Flashlights & Weapon-Mounted Lights: Using White Light for Home Defense

The vigilant and willing gun owner will at some stage consider white light (or visible light) as part of their EDC or home defence setup. In doing so, the debate on the usefulness of weapon-mounted lights (WML’s) and flashlights will become apparent. So today we will discuss the difference in using a flashlight versus a WML, as well as the importance of using white light altogether. So why should you consider white light for home defence, and which option – a flashlight or a WML – is the better choice?

Since most violent crimes occur during the hours of darkness; when the ordinary citizen’s guard is down, intoxication levels are up, and there are fewer guardians on the streets keeping an eye out – the ability to light up an area may be the difference between life and death. You need adequate light to locate, identify, evaluate, and (if necessary) engage a hostile threat. A flashlight or WML is your most guaranteed solution to ensuring that you always have some form of light present when needed. There are various pros and cons to using a flashlight versus a weapon-mounted light, but the ideal solution is to carry and use both.

Once the decision has been made to purchase a portable light-bearing tool, your aim of successfully defending yourself in the dark is not yet attained. Low-light shooting tactics are a separate skillset that needs to be understood and practiced regularly. We will discuss this in more detail below.

What Is White Light, And Why Do You Need It?

  • Scientifically Stated – white light is colourless daylight; light that contains all the wavelengths of the visible spectrum at equal intensity, appearing white to the eye
  • Gun Owner’s Reference – this is the light that we are all familiar with, emitted from a flashlight or WML, which is visible to the naked eye

So if the meaning is so simple, then why do we use the term “white light”? Well, this is because in the world of guns and tactical gear, we also get what is known as infrared light. Infrared light (and lasers for that matter), emit light wavelengths that are beyond the human visible range, and can only be seen through night vision devices. For this reason, operators will either select white light attachments, infrared (IR) attachments in conjunction with night vision goggles, or both.

As we have already mentioned, having the ability to light up an area of darkness may be the difference between life and death; you don’t want an assailant to be in a position of advantage, and you can’t fight what you can’t see. In a lethal force encounter you can’t afford to make mistakes, and under conditions of low light, a powerful white light makes defending yourself and those around you possible. It is therefore paramount that you consider using white light for home defence, and not only to procure the ability to use white light when needed, but also to train accordingly and develop skills in your ability to use it effectively.

If you are interested in low light training then why not let us help? We run basic and advanced low light drills around KZN and South Africa. #DarkEarthTactical

Weapon Mounted Lights vs. Flashlights: Which Is Better?

This is a tough one to answer, because both have their own advantages and disadvantages, and both provide the shooter with the ability to see in the dark. But let’s discuss a few benefits to each below.

Pistols – the ideal solution is to carry a flashlight AND a weapon-mounted light, giving you the advantages of both systems.

Rifles, Carbines & Shotguns – the primary choice here is the WML, as the firearm requires both hands for proper operation. However, my recommendation is to carry a flashlight as well, using it in place of your WML where you deem appropriate.

Weapon-Mounted Lights

Surefire X300 (left) and Olight PL-Pro Valkyrie (right)

The weapon-mounted light offers a higher degree of versatility, freeing up your hands to perform other tasks when needed. It is readily available and conveniently attached to your firearm, always with you when you need it, and allows for a faster draw and engagement ability, while controlling the firearm as normal with both hands.

The downside is that pistol users will require new holsters, which can become a costly exercise if you use various setups. Safety is often a concern when the WML is used independently, as many users are naturally inclined to point their barrel directly at people when attempting to identify a threat. This goes against the first rule of gun safety; never point your barrel at anything that you do not intend to destroy. The WML also adds weight to the firearm, although this is most often an acceptable compromise.

Handheld Flashlights

Surefire EDCL2-T (left) and Olight M2R Warrior Pro (right)

The ability to offset your flashlight from your person; operating the light away from your body – provides a false point of aim to your assailant. This is often a handy skill which can be acquire through training. A reduction in the overall weight of your firearm is also an advantage, allowing for easier operation during daylight hours; when white light is not utilised.

On the flip side, it is next to impossible to manage a hand-held light and a long gun at the same time, while pistol operation is achievable through proper training, but still more awkward to handle. If you forget to carry your flashlight, or drop it, you have lost your ability to see in the dark, so a suitable lanyard is always recommended.

How To Use Your Weapon-Mounted Light or Flashlight For Self Defence

A weapon-mounted light or tactical flashlight offers a different dynamic to a firearm. Some things are made easier in the dark, such as concealment and distraction, while others are naturally more complicated. For this reason, various considerations need to be made in order to effectively use your firearm safely at night.

1. Use White Light Only When Necessary – and Sparingly

At night, disseminating continuous beams of white light is common practice amongst untrained gun owners. This is considered to be extremely unprofessional, and a completely incorrect use of white light in a tactical or threat-based scenario. Not only does this portray a false sense of security – letting everyone know exactly where you are located, including the enemy – but it also provides your enemy with a precise aiming marker (your light) at which they can direct well-aimed shots. Instead, use white light in momentary flashes, and only when absolutely necessary. Most of your movement and drills should be conducted in the dark, remembering to always use cover and additional concealment when it is available.

2. Shine, Identify, Shoot, and Relocate

Let’s discuss two techniques used to engage targets under low light conditions. The first is commonly used against a single assailant, while the second is effective against multiple attackers.

Single Assailant – if you are certain that there is only one threat, your white light should be kept on, maintaining target acquisition until the assailant is incapacitated, and he is no longer considered to be a threat.

Multiple Assailants – when multiple threats are present, it is imperative that you use the cover of darkness to your advantage, and resist the urge to present continuous beams of white light. Instead, practice the following technique until it becomes second nature.

  1. Illuminate your first threat, using only a minimal amount of white light – a brief flash – identifying and determining your required course of action, and engaging with a series of well-aimed and rapid shots if needed
  2. Kill the light and move location – laterally – briefly illuminating your target once again, confirming either incapacitation or re-engaging as needed
  3. Kill the light and continue lateral movement, paying attention to pattern-setting. Start the sequence over, directed towards your next threat, and continue the drill until all threats have been removed

This low light technique requires practice, but the results tend to be favourable against many other methods seen and used.

3. Perseverance in Gun Safety & Regular Training

We have already mentioned how weapons handing and manoeuvrability is slower and more complex in low light, including access to shooting ranges and training areas. This tends to see users becoming more incompetent when operating at night, and can only be corrected through low light training and muscle-memory development. Continue to apply you 4 rules of gun safety, and train regularly in order to develop and maintain the required skills to operate when daylight is absent. If after-hour range access is difficult, invest more time in dry fire training; read the following article: Dry Fire Training: Improving Your Shooting At Home. Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail, and by neglecting low-light training, you are regrettably preparing to fail under these conditions.

Your training should include force-on-force exercises [with no live ammo]. This is the only way to learn what really works in the dark

Also, when using a WML, remember that whatever is illuminated by a the light is also covered by the muzzle. Instead of pointing your WML (or flashlight for that matter) directly at someone to determine if they are friend or foe, rather aim your light at the ground. This has three favourable effects:

  1. The first is to do with your own safety. While walking in darkness, it’s important to illuminate the ground you are walking on. This will ensure you don’t trip and fire negligent shots

  1. Secondly, pointing your light at the ground will ensure that you aren’t aiming your firearm at innocent people, while still providing sufficient illumination to identify a threat and engage where necessary

  1. Lastly, the downward-angled beam prevents reflective light from blinding the user; throwing back light from mirrors, glass, gloss tabletops and other shiny surfaces

However, contrary to the above – once an assailant has been positively identified, immediately dominate his face. Aiming the light directly into his eyes will impair his vision, causing a disorienting effect that will give you time to attack or flee. You may also consider using a strobe effect, which we will discuss shortly.

Where To Place Your Weapon-Mounted Light

Pistols – pistol lights are almost entirely plug & play; limited rail space typically provides only one ideal location for a weapon-mounted light – attached to the pistol rail system on the underside of the barrel

Rifles, Carbines & Shotguns – when it comes to long guns, there are many ways in which the user can choose to mount lights and accessories. The best option is typically selected through repetitive use and development of skill and personal preference. I typically utilise one of three mounting positions on my long guns:

  • Pressure Switch Operated – mounted towards the front-end of the rifle’s forend, on the same side as my shooting hand. This allows for easy and consistent use of the pressure switch when ambidextrous shooting is employed
  • Thumb Operated – mounted towards the front-end of the rifle’s forend, on the same side as my support hand. Operated by the thumb of my support hand, from a natural and consistent grip on the rifle’s forend
  • Thumb or Forefinger Operated, Ambidextrous – mounted forward and directly on top of/ beneath the rifle’s forend. Suitable for WML’s utilising ambidextrous side-press activation switches. These WML’s are low-profile and allow for ambidextrous shooting without the use of a pressure switch

Tip: run a light coat of oil or vaseline against your flashlight lens when mounted in a forward location on your rifle. This will help to easily remove carbon residue which is expelled from the muzzle, and ensure that you maintain a good focussed beam

Strobe Lights For Self Defence: Do You Need Them?

Rapidly flashing beams of white light (in short pulses) is known as strobing. This effect is achieved manually, or with a light that is equipped with strobe mode. The usefulness of strobing as a tactical tool is a topic of heated debate, and some shooters see it as a gimmick while others find it effective when properly employed.

When used correctly, strobing has a powerful ability to disorientate an assailant; sometimes causing deleterious mental effects such as disorientation, confusion, headaches, and in some (rare) instances, even seizures. But how does this work? It works through an effect known as Flicker vertigo (the Bucha Effect), whereby an imbalance in brain-cell activity occurs due to exposure from low-frequency flickering (or flashing) of a bright light.

In order for strobing to be effective, batteries need to be charged to a high capacity and the area needs to be dark. No ambient light must be present, and you need to be close enough to an assailant for the strobing effect to be used to its full potential. Keeping distances within the effective range of a pistol – approximately 25 meters – should see success.

High-Lumens flashlights emit brighter, broader, more intense beams that could help save your life if used properly. So know your flashlight, its functions and uses, and train with it.

An additional benefit of strobing includes an un-ascertainable sense of distance from the assailant’s perspective. However, it should be known that the user will experience an inability to see or recognise subtle and deliberate slow movements made by the suspect, which needs to be taken into consideration. If subtle unforeseen movements may catch you by surprise, then consider saving strobe-mode for another day.


All things considered, white light is an invaluable tool under the home defence context. I highly recommend adding a white-light emitting device to you setup, and when doing so, remember to strongly consider the following:

  • Purchase quality products from reputable manufacturers that won’t fail when needed most
  • Know how to properly and safely use your flashlight or WML, and make sure that you are familiar with its functions
  • Regularly check functionality and battery charge levels
  • Train regularly and progressively in both low light and blackout conditions, gaining proficiency in all drills equivalent to daytime dexterity
  • Use white light only when necessary, and sparingly

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