Rethinking Handgun Lasers

I’ve been carrying a concealed handgun for over a decade now, and during my entire tenure of carry, I’ve heard that lasers on handguns are silly. While I’ve played with lasers in the past, I never gave them a fair shake and assumed they were as bad as everyone said they were. Why would I spend a good bit of money to see if the internet as a whole was wrong about the idea of lasers? This became doubly true when red dots became common on handguns. Lasers seemed like a thing of the past.

lasers and handgun combination
The Kel-Tec P32 is a great laser host.

Then, I downsized my daily carry from a Sig Sauer P365 with an optic to a Kel-Tec P32. Don’t get me wrong, I still carry the P365 when out with family, but if it’s just me, on an average workday in a secured building in a tiny, near violent-crime-free town, I don’t see the need for anything larger. A family member saw the P32 and decided they wanted one for a similar reason, and they also wanted a laser.

As the family gun guy, I offered to zero it for them. The family member had fairly bad eyesight, and the little sights of the P32 weren’t doing it for him. After getting the laser zeroed, I spent a little time making sure it worked well and took it for a spin. I even decided to shoot Ken Hackathorn’s wizard drill with the laser.

The Laser and the Wizard Drill

The Wizard drill is a concealed carry handgun drill that’s perfect for testing small gun skills. It’s part of my pocket-carry training regime. This drill requires five rounds and has four stages. I shoot it fairly often these days, so it’s not something new, and I know my typical times.

Here’s a quick rundown of the drill: you have 2.5 seconds for each stage.

Stage 1 – Three Yards – Draw and fire one headshot only using your dominant hand.

Stage 2 – Five yards – Draw and fire one headshot with both hands.

Stage 3 – Seven Yards – Draw and fire one headshot with both hands.

Stage 4 – Ten yards – Draw and fire two rounds to the body.

I can shoot this drill clean with a pocket-carried P32 in a Desantis Superfly with iron sights. The only difference between my gun and my family members was the laser. On the first cold run, I beat my beat my best times using the laser to aim. Immediately, this had me reconsidering handgun lasers. Maybe thinking they aren’t as useless as everyone claims.

touch activation apd on p32
Instant activation is a must-have.

The Downsides to Lasers

Admittedly, visible lasers have their downsides. The primary one is their sensitivity to different light conditions and being short-range tools. They also don’t appear well in every color. If my target was wearing a KC Chiefs jersey, then I wouldn’t be able to see the red dot. With most guns, iron sights are faster, and red dots are certainly faster than a visible laser. Lasers require batteries, can add bulk to your handgun, and are still somewhat expensive. Good lasers with instant activation can’t be found for less than a hundred bucks.

laser dot on target
When it is bright, the laser is tougher to see.

The old criticisms of lasers still ring true when attached to most handguns, but I do think lasers have a place in a specific category of handguns.

You probably guessed it. Pocket pistols. Pocket pistols and lasers are a fairly nice matchup. Guns like the P32, the Ruger LCP, and arguably many snub nose revolvers could potentially benefit from a laser sight. These guns all have pretty crappy sights most of the time. Small, hard to see, hard to align sights. In these situations, the laser can be a quick, easy-to-see option for close-range encounters.

On Pocket Pistols

Most pocket pistols and their users will be isolated to a fairly short range. Hitting accurate shots on something like a B8 beyond ten yards can be tricky. Their small sights and short sight radius make the gun tough to shoot accurately. A laser just squeezes itself into that close-range niche very well.

When shooting the wizard drill, I could focus on the target as I presented the gun. I presented the gun the same way I always do, but instead of trying to find the micro-sized sights, I found the laser on the target. Much like a red dot sight, I reverted to a target focus rather than a front sight focus. Find the dot and pull the trigger.

crimson trace grips
These Crimson Trace laser grips make this Smith & Wesson 642 a more efficient handgun. [Photo: Jim Davis]
It was faster and more intuitive than trying to use the mini iron sights that KelTec puts on their pocket pistol. For my family member with poor eyesight, the laser might be the best option for a small gun. We can’t toss a red dot on guns this small, so we are stuck with some very limited options for sights.

While lasers have a limited range, they work well with the limited range of a pocket pistol. At 10 yards, the laser is pretty bright in most conditions. Inside of 10 yards, It’s pretty stellar. Relying on just the laser isn’t wise, and you should still get some practice with your iron sights and remain proficient in that skill set. It doubles the need for training, admittedly.

The Right Laser

You need to search for the right laser for your needs. I suggest getting a laser that activates when you grip the weapon; it is an intuitive system. If you’re using a laser, it’s at close range, and you might not have the time to find the switch to activate the laser and then get your finger back to the trigger.

man aiming gun with laser
The laser made it easy to aim due to the small sights on small guns.

Like anything relating to guns, you don’t want to worry about having a piece of crap attached to your gun. You want a quality laser, and in the world of lasers, there is a ton of junky ones. Junky lasers won’t hold zero, won’t withstand recoil, and likely won’t survive long when carried.

Final Thoughts On Lasers

Lasers are understandably criticized and disliked by a wide variety of users. They aren’t for everyone or every gun. They tend to be very limited, and on anything larger than a pocket pistol, they rarely make sense, especially when micro optics exist on guns like the P365. They have a limited niche, and in my experience, they can be super useful on small handguns.

Lasers aren’t a miracle cure to inaccuracy, but they can be a very effective tool on guns with sights that are lacking. It takes training, practice, and effort, but I was impressed at the immediate difference a laser made in my shooting and might slap one of my P32.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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