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A laser on a defensive handgun can let you see where your shots will land in low light, on a dark-colored background, and when you can’t see your sights. However, like with other types of sighting systems, you need to zero the laser in to achieve accuracy.
Who hasn’t seen the longslide AMT Hardballer in the 1984 film The Terminator, featuring a prominent laser sight located atop the slide? In the 1980s, commercial lasers were expensive, bulky, and required a substantial power supply.
Today, laser sights are a fraction of the size, cost, and weight. The laser sight or laser-aiming module is a compact device that typically attaches to the grip or trigger guard/dust cover of a revolver or semi-automatic pistol. Rather than requiring a heavy power supply connected by cable, these lasers are typically powered by one or two disposable lithium coin cell batteries.
The purpose of the laser sight on a handgun is to allow you to project a bright dot, typically red or green, on a target at relatively close range. Under low-light conditions and when aligning your iron sights on a target is not feasible, the laser enables you to verify the point of impact by locating the dot.
Furthermore, if you have to fire your pistol at a target from a vulnerable position or behind cover, you can see where the bullet will impact as long as you can see your target. A sight picture isn’t necessary. This can also enable you to fire accurately from retention.
However, to realize the benefits of a laser-aiming module, you need to zero it in the same way as any other sighting system.
How to Sight in a Laser
When you learn how to sight in a laser on a pistol, you’ll be able to take full advantage of this sighting system. A laser on a handgun has a laser offset. The purpose of sighting in the laser is to ensure that the point of aim — the position of the laser dot — and the point of impact coincide at a specific distance with a minimum of variation. That is, to reduce the offset as much as possible.
Handgun lasers generally fall into two categories:
- Built into grip panel
- Attaches to trigger guard/dust cover
The first category of laser is typically built into the side of a grip panel. The second type of laser attaches to the front face of the trigger guard or an accessory rail machined or molded into the pistol frame.
If you have a semi-automatic pistol with an accessory rail, various laser-aiming modules attach directly to this interface. The LAM that adorns the Mark 23 SOCOM pistol is probably one of the most well-known examples.
You may activate these types of laser sights by either depressing a button in the front strap of the laser-compatible grip or in the module itself.
As the laser sight will be located below the axis of the bore, there will always be a vertical offset that you’ll need to compensate for during the sighting in process.
However, if the laser is mounted on the side of the grip, there will also be a horizontal offset that you’ll need to adjust for using the windage setting. A horizontal offset indicates a variation from left to right in relation to the axis of the bore. A vertical offset indicates a variation up and down.
In zeroing your laser, you need to adjust this offset so that the point of impact and the laser coincide at a particular distance. This is the same principle behind sighting in or zeroing a rifle scope.
Laser sights typically have two adjustment screws: one for elevation and one for windage. These allow you to adjust the offset to ensure that the laser beam lands where the axis of your barrel is pointing.
Defensive Shooting Range
By some accounts, self-defense shootings involving private citizens occur at distances of approximately 3 to 5 meters; therefore, that should be your benchmark when sighting in your pistol laser.
You should adjust the windage and elevation to place the laser dot above your front sight at expected engagement distances. Your laser is no good to you if you can’t see it because the pistol obscures it.
If you sight the laser in at 50 meters, for example, your point of aim and point of impact will coincide at that distance. However, at closer ranges, you may not even see your laser.
Do You Need a Laser?
Laser sights on handguns can be useful for shooting under varied and hostile conditions, especially at close range. For long-range shooting, you should rely on the pistol’s iron sights.
While a laser can be useful on handguns in which the sights are low profile or likely to disappear on a dark-colored background, some shooters find that hunting for the red dot is slower than a well-practiced presentation and a flash sight picture. The only way you can determine whether a laser helps or hinders your shooting performance and defensive capabilities is to experiment with a laser-equipped handgun.
If you intend to carry a defensive handgun equipped with a laser, you should practice with it regularly. This doesn’t necessarily require the expenditure of valuable ammunition — you can dry-fire the weapon to practice the fundamentals. Practice your draw stroke and firing from retention.
In addition to how to sight in a laser, you’ll need to ask other questions. Are you able to reliably activate the laser when you draw and present the pistol? Can you locate the red or green dot on a target in a reasonably short period? Does the laser reduce the time it takes for you to acquire a target or increase it?
Depending on the type of weapon you’re using and the circumstances you’re training to meet, a laser can be an invaluable tool. The sighting in process for a pistol laser is relatively straightforward. Once your laser is sighted in, you should have no difficulty employing it with deadly accuracy.