gonzales flashlight

At a recent class, a student asked me about using a flashlight for self-defense while carrying concealed. My first response: are you carrying a good handheld light? My second: do you understand its importance?

Let There Be Light!

Consider the general utility of a good handheld light for a moment; how you can use it to find lost items inside your car, light-up your trip to the trash cans, look down your sick kid’s throat, etc. And unlike your firearms, “gun-free zones” don’t apply to flashlights. You can take one almost anyplace.

Now consider the possibility of using a flashlight as an impact weapon. They’re generally extremely sturdy metal rods. Some also have a crenulated bezel to increase the damage a strike can inflict on an attacker. Along with a knife, flashlights are an ideal everyday dual-purpose defensive tool.

When it comes to combining a flashlight with armed defense, know this: even though it’s hard to find yourself in a completely dark environment, it’s easy to find yourself someplace where you can’t identify a potential threat with 100 percent certainty. Is that someone coming at you or someone trying to move by you? There’s a big difference.

Identify the Unknown ASAP

I don’t see any compelling reason you can’t pull your handheld light out — even during daytime conditions — when things just don’t feel right.

Streamlight ProTac HL USB

Streamlight ProTac HL USB (Dan Z. for TTAG)

When you become aware of a potential threat that you can’t initially decipher, you can use your flashlight to scan and, potentially thwart without having it in a “shoot ready” position. In fact, during the initial moments of an unknown encounter, it may be prudent to hold a light in your hand long before you can justify having a gun in your hand.

Light Up Their Life

When you decide to illuminate the unknown, you must do so so you can positively identify friend from foe. Your technique should illuminate the unknown with enough light to see what you need to see to choose whether or not to employ lethal force.

Start big. Light up their center mass, so you can get a general picture of who’s ahead; where they’re going, how fast they’re moving, how they’re dressed, whether or not they’re alone, and their body posture. Then aim your beam at their hands, scanning for a weapon. If the unknown person turns out to be harmless, finish with an apology for temporarily blinding them. No harm, no foul.

If the situation becomes a worst case scenario, transition to your draw stroke…while maintaining the tactical advantage provided by a blinding, high intensity light. Your one-hand clearance method better be legit.

The question then becomes, do you keep the light trained on the bad guy or extinguish it?

There’s no one “right” answer. That decision depends on what you saw in the first few moments that convinced you to draw your handgun. Factors like distance, action and whether you can move and move to a better location help determine the right course of action. The bottom line: the situation will dictate.

Klarus XT1A Tactical Flashlight

Klarus XT1A (John Boch for TTAG)

There’s plenty more to discuss about flashlights and self-defense. For now, remember that a good handheld light should be in everyone’s load out. It could well be the difference between life and death.

The problem with low light defensive techniques: they’re based around shooting, not searching. Most gun owners fail to put a significant amount of time and resources into learning how to search in the dark.

While it’s not rocket science, there’s still a great deal to be learned. One of the most important: getting comfortable working in the dark.

Most of the time we’re training in ideal or pristine conditions. It’s hard to gain the proficiency and comfort necessary to work well at night. The key here is, of course, practicing in low-light conditions.

Some ranges offer classes in low-light shooting. Take those courses. Many, if not most attacks occur at night. It’s also possible to practice low-light defensive techniques in any safe, secure environment with a [triple-checked] empty gun.

ThruNite TN12 XP-L V6 Flashlight

ThruNite TN12 XP-L V6 (Dan Z. for TTAG)

As for searching, I prefer to use a two-handed technique. It allows me to direct the light to any location to identify threats or exploit a tactical advantage (by blinding the attacker). I can employ the full capability of the projected light, angling the beam to splash light into hard-to-reach areas.

If you locate an unknown and identify it to be a foe deploying lethal force, shooting should be a seamless transition. Using a technique that stabilizes the light while allowing you to engage with effective fire is key.

Holding the light at “high index” is the best method I’ve found to enable an efficient draw. I position the light near my jawline (see above) to illuminate both the target area and my sight system. While you will may be called to employ lethal force using your strong hand only, you can make that choice because of a superior search technique.

Note: this scenario highlights the mission-critical importance of mastering an efficient one-handed draw and one-handed shooting.

Weapon-Mounted Lights

As for weapon-mounted lights . . .

Some students tell me they don’t need a handheld light. Their weapon-mounted light would get the job done during a low-light defensive gun use.

Wrong answer.

Before you can use the weapon-mounted light you have to be justified in deploying your firearm. In other words, you have to identify the threat before you draw your gun and use your weapon-mounted light. If you’re wrong, you could face a brandishing charge and/or convince someone else that you’re the threat.

That’s the main reason to have a handheld light as your primary search tool. But it’s also true that you’ll find your light a useful device for everyday chores.

Searching in low-light conditions with a handheld light is a legal early warning system that also allows effective freedom of movement. Many times, the outcome of a defensive gun use doesn’t come down to who’s the best shot, but who saw whom first.


Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned to the world at large. He is the president of Trident Concepts in Austin, Texas. 

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