immensely helpful for dry fire drills, as they offer immediate feedback as to where the shot would have gone without actually having to fire the gun. In this regard, they will quickly pay for themselves as the cost of ammunition for these drills is zero.

In addition, I consider them a great advantage when shooting from a high retention position. I actually prefer to use the iron sights when in a proper shooting stance but when drawing an Airweight .38 from a front pocket I have to take into consideration the fact that my other arm might be occupied fending off an attacker. In these situations, shooting from the hip is necessary and laser sighting devices are the only type that offer this advantage.

I understand the argument that in situations like this, it would be "hard to miss" anyway. This may be true, but there is no way a laser hurts your shot placement in this situation.

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article and thoughts. Thank you for the effort to share.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As all other shooting accessories, if you like it shoot it. If you don't like don't shoot it. It's very simple.

8:43 PM  

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