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May 05, 2014
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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Night sights and lasers: Necessary accessories for off-duty concealed carry

Finding any limited light technology on the smaller pistols we use as backup guns or off-duty concealed carry weapons is unusual. Since these pistols are generally weapons of last resort, being able to use them effectively in the dark is highly desirable.

Radioactive tritium-powered night sights have become almost universal today on duty pistols.  Laser aiming devices are widely use by SWAT teams, but are less commonly found on pistols carried by patrol officers. Finding any limited light technology on the smaller pistols we use as backup guns or off-duty concealed carry weapons is unusual.  Since these pistols are generally weapons of last resort, being able to use them effectively in the dark is highly desirable.

One way to gain limited light capabilities is to upgrade an existing pistol with replacement night sights and/or a laser.  Several companies manufacture replacement sights with tritium illumination for those pistols with easily replaced sights — generally meaning those with existing sights fitted into dovetails in the slide. 

Intermediate-sized concealable pistols from Glock, Sig, Smith & Wesson (S&W) and others allow a wide range of choices from several sight manufacturers. Night sights can be purchased for the front sight only, or for both front and rear in several configurations; the common Three-Dot, a Bar/Big Dot combination from XS sights, or the “Straight Eight” two vertical dot layout used exclusively by Heinie Specialty Products (my personal preference).

Often the smallest pistols, like the very popular Ruger LCP .380 and Kel-Tec 3AT, have fixed sights which cannot be exchanged. Small frame revolvers are similar in this regard, generally requiring serious gunsmithing to add night sights. XS sights make a replacement front sight which can be fitted to some small revolvers with minimal modification and are now offered as a factory option on some models by both S&W and Ruger.

There are ways to mount a laser-aiming device to almost any pistol, ranging from elegant and effective to simple, yet tough to conceal. 

The most elegant, in my opinion, is the little S&W .380 Bodyguard pistol which includes a laser built into the frame. S&W also makes a .38 Special caliber snub-nosed revolver with an integral laser, also called the Bodyguard. LaserMax lasers, which fit inside the pistol, replacing the recoil spring guide rod, fit any holster but are the most expensive. 

The easiest way to mount a laser on a concealable pistol uses the accessory rails built into the frames of some models. While a rail-mount laser sight is effective to use, and usually more reasonable in price, it can hamper your ability to conceal the pistol.  In between these extremes are add-on devices that fit into replacement grips (or around the grip of a Glock) or mount to the trigger guard. 

Lasers that generate a green light rather than red are now available, and preferable for daytime use. The human eye is much more sensitive to the green wavelength, so the green dot is visible on most close targets in daylight. Of course, the newer green laser technology comes with a significantly higher price tag.

Whatever device you choose to enhance the night fighting capability of your small pistol, get to the range and train with it. The sights/lasers will most likely be used in limited light; not daylight but not full dark.  Indoor ranges provide almost ideal limited light training conditions when the targets are placed away from the full lighting spots (usually in between traditional shooting distances). 

Left to right – Colt LW Commander with Crimson Trace Master-series Laser Grips, S&W .380 Bodyguard with integral InSight laser, Springfield Armory XDs with Crimson Trace Rail Mount (green), and S&W M&P Shield with trigger-guard mount LaserLyte. Note how much brighter the green dot appears. (PoliceOne Image)

Testing under these realistic lighting conditions has caused me to prefer night sights with a white ring around the tritium tube, helping me catch the sights when it is a bit too bright for the green radioactive dots to be readily visible. Gunfights rarely occur in total darkness where a flashlight is required, but you should practice that, too.

A scenario like the 2012 active shooter attack at the Dark Knight premiere in Aurora, Colo. is just one situation where an off-duty or retired officer armed with an effective night-sighted handgun could have been instrumental. Radioactive night sights would have been very visible in the darkened theater, but a laser dot on the killer’s face would have been the ultimate way to neutralize the threat and save lives.  Are you ready to make that difficult low-light shot?

Isn’t that why we carry off-duty/retired? To put our life-long training to use when innocent lives are in jeopardy?

About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

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