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Training with weapon-mounted lights

Whenever you alter something about one of your pieces of gear — like adding a rail-mounted light — you have to include the appropriate level of training

By Sam Preston
PoliceOne Special Contributor

As a 21-year veteran and instructor in several areas, I consider myself tactically sound. And while I don’t teach firearms, I have completed the National Rifle Association’s Firearms Instructor Class and have worked in countless STOPS and scenario based training.

Because of this background — and pride I take in doing it right — I scared the hell out of myself when I noticed a potential deadly mistake I was making.

Without realizing it, I would occasionally use my trigger finger to activate the light I have mounted to my duty weapon.

I noticed this after cleaning my gun. After putting my weapon back together — still unloaded — I decided to do some extra draws. We recently transitioned from the Glock 37 to the Gen 4 Glock 17 and I hadn’t had a ton of trigger time with the new gun.

During these draws, I also practiced turning on my Steamlight TLR-1 light. It was about the second or third draw while turning on the light I realized the mistake I just made.

What is also scary is that I don’t know when I developed this habit.

In this mistake there are at least three bad outcomes:

1.) By activating the light with your trigger finger you may lose valuable time when making a deadly force decision

2.) Accidently turning on your light when you needed to pull the trigger

3.) Accidently discharging your weapon when you intended to turn on your light

Immediately after noticing this, I started activating my light correctly (with the thumb of my non-dominate hand) and since then have been drawing daily to forge the correct muscle memory. 

I have also been working with other instructors to watch for this and to learn from my error. In so doing, we’ve come up with some of the following suggestions.

Start Early
Does your agency issue gun-mounted lights to new officers? If not, maybe you should consider it. If this is not an option and you are a trainer, I would strongly encourage a brand new officer to purchase a light before he or she fires the first shot so you can spot any bad habits and they can avoid problems in the first place. 

For me, our 37s were the first guns issued to us with light rails. So, for the first 15 years of my career and during the academy (when you shoot the most) this was never an issue.

I am guilty of installing the light without training as much as I should.

In-service Training
I would encourage instructors and safely officers to remind officers in your safely briefing about this as well as any other technique issues. These techniques must then be reinforced by repetition. 

Watch closely for this error. In most dynamic trainings, students generally have their back to you. Make it a point in these trainings — as well as static training — to be in a position to look for these mistakes.

If training in a true “dim” light scenario, also look for the light to go on, then off right before the shot. This is a possible indicator that this may have happened.

Practice Like You Play
When using Simunitions, do you always have your students put “their” light on the sims gun? There are several different types of switches for weapon mounted lights.

Some toggle up and down, other are push-button, and still others use pressure switches.

It is not uncommon for officers to try to share or borrow items such as lights during training; either they forgot to bring their duty light, don’t want to take if off their weapon or a dozen other excuses. Make sure they are using their light or one that functions “exactly” like the one they carry on their duty weapon.

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