Comparison of Handgun Mounted Tactical Lights

By John Layman

The house is pitch black and your spouse is shaking you out of a deep sleep. She (or he) says there was a loud noise downstairs. A look at the clock tells you it’s just after 2 a.m. You rub the sleep out of your eyes and sit quietly listening. The creak in the second stair on the way up to the bedrooms sounds off and you’re wide-awake. Grabbing your pistol from the bedside table, you head for the hall looking like an unlikely storm trooper in your briefs. The “intruder” could be one of the kids or it could be somebody you weren’t expecting. Would a little light help right about now?

There are two general categories of people who purchase handgun-mounted lights: the homeowner protecting self and family, and the law enforcement or military professional. Each of these has a different application and a different set of needs. Let’s look at these needs before we compare the available lighting systems.

The law enforcement or military professional is faced with numerous situations. Not being one of these, your author has a hard time putting himself in those shoes. One thing is sure; the professional will have encounters where extra light will assure improved assessment. Another certainty, pointing the muzzle of a weapon at someone for identification and assessment is almost always unacceptable. A gun-mounted light is not a substitute for a quality hand-held flashlight. Each individual will have to decide if one more piece of equipment, no matter how useful, is worth carrying around.

For the professional, a handgun-mounted light has to be sturdy, reliable, and bright. Part of being reliable is being sure the light doesn’t come on by accident in your holster and run down the batteries. Longer battery life and batteries that are readily available and economical is a plus. The weight of a light will have an impact on your shooting and on the burden of carrying it around with you.

The homeowner will be using the lighted handgun to identify threats at night at fairly short ranges. For the homeowner, a reliable, moderately bright light with shorter range and battery life may be an acceptable solution.

For all applications, the quality of the light beam is important. Black shadows in the light beam make identification that much harder. It may also be desirable to detach the light during daylight use. Intermittent operation allows better use of the batteries, prevents a threat from zeroing in on you, and allows you to apply light to the situation only when needed. The factors that will be important when selecting a handgun-mounted light are:

* Brightness,
* Beam quality,
* Weight
* Sturdy construction / reliability
     o Materials of Construction
     o Durability of Construction
     o Disable Switch
* Battery life
* Interference with Pistol Operation
* Intermittent On/Off Availability
* Continuous On/Off Availability
* Cost to purchase
* Cost and availability of batteries
* Ease of operation
* Ability to detach the light easily

These factors will affect each individual’s choice differently based on budget and needs.

There are numerous manufacturers advertising handgun-mounted lights. In addition, there are mounting systems that hold a number of different common lights. The lights that were tested are shown in Tables 1 and 2. Each light was mounted and subject to at least 50 rounds on the range. Every light on the tables operated through the live fire test without failure.

The brightness numbers shown are from a light meter and are not in any standard unit. They serve to compare the lights to each other. The brightest lights are absolutely blinding. The least bright lights still put a lot of light in a dark room. For comparison, the Maglite 4 D-Cell light has a reading of 41 on the scale used. Also, a Maglite 2 AA has a reading of 29. Brightness readings were taken at the center of the beam with the light focused to its optimum.

There are a number of mounts made for a wide variety of handguns that hold commonly available flashlights. The mounts allow the gun owner to pick between a light made specifically for handguns and lights that may fill in for that purpose. Table 3 shows you available mounts and their characteristics.

Each gun owner will need to decide if a handgun-mounted light is warranted and, if so, which one will best fit his or her needs. A study of the tables will give you a good picture of what is available for your gun. There are a few combinations and a few pieces of equipment that worked especially well that I should point out.

To provide intermittent operations, a paddle switch is commonly used. Being able to position the paddle switch where it fits best allows you to adjust the light to your needs rather than change your grip to suit a light. The WLS 2000 by Lyman Products and the LAS/TAC by Laser Devices have large paddle switches that were easily repositioned and took moderate pressure to actuate. Both of these lights worked well overall.

For an overall tough light, the Surefire Millennium is made for combat. It is machined of aluminum, nicely finished and extremely solid. If you want something you could rely on after a parachute jump, this would be the thing. However, at 10.1 ounces with batteries, it’s also the heaviest light on the list. Its $480 retail price may be out of some people’s range. The LAS/TAC is also machined of aluminum. It weighs only 6.8 ounces and is less than half the price. The LAS/TAC has the disadvantage that it isn’t easily detachable. Either choice will really light up a room.

The TACM III by Diamond Products and M.U.E.L by Quick2See are made of delrin. This is a space age synthetic material that is known as one of the toughest available. Both of these products are extremely bright and well made. They are designed to mount on the magazine using a quick-detachable mount.

For the low cost end, a magazine-mounted one-inch light would fill the need for most of us. There are a lot of choices of mounts and lights. The Handgun Kits made by Quick-2-See and Laser Devices are especially solid and versatile. They come off the same patent and are almost indistinguishable. They come with two magazine attachments and one flashlight attachment. The two parts clip together and are quickly and easily separated. The Lyman Products Corporation SideClip Mount fits all flashlights tested. Because the mounting retainers are made of plastic, the mount needs to be held in place by griping the light during fire. Once I figured out how, it worked fine.

The 1 inch diameter lights tested include Laser Devices’ TL-2; Surefire Z2 & Z3; Streamlight Scorpion; and TACM-III. With a spacer made of rubber and secured by contact cement, it is possible to mount the Maglite MiniMag AA or the Brinkmann Legend into any of the mounts. There are a couple commercially available bushings for this purpose. They are made of hard plastic or nylon and didn’t hold the light well during the live fire tests. It’s possible that some glue would solve that problem, but I liked using rubber (old inner tube) . The success of the smaller lights despite not having a shock isolated bulb may be due to the shock insulation provided by the rubber.

As noted in the table, Brinkmann makes the NexStar xenon replacement bulb that fits the Maglite AA. With this bulb, the light output increases significantly. I enjoy having these in all my Maglite AA flashlights.

Once you decide that a handgun-mounted light is something you need, handle a few before making your choice. The market is changing quickly and you may find some new choices. The contact information for the manufacturers is below.

Glock, Inc. USA, Canada
Dept. SAR
6000 Highlands Parkway
Smyrna, GA 30082
Ph (770) 432-1202
Fax (770) 433-8719

Lyman Products Corporation
Dept. SAR
475 Smith Street
Middletown, CT 06457
Ph (800) 22-LYMAN
Fax (860) 632-1699

Diamond Products Marketing, Inc.
Dept. SAR
2300 Commerce Park Drive
Woodlake Commerce Center, #6
Palm Bay, FL 32905-2619
Ph (321) 726-0644 or (800) 530-0644
Fax (321) 726-0645
tacm3@aol.com or info@tacm3.com

Laser Devices, Inc.
Dept. SAR
Sales and Marketing Department
2 Harris Court, Suite A-4
Monterey, California 93940
Ph (831) 373-0701 or (800) 235-2162
Fax (831) 373-0903

Streamlight®, Inc.
Dept. SAR
1030 W. Germantown Pike
Norristown, Pa. 19403
Ph (800) 523-7488 or (610) 631-0600
Fax (800) 220-7007 or (610) 631-0712

Insight Technology Incorporated
Dept. SAR
3 Technology Drive
Londonderry, NH 03053
Ph (877) 744-4802 or (603) 626-4800
Fax (603) 647-7234

LiteTek, Inc.
Dept. SAR
P.O. Box 245
Medway, MA 02053-0245
Phone (508) 533-0203
Fax (801) 457-9907
customerservice@litetek.com or service@litetek.com

Dept. SAR
20472-A Chartwell Center Drive
Cornelius NC, 28036
Ph (704) 895-8649
Fax (704) 895-8619

SureFire LLC
Dept. SAR
18300 Mount Baldy Circle
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Ph (800) 828-8809
Fax (714) 545-9537

Mag Instruments Inc.
Dept. SAR
1721 East Locust Street - 51453
Ontario, CA 91761-7769
Ph (909) 947-1006
Fax (909) 947-3116

The Brinkmann Corporation
Dept. SAR
4215 McEwen Road
Dallas, TX 75244
Ph 800-527-0717

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N10 (July 2002)
and was posted online on January 31, 2014


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