How to use a Tactical Flashlight with a handgun

What are the best techniques for handheld tactical flashlights?

This post addressed the use of a tactical light in combination with a handgun.

I have another post that addresses the use of tactical light as a defensive tool without a handgun.

Finally, I have a third post that addresses the use of a gun mounted tactical light. All are completely unique and it's critical to understand the various elements that go into developing and executing each of these techniques.

It is also important to understand that although all use of force situations with both a handgun and or a tactical flashlight requires a level of training, some techniques are easier than others. Certainly, the gun mounted light is somewhat straightforward. The various handheld techniques, however, are not easily mastered and do require continuous training.

A note on training – In any potential defensive confrontation, it is critical to seek cover where available, identify the target, present your weapon, and if possible communicate a command (“please drop you weapon”.) Finally, when necessary, you need to be able to stop the attach with force.

A University study of untrained and armed individuals showed their typical response to a defensive conflict, by leaving their handgun down to their side, not seeking cover, nor communicating any commands, and responding by firing their weapon after (in a simulation) shots had already been fired at them.

This clearly shows the problem of a lack of training.

Understanding the basics of flashlight/gun techniques

Warning – before we get into the flashlight/gun techniques, I need to emphasize that these techniques require training and should not be taken lightly.

My goal in addressing this area is simply to make you aware of the basics, and the various techniques, not to equip you to put them in practice.

In fact, if you are not able or willing to train, you are best served by using a gun mounted lighting system. Yes, you still need to identify the subject.

Defensive Grips

As discussed in another post, the use of a handheld tactical light results in using one of three gun grips (this is as opposed to a two-handed grip which is available on a gun mounted light):

  • Hands together,

    • which through the various techniques, interconnects both hands or loosely combines them with the handgun in one hand and the tactical light in the other hand.
  • Hands apart,

    • which is used by a few of the tactical techniques, whereby the two hands are completely separated.
      • A strong side grip will give you less control over the gun?s recoil and the ability to re-acquire the target, than either a hands together grip or the two-handed handgun grip available with a gun mounted light.
      • weakside grip, which usually results when your dominant hand is injured, also results in the largest negative impact of a gun's recoil with even more difficulty in re-acquiring a target.

Flashlight Grips

All of the various techniques are designed for a specific type of flashlight. By that I mean, some are designed for smaller or larger flashlights and some are designed for a tail button or side button switch. Obviously, the specifics of the tactical light must fit the requirements of the various techniques.

The position of the control button ties directly into one of two common flashlight grips – the Sword Grip and the Ice-Pick Grip.

  • The Sword Grip

    • refers to holding the flashlight like you would a sword blade, with the lens end of the flashlight on the thumb side of the hand. This obviously is conducive to a side button switch and the inherent drawback is always to ensure that your thumb is aligned with the button switch.
    • I have found this facilitated by aligning the clip with the button so that button acquisition can be accomplished even in the dark.
  • The Ice-Pick Grip

    • refers to holding the flashlight as you would an ice pick and requires lights with a tail button switch. The benefit, as opposed to the Sword Grip, is the immediate and easy location of the button control.
  • The Syringe Grip

    • refers to holding the flashlight between two fingers like a syringe. This grip is facilitated with a tactical ring on the flashlight and the light is activated by pressing the tail button into the palm of the hand.

Tendencies and phenomena

Under stress and when startled, there are some physiological phenomena that you need to be aware of. Although these issues are also present with a gun mounted light, they may be more problematic with the techniques utilizing a separate tactical light.

  • Sympathetic contraction is the combination of the contraction of all digits of a hand even when the intention was to contract a specific digit, with the tendency of both hands to perform similar actions even when the intention as to perform an action on only one hand.
    • As you may recall from any basic handgun training, this the primary reason the gun safety rules dictate keeping the finger off the trigger until ready to fire – a notable exception being all of Hollywood which constantly violates this rule.
  • Hand Confusion refers to the physiological phenomenon in which the wrong hand is activated even though it has been assigned to a different task.  For example, right-hand turn on light, the left hand operates the handgun.
  • Beam/grip displacement is the natural tendency, with hands together techniques to have both gun and light jostled by the gun's recoil. Additionally, the connection of the handgun and flashlight can also be altered by the recoil, which will require a realignment. These are less impacted by the hands apart techniques and the realignment issue not impacting a gun mounted light.

These are natural, physical and psychological phenomena that will only partially be mitigated by awareness and training. Again, all of life is a tradeoff.

Hands Apart Techniques

  • FBI Technique – 

    With either a small or large tactical light, held in either a sword or ice-pick grip, the light is extended slightly forward and up and away from the body with the weapon held in any natural position desired.

    • This is actually an effective and versatile technique with those distractors coming from the hands together camp.
    • Having a light to the side does reduce your profile as a lighted target.
  • Neck-Index Technique – 

    With either a small or large tactical light, deploying a tail button control, and held with an ice-pick grip only, the light is rested on the shoulder and indexed against the base of the neck, again with the weapon held in any natural position desired.

    • Another effective method, the FBI technique, with a tail button and ice-pick grip, can easily be transitioned into a Neck-Index technique to provide rest and reduce the change of sympathetic contraction and hand confusion.
    • Having a light indexed to your neck does increase your profile as a lighted target.

Hands Together Techniques

  • Ayoob Technique – 

    With either a small or large tactical light, deploying a side button control and held with a sword grip, the thumb of the hand holding the flashlight is pressed against the thumb of the hand holding the weapon.

  • Chapman Technique

    – This grip is similar to the Ayoob Technique but only the thumb and index finger control and holds the flashlight. The remaining three fingers wrap under and around the gripping fingers of the hand holding the weapon.

    • This technique is more difficult for small hands and larger flashlights.
  • Hargreaves Technique

    – Using a smaller tactical light with a tail button control, assume almost a normal two-handed grip but with the flashlight cradled under the weapon in the palm of your weak hand and positioned to press against the knuckle of your strong hand for momentary and permanent on/off manipulation. To work correctly, the thumb and index finger will have to grasp the light while the remaining three fingers wrap under and around the gripping fingers of the hand holding the weapon.

  • Harries Technique

    –  With either a small or large tactical light, deploying a tail button control and held with an ice-pick grip only, the wrists nest and are pressed together, with the gun hand on top.

  • Keller Technique

    – Similar to the Harries Technique, except deploying a side button control and sword grip, the light hand is on top.

  • Over-Under Technique

    – With either a small or large tactical light, deploying a side button control and held with a sword grip, the weapon hand is pressed down firmly on top of the flashlight hand or flashlight body.

  • USMC Technique

    – Similar to the Over-Under Technique, (small or large with side button and sword grip) except that the flashlight is on the side of the weapon and the bezel of the light is pressed forward against the tips of the weapon hand's gripping fingers, thus locking both hands together.

Summary and Recommendations

It should be clear from this post, that a lot of forethought and training is necessary to be accomplished in any one of these techniques.

Certainly, the tactical light needs to be appropriate, not only with respect to size and control points but also with regard to light levels, features and how they are assessed.

These concepts are discussed on this site in how to choose a tactical light and whether or not your light needs a strobe. Also, I make specific recommendations on my Recommended Gear page.

So of all the possible techniques, which one or ones would you prefer to learn?

There is not an easy answer, and I'm sure every trainer will be partial to a specific technique.

What is important is that you recognize the numerous choices available and the benefits and potential problems with each option.

I do believe the weapon-mounted light arrangement, discussed in another post,  will fit many, particularly untrained, needs and that, coupled with the two hands apart techniques, (when necessary) each of which easily transitions into the other, may offer the most flexibility and least amount of detrimental side effects. But…that's just my opinion.

Always be prepared, be well.