Lights on revolvers: bringing wheelguns into the modern age??

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I recently received an email asking about the feasibility of mounting a light on a revolver. The writer was concerned about clearing his house at night and being forced to shoot one-handed with a separate flashlight. Would it be possible, he asked, to somehow mount a light to his wheelgun, to approximate those that are widely mounted on autoloaders?

That’s a tough one to answer, because it’s really two questions in one: can it be done, and should it be done.

I’ll address the feasibility portion first: yes, it can be done, though the approach varies a bit with the make/model. In all cases, their are some limitations – mainly, the light has to clear the ejector rod as it swings away from the frame. The larger the light, the smaller the gun, and/or the more closely the light is mounted to the bore axis or to the cylinder, the more likely it is to interfere with proper cylinder opening.

The best choice is to make provision to mount the light in a forward position, in front of the ejector rod. This is the approach taken by S&W in their 327 TRR8:

The problem with this is that it makes activating the light on a momentary basis from a firing grip difficult (if not impossible.) One is left with the necessity to turn the light on and leave it on if one wants to shoot with a two-handed grip.

To provide a platform on which the light can be mounted, a short section of Picatinny rail can be attached (via screws) to the barrel’s underlug. If the particular gun doesn’t have an underlug, the barrel itself can be carefully drilled & tapped to accept the rail – only, of course, if the barrel is of a bull (heavy) configuration. There are also some clamp-on solutions available.

The other half of the question is “should you?” I’ll put on my Tactical Tommy hat here, and say that I think it’s a bad idea except in very specific circumstances.

For a gun to be used in an ensconced position the attached light has merit. All you’re required to do is wait, and the light is nothing but a shooting aid: confirm the target, and allow a clear sight picture.

Using it to check your house, on the move, is another matter entirely. In this case, the light takes on multiple functions: navigation, search, identification, and (in the worst case) shooting aid. The trouble is that if it’s attached to your gun, then you have a loaded weapon pointing in all sorts of directions that proper safety habits say it shouldn’t!

A loaded gun is not a tool for navigation or searching, and using it as such is (in my opinion) irresponsible. Think of it this way: would you be pointing your gun in all directions and places in the daylight? I would hope that the answer would be ‘no.’ If that’s the case, why would you deem it acceptable to do so in the dark?

The light on the handgun is a limited-use device. Don’t try to make it into something it shouldn’t be.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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Comments

  1. Whit  July 9, 2016

    This was my thinking too, until yesterday. I brought this up when discussing accessory selection during a conceal and carry permitting class. The instructor said “Glad you brought that up!”

    He walked to the door, cut the lights to the windowless room, and pointed his tac light (mounted under his M&P Shield) at the ceiling, illuminating the entire room. Everyone there was clearly identifiable, and he wasn’t sweeping anyone with the barrel.

    • Grant Cunningham  July 9, 2016

      Yeah, that’s a favorite trick of the weapon-mounted light (WML) fanboys. And it’s flawed, for many reasons.

      One of the reasons is that the darker the room, the better the bounce-off-the-ceiling trick works. In a typical residence at night, where there’s still a lot of ambient light, it doesn’t work all that well.

      The second problem — and this is a big one — is that as soon as that dim light reveals something that catches the user’s attention, he invariably brings the light to shine directly on whatever it happens to be. If it’s someone who doesn’t pose a threat, the gun is pointing at them and the circumstances make the likelihood of an unwarranted shot much higher. Unless the user practices very frequently with the WML this is a very hard (almost impossible, I’d say) tendency to train away. We want to see things, and if there is more light available than what’s falling we’ll utilize it!

      The third issue is that the user can easily have inter-limb confusion and, as hard as it may be to believe, presses the trigger instead of activating the light switch. It’s happened, and you can find dashcam videos on YouTube showing it clearly.

      As part of a review of the law enforcement training program in this state I’ve observed, watched surveillance/dash/bodycam footage of, or heard testimony from field training officers (FTOs) of all of these happening at all levels of police activity.

      None of this is a problem, because you get more training than the police? I’ll bet not! What percentage of your training time is spent operating the light in realistic AND UNPREDICTABLE conditions? Heck, what percentage of your training time is spent on a dark range using the WML as an indirect light and discerning whether there is a valid target (threat) that requires pointing the gun at it?

      I’ve yet to meet anyone sporting a WML who practices even remotely close to what I consider enough to maintain proficiency with the light/gun interaction. “Oh, I turn the light on a lot when I’m shooting at the range” doesn’t qualify.

      The combination of light and gun requires significant training and practice to maintain even base proficiency, far out of proportion to the rather narrow range of circumstances under which it actually has validity. It’s been seven years since I wrote this article; in the meantime I’ve experimented and learned more about the use of the WML, and I’m actually LESS in favor of the WML than I was back then. A handheld high intensity light is still the best search/identification tool you can use.

  2. Brent  January 24, 2016

    “Think of it this way: would you be pointing your gun in all directions and places in the daylight?”

    My thought is, if there is an intruder is breaking into your home, the first thing you should reach for is your weapon. The next thing you should do is to identify that the intruder is actually an intruder and not your teenage son or daughter coming in from sneaking out. A good way to do that is to have a light mounted to your gun so that you don’t have to put the gun down to retrieve a flashlight, and so that you maintain a self defense posture while making an identification. You wouldn’t be “pointing your gun in all directions and places in the daylight,” but if you have your gun out at night, it is because you have very good reason to believe that you may need it, and if you do, you want to be able to quickly identify the subject and maintain a defensive posture at the same time. I think a light on a pistol is a good idea.

    • Grant Cunningham  January 24, 2016

      1) You don’t have to put the gun down to pick up a flashlight.
      2) The flashlight is the first thing I’m picking up.
      3) Considering that the chances of a noise at night are more likely a family member than an intruder, automatically pointing a gun at them just to use the flashlight isn’t what I’d call safe or responsible.
      4) You WILL point the gun at them. I know, I know, you’ll use the spill light — but what Force Science Institute reports is that, in both simulations and street activity, catching something in the spill light causes officers to point the main beam at whatever it is to get a “better look”. Our police academy and several FTOs report the same thing. It’s going to happen if the light is on the gun.