It’s 3 a.m. and you and your family are asleep. You are dreaming but a series of noises awaken you. You are still somewhat groggy, but shake your wife to consciousness.
She can see you have a serious look of concern on your face. So in a quiet whisper, you tell her you think there is someone in the house. Her first instinct is to bolt out of bed and head toward the children. You’re right behind her.
Being that you are home-defense smart, you keep a lock box with your gun and other essential gear hidden away in the kids’ room because you knew that is the first place you and your wife will go in an emergency.
You punch in the lock code and grab your gun, spare magazines and your flashlight. The house is completely dark. But you know where everything is positioned so you have somewhat of a home-court advantage maneuvering about.
Your 23-year-old nephew has a key to your house. And although it’s not like him, you need to identify the threat without calling out to him and giving away your position to an intruder with bad intent.
You’ve got that nice 500-lumen tactical flashlight and your handgun. So let’s talk about how you use them synergistically for tactical defense.
The four basic functions of the tactical flashlight in personal defense.
Law enforcement statistics show that about 70% of all self-defense shootings occur in low-light conditions. Human beings have very poor night vision, especially when you compare us to other predatory animals.
Sure, our eyes can adapt to night vision, but we rely a great deal on our sight to interpret the world around us. And when we need that ability, especially in dark spaces, having a tactical flashlight can shed a lot of light on the subject … literally!
The first function that a tactical flashlight serves is of helping you identify friend from foe. Secondly, when employing a high-emitting lumen light, you may temporarily blind or disorient an attacker by shining the light directly into their eyes.
Third, since many of the modern lights come with a scalloped or spiked bezel, they can be used as an impact weapon to strike an attacker and to collect his or her DNA evidence, which can be later analyzed by law enforcement forensics.
Fourth, and the main topic of this article, is the fact that these lights provide a tactical advantage when used in combination with other weapons.
Tactical defense with a gun and a flashlight
Weapon-mounted tactical lights as depicted here are an option to a separate flashlight or may be employed as a backup.
If you are using your handgun for personal or tactical defense, you must learn how to control the flashlight and gun to give you the greatest advantage over the threat. To that extent, you must be able to index the light in the same manner every time.
You’ll need to research these techniques and find the one that works best for you. Your experience, hand size and environment are crucial factors for determining which technique is best for you and of course practice, practice, practice!
That said, you can always mount a tactical light on your weapon system. However, this may not be the best idea when you’re moving through your home at night for personal defense and you have to consider your family.
With a light that is directly attached to your gun to illuminate your way as well as light up potential threats, that may also mean that you are pointing that muzzle at your wife or child as you maneuver around and decipher threats. So, when it comes to home defense, I would choose to keep my flashlight separate from my firearm.
In this manner, you have the ability to illuminate at will without pointing a deadly weapon at family members. I also suggest you have more than one light with you at all times.
Let me give you an example of why having more than one light is a good idea.
Some years back, I was doing high-risk protection. And during one particular instance, when my team and I were protecting a high-value target, we were moving the asset from one location to a safe house. Though we carefully planned our routes, we were ambushed and the vehicle containing the target ended up off-road.
We were in escape-and-evade mode, and were running dark (vehicle lights off). I had my window open on the front passenger side so I could use my tactical flashlight to guide our way, turning it on and off as needed.
As I was leaning my arm and hand out the window, we hit a serious hole. As the vehicle bucked, my hand hit the doorframe hard and I lost the light. I had not affixed the lanyard to my wrist because it was a bit short and it would not give me the flexibility I needed to light up the environment.
Because of good planning, I always had two lights with me. So I got hold of my backpack and fished out my backup light. We were then able to continue maneuvering through the dark with minimal exposure and get the asset to safety.
The key takeaway is to always have a backup light, even if that backup light is less-powerful or a weapon mounted light.
Let’s now review some of the more popular flashlight-handgun techniques and some of their pros and cons:
- The Harries Technique: The Harries technique was developed by Michael Harries back in the ’70s and it is most probably what you have seen repeatedly on television and in the movies.
- The Graham Technique: In this method, Matthew Graham, who was at the time working as a Federal Air Marshall, developed this two-handed technique for speed and accuracy. To execute the technique, position the flashlight between either your index and middle finger or middle finger and ring finger with the light forward.
- The Rogers Technique: Position the flashlight between the index and middle fingers of your support hand while wedging the tail cap into your eminence (the fleshy muscle that sits directly below your thumb).
- The FBI Technique: This is a method invented by the FBI. Its origin lies in the traditional thinking of agents who believed that criminals would shoot directly at a flashlight beam, believing that a law enforcement officer was behind the light.
- The Neck, Cheek or Eye Index Technique: These are really three very similar techniques – employing three completely different physical index points. Make sure you consider the position of the flashlight, especially when using any of these index points, so as not to obscure your peripheral vision.
The Harries Technique was originally developed for large flashlights but works well with small modern lights.
The technique is best visualized in the photo, but the idea is to hold the flashlight in a reverse or “ice pick grip” in your support hand, positioning the light under and to the back of your firing hand. So, for example, for a right-handed shooter, the flashlight will be on the right side of your gun. Additionally, your support elbow should be pointed down with pressure against the back of the hands for optimal stability.
Back in the early ‘70s, when Harries developed this technique, they were using large multi-cell flashlights. So if you are not a modern guy or gal and you have not yet switched over to the small modern tactical flashlights, this technique may be even more appealing to you.
However, let me tell you from experience why I don’t like it.
Point your support elbow down and apply pressure against the back of the hands for optimal shooting stability.
a. It’s easy for a shooter to muzzle sweep his or her own hand as they maneuver the flashlight in position.
b. The flashlight actually causes a cognitive disconnect or distraction wherein the shooter gets hung up on focusing the light rather than staying focused on their front sights.
c. The shooter, because he or she is already under extreme stress, can easily put the flashlight hand over the gun hand, causing the slide on a semi-automatic pistol to cycle-back and “bite” them. For a less experienced individual, this could be disastrous at the wrong time, causing him or her to “yelp” out in pain, or to lose focus on the threat and thus lose the advantage, or both. And in addition, placing the flashlight hand “over” the firing hand could cause a distortion or a failure of the shooter to see his or her sights.
The Graham Technique employs a rubber ring that slips on the tail end of the flashlight to assist with retention and maneuverability.
Graham, in cooperation with Surefire, took this a step further and invented a rubber ring that slips on the tail end of the flashlight to assist you with retention and maneuverability. The basic premise is to establish the flashlight between either of those fingers and then reattach that support hand against your firing-side fingers. One can then draw back the tail switch on the light against the firing-side fingers to depress the light to the “on” position.
With the ring attached to the light, which can be purchased from Surefire or Raven, insert your middle finger into the flexible rubber ring and position the light between your index and middle fingers. You now have the ability to let go of the flashlight to perform a tactical reload or other reload and when finished can re-establish the light in hand, and reconnect with the firing-side for a stable two-handed grip. You can see the basic mechanics of the technique in the photo.
Position the tail cap against the fleshy muscle directly below your thumb and apply pressure to activate the light.
The Rogers Technique in action.
While The FBI Technique is advantageous for identifying threats, it leaves you unbalanced physically and thus detracts from a stable shooting platform.
Your thumb on that hand will also make contact on the light to further stabilize the light and add measurably to control. Now wrap your lower three fingers around your firing-side grip while maintaining the light straight and forward and both thumbs pointing forward.
If you want a quick way to always find your index reference for your fingers, put a rubber band around the light a couple of times where your index and middle fingers will make contact. This gives you a repeatable model.
As a negative, The Rogers Technique is called out to be one of the most-difficult flashlight-handgun techniques to gain proficiency in because most people describe it as unnatural.
So, the FBI’s line of thinking was to have the light in your support hand and hold it away from your body. With your gun in your firing hand and the light away from you, it made it a tactically smarter way to search and identify threats. However, the ruse can only go on for so long. Once you start firing back at the threat, your muzzle flash will give away your position.
So yes, it’s a great method for tactically identifying the threat. But on the negative side, with your hand out away from your body with really no physical index, shooting one handed, your shooting platform will not be optimal.
The Cheek Index allows you to illuminate your sights and still maintain peripheral vision.
The Cheek Index also offers defensive posturing in the event an attacker or hostile attempts to hit you.
- Position your tactical flashlight in your support or non-dominant hand in a reverse or ice-pick-style grip. Hold the light so that it is either up adjacent to your eye on that side, your cheek or your neck. This will help you illuminate your weapon sights, and it pre-positions your support hand in a defensive posture to protect your head should someone attempt to hit you.
- Now extend your gun hand out but make sure you have a slight bend in your elbow.
- Use your thumb to turn on the tail-switch on your light. Make sure you are focused and ready to quickly assess the threat environment.
- Turn off the light and move.
- If you have assessed and identified a threat, keep the light shining directly into the intruder’s eyes to dominate them while you make the conscious decision about whether or not to engage. This process is known as Assess-Identify-Engage (AIE).
- If you light someone up who is not a threat with one of these three methods, be sure your finger is safely out of the trigger guard and compress your weapon against your chest, muzzle pointed down. In this way, you maintain weapon retention should the situation escalate for any reason.
Bottom line: Find a technique that works for you. Be flexible so you can adapt to any situation at a moment’s notice. And practice it both dry and live fire.
Finally, here are some tactical considerations I personally recommend:
- When searching for a threat using a flashlight, use intermittent light – in other words do not leave the light in the full-on position.
- Make sure you have a lanyard for your light and make sure that the lanyard is also around your wrist to ensure retention. This is an important consideration, especially in situations in which you have to pick up a child, cover a loved one, defend yourself or transition to a different shooting platform.
- Make sure you have a tactical flashlight in your everyday carry kit.
Take a light with you at all times, including daylight hours. Nighttime is always thought of as when bad things happen and people naturally have a fear of the dark. But things happen during the daytime as well.
Let’s take an example. You are at your job and there is a blackout or you are going from a very bright exterior area into a dark space during the day. A flashlight could assist you in finding your way even during daytime in these types of conditions. So what I am saying is that you should address this and carry some type of small light, even if you keep it in your pants pocket or bag, and not just at night.
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The same ideal holds true even if you are in your home during the daytime. I know it sounds a little crazy, but having a small flashlight in your pocket while going about your business at home is a good idea.
- Depending on lighting conditions and situation, consider pointing the light down to illuminate the ground area and let that reflected light help you identify the threat and shoot if decided upon.
- In general, I recommend you employ the flashlight to find and identify threats with the light in your support hand, using a one-handed shooting platform for your firearm, and light up the threat momentarily and shoot once you have made the conscious decision to do so.
Consider that you may not need the light at all depending on the situation. You may have some reflective light illuminating the space enough for you to engage if you have to, or your eyes may have adapted night-vision at that moment, allowing you to clearly identify and engage.
What I am saying is that though you have the flashlight, and it is an excellent tool for tactical defense, make sure you need it for the job at hand.
Finally, for extreme situations such as those involving escape, multiple shooters, vehicle extractions or even moving to cover or covering a family member, it’s a good idea to have a backup flashlight. What has worked very well for me in several high-intensity conflicts was to switch the flashlight full-on and to roll the flashlight across the floor so it lit up the space and gave the impression that I was moving in that direction. That way I could engage from another direction, get out of Dodge or move to cover.
In the end, the flashlight gave me a bit of a tactical advantage even if it was only temporary and it’s just another consideration for you should you ever need it.
Until next time, stay alert, check your six, put your back against the wall and stay safe!
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