More discussion of night sights

Last week I tried to provide the conceptual framework for an individual to determine whether or not they need night sights. The piece was inspired by a good discussion on and some of the same ideas expressed on the forum showed up in the comments here on Gun Nuts…so let’s chat about some of those.

If there’s enough light to identify a threat, there’s enough light to see sights

The English language scarcely contains the verbiage necessary for me to convey how strongly I disagree with this sentiment. I spent a significant chunk of last week’s writeup covering the anatomy of low light vision in human beings and briefly discussing some of the factors that impact it including age, genetics, and in extreme cases even diet. I spent the time discussing the unique hardware through which we see the world to give some scientific backing for the idea that we each see the world uniquely.

Two people standing in the exact same lighting conditions will not necessarily be able to “see” the same amount of stuff. Meaning that person A may not be able to see much of anything while person B, because of better genetics, youth, etc, might be able to “see” quite a bit of information about his/her surroundings. It would be rather presumptuous of person A to insist that nothing can be seen because he can’t see it. I have a relatively common genetic visual impairment known as color blindness. This means that under some lighting conditions I am unable to recognize a difference in some colors. In high school I was scheduled to perform at a Christmas concert and was sitting backstage looking through the music before the show started when the homecoming queen (a friend) came up to me and mentioned that I was wearing two different colored socks. They both looked black to me, but to the rest of the world with normal eyesight one was black and the other was a dark navy blue.

It would have been rather foolish of me to insist that she was wrong because I couldn’t perceive a difference. The same thing applies when we’re discussing low light visual capabilities. Some people may be genuinely unable to positively identify a threat in the absence of light, but others might have superior vision and might well be able to determine that they need to pull the trigger without any additional light required.

Something else worthy of note: Lighting is not a static thing. It varies considerably from location to location based on the circumstances. Some time ago I took a class taught by Craig “SouthNarc” Douglas called Armed Movement In Structures that was held in the sort of place where people cook meth or smoke crack. It was a wasteland of urban decay where even at the peak of daylight there were nooks and crannies darker than the heart of Thulsa Doom. The entire course was force-on-force, meaning that both days of the course were chock full of shooting problems in varying light conditions. Attempting to accurately place fire on a moving, thinking, shooting target that was busy weaving and bobbing through all of the junk and clutter turned out to be exceptionally frustrating. Often when attempting to engage the opposing role player, I was on the move myself…and I found it exceptionally difficult to accurately place fire on the threat with the sims and airsoft weapons that had no night sighting capability. I encountered many occasions where I was able to clearly see the dude with the gun who was trying to shoot me, but could not get a good enough read on my sights to accurately place rounds on target. (With the “target” sometimes only being a sliver of the opfor’s face peeking around a corner) This reinforced previous experiences on the range and in shoothouses where I was able to positively identify a threat using only ambient light, but not able to get a useful aiming reference using the same.

Walking through daily life I am constantly identifying conditions where I would have plenty of light to identify a threat, and yet wouldn’t have enough light on my gun to get a solid read on my sights. That’s my assessment based on training and experience with my eyeballs. In my own house because of street lights or even moonlight, there is often enough light to clearly see a person and even what he/she may have in their hands, but not enough ambient light for me to pick up a good sight picture on black sights. Lt. Chuck Haggard pointed out in one of last week’s comments that on duty he has encountered similar situations, and sometimes it’s not even a function of just low light. He pointed out a situation where he had to draw on a suspect who was under a street light but the suspect was wearing dark clothing. I’ve encountered similar sighting experiences on the range where I was shooting from a shaded position on a black target. With solid black sights, at least with my vision, the sights blended in with the black target making an indecipherable blur. This is not really the situation you want to find yourself in when it’s an ex-con in a black hoodie instead of an NRA bullseye.

Do not believe for a second that if there is enough light to positively identify a threat that there is enough light to see your sights. That may be true for some people because of their vision, but do not assume it will be true with your vision and your circumstances. Test and evaluate for yourself.

Lasers are useless toys that will get you killed in a gunfight

This would come as a real shock to all the guys who have spent time killing bad guys in Iraq and Afghanistan using weapons equipped with lasers. If you look at the average door-kicker’s kit you will see lasers mounted to their weapons, primarily IR lasers for use with night vision. True, it’s not the exact same thing as a visible laser, but it’s still a laser and when the person wearing NV has to shoot something he needs to find the dot on the target. Units in law enforcement and the military that have to operate in HAZMAT or chem/bio suits often use a piece of equipment like the DBAL, a visible and IR laser integrated into a single compact box so that they can still get an accurate aiming reference while wearing the masks that go along with those suits.

I haven’t killed anyone with a laser, but I’ve tried to solve low-light shooting problems with and without lasers and I’m telling you straight up: It’s a lot easier to make a shot with a laser under low light conditions than it is to use any other sighting method. I’m not alone in making that observation. I attended a few low light courses taught by Ken Hackathorn and he had nothing but praise for the utility of the laser in low light conditions, readily admitting that experience actually using one converted him from a skeptic to a believer. One of the most graphic demonstrations of the benefits of the laser was attempting to engage a small steel plate at almost 40 yards with a Smith & Wesson 442 (J frame snub revolver with a 1 7/8″ barrel) and easily making solid hits using the laser that would have been difficult for most of the shooters had they attempted it with iron sights. We tried to make the same shot with full-sized service pistols equipped with tritium sights in the same low light circumstances and it was at best a 50/50 prospect. Pull out a smaller, much harder to shoot snub revolver and suddenly everybody was hitting with at least 4 of 5 shots.

No, lasers won’t get you killed because you’re too busy chasing the dot. On someone’s first exposure to a laser they might well be confused, but I’ve yet to see someone who could perfectly work a Glock upon first exposure to it…does that mean a Glock will get you killed in a gunfight? You need some practice to learn how to use the laser, but that’s true of any piece of equipment. Once you have that practice the use is second nature. When I’ve put people behind a laser-equipped handgun with just a couple of minutes of explaining how they work I’ve seen them deliver exceptional accuracy within a few shots. Having an aiming reference actually on the target is far easier than trying to line up sights on the pistol.