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Pistol-mounted lights: Their value and their holsters

By Ralph Mroz

One of the good trends that seems to be gaining traction now is the pistol-mounted light. A decade or so ago, before the advent of the now-ubiquitous accessory rail on pistols, there were methods and products for attaching a compact high-intensity light to various pistils, and to a limited extent they worked. But in addition to the size they added to the pistol they tended to be somewhat clumsy, they altered the balance of the pistol considerably, and finding a holster to accept the pistol-light combination was not easy. And if you go back to the dark ages (sorry!) before we had small high-intensity lights—back to the days of the multiple C- or D-cell lights—then your options for practical pistol-mounted lights were bubkis.

Now of course, with the wide-spread availability of rail-mounted lights such as the Surefire X200, the Insight M series, and the Blackhawk Xiphios, pistol-mounted lights are, while not the usual thing we see on belts, hardly unusual. A few years ago it began to be not-uncommon to see pistols with rail-attached lights on the hips of tac team members, both on call-outs and (if not full-time SWAT) in uniform. Today, while it’s not yet common practice, we don’t look twice when we see these units on any patrol officer’s hip. Some departments today even equip every officer with these lights (see sidebar.)   Finally, for officers who are pretty much defined as having one hand normally busy—K9 and mounted officers, for example—a pistol-mounted light is a necessity if they are to see in the dark with their gun drawn.

Lights of a Different Breed

A pistol-mounted light is not a replacement for a hand-held light. They cannot perform the same functions (although there is some overlap) and neither negates the need for the other. If you have a light on your pistol, you still want to carry a small high-intensity light on your belt (on your off-side), and yet another in your gear bag. Why?  Several reasons.

  1. For non-threat activities, like examining a drivers license or looking into a car, or non-threat searches, you hardly want to be doing these with not only a gun in your hand, but with that gun pointed at people who are presenting no threat to you. You still need an independently operated light for these sorts of routine activities.

  2. If you are engaged in a search or challenge that requires your gun to be out, using your pistol-mounted light to do that activity requires (or severely risks) that you “search (or challenge) with the muzzle,” which is neither safe nor proper for most civilian law enforcement activities. Remember that current (and proper) doctrine dictates that we don’t point muzzles at people unless we are in the act of shooting them (with some exceptions).  Challenging suspects or searching for them are activities that are usually properly done with the gun in a ready position and the muzzle pointed in a reasonably safe direction under the circumstances.

    Also, if you are searching with the muzzle and suddenly discover your suspect, and he doesn't present a threat to you, startle response may cause you to shoot him nonetheless. (If you are too tough, too macho or too arrogant to think that you’d never succumb to startle response, well…for the sake of argument, I’m sure you’ll likewise agree that not every good cop is as fine a specimen of icy nerve control as you are.) Now, of course, you can search with the periphery of the pistol-mounted light, holding the gun in a low ready position. This technique actually works very well. However, there is a tendency under stress, after searching for a while, and for officers not extensively trained in this technique, for the muzzle to instinctively rise into the area you are looking into.

  3. If you want to use a “light and move” search technique, particularly if you have been trained in the ground-breaking techniques of Strategeos International, it’s all but impossible to do so with a pistol-mounted light. Double that if you also want to be safe during the search and not shoot an innocent or your partners.

Security levels


Bianchi Luminator




Bladetech Tactical Light IWB


Don Hume

Gould & Goodrich



Safariland 6280

Safariland is probably the most common light-accepting holster on the market. Safariland is the “big boy” in the duty holster industry and their products are used by law enforcement and military units on a large scale world-wide. They have an extensive R&D capability, and employ a roster of famous shooters who provide insight and feedback on new designs. The Safariland product lines are extensive, and the catalog can be confusing. In addition to the various product lines, most products have variations and options, some of which work together, and some of which are mutually exclusive. And there are various finishes to choose from, too. The highest level pistol/light holster in the Safariland line-up is the 6280. This holster can be configured in either a 1+ or 2+ security level (using my security level definitions—see above.) 

The primary security mechanism is the SLS rotating hood that you’ve probably all seen. This “hood”—much like a strap—can rotate forward off the top of the gun when its release mechanism is depressed. It provides (by my definition) a 1+ security level, since there is a single, but multi-part, independent motion (depress and rotate) required to get the gun into “just pull up” mode. You can add the Safariland Hood Guard, which offers no security retention, but does make a gun grab from the front more difficult. If you want to add another security level, to bring the holster up to a 2+ level, you can add the Sentry. which is a lever that block the hood’s release mechanism until it is rotated back. Thus the draw stroke on a 6280 so equipped would involve the thumb rotating back the Sentry, then depressing the hood release, then rotating the hood forward, then the entire hand drawing the pistol/light. The 6280 is available in several of the high-tech Safariland synthetic materials, and in multiple finishes. These wonder materials are soap-and-water cleanable, non shape-deforming, abrasion-resistant, precisely molted and highly durable.

Safariland also makes a speed-scabbard concealment rig for a light-bearing pistol, the 5187. This open-top Safari-Laminate™ holster incorporates suede lining and low cut sides. The injection-molded belt slots are configurable for belts from 1.5-inches to 2.25-inches.

Uncle Mike’s The EVO3 from Uncle Mikes is a new duty security holster for light-bearing pistols. It incorporates an ejection port lock and a rotating hood, but since both are released by the depression or a thumb-activated lever, it is a Level One holster by my definition. This hard-bodied holster is available for popular Glock pistols and for the Insight and Glock lights, in three finishes.

More Information

Bianchi International

Blade-Tech Industries

DeSantis Holster & Leather Goods Co.

Don Hume Leathergoods

Safariland, Inc.

Strategos International L.L.C.

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