Laser Sighting Systems as Training Aids
by Rich Verdi
This article originally appeared in the IALEFI Journal in Spring/Summer 2005
Within the firearms instruction community, there are very few issues quite as controversial as laser sighting systems. Yeah, we have 9mm –v- .45ACP and we have Beretta –v- Sig and there can be some spirited discourse on these issues, but bring up laser sights and things will get very quiet … for about five seconds. Most instructors come down clearly on one side or the other of the laser debate. Some absolutely dismiss them as gimmicks, gadgets, “no real place in the serious shooter’s inventory.” Others come down on the advocate side, finding (as I do) that laser sighting systems have a very real place in our tool box. The laser sighting system debate, though, is not what I’m looking to talk about in this article.
No matter where an instructor comes down on the laser issue, I am hard pressed to find any that, after being exposed to their merits, dismisses them as an essential training aid. I have used laser sights full time for about two years now and have found that even if we disregard the “street” benefits of them, we cannot disregard their value to us as instructors. So what can the laser do for you on the range? Glad you asked…
The first area that I find myself using my lasers regularly in is diagnostics. The laser cuts my problem student diagnostic time dramatically, allowing me to pinpoint the issue and deal with it. The student doesn’t get as frustrated, Rich doesn’t get as frustrated, everyone wins. So how do we use it? Let’s say we have student A, who is having difficulty qualifying, an accuracy problem if you will. We are trying to diagnose a fundamental shooting error that is causing him to miss, not tactics or “style.” In all likelihood, we are dealing with either a sight or trigger issue and finding out which one and making it clear to the student can be difficult.
What I do in this case is set the student up with a laser equipped pistol, show them how to activate the laser and then leave it off. They are then instructed to press the pistol to the target, acquire their sight picture, and when they are happy with, activate the laser. It is important to tell them beforehand not to move the laser once they activate it, you and the student need to see the error. If the laser is centered on the target then our problem lies elsewhere, if not then we have a sight alignment issue.
I then instruct the student to adjust so that the laser is centered and look at the sights again. If the laser is centered in the target then the sights are properly aligned and the student can see what that is supposed to look like. If the sight picture was not the issue then we can begin all the standard drills to improve a shooter’s trigger press. The difference here is that with the laser both the student and the instructor can immediately see when the shooter moves the sights off the target prior to firing. My usual drill is to work with students a bit on trigger control and then send them off by themselves to dry fire a bit. Their goal is to put the laser in the center of the target and then move the trigger to the rear without the laser leaving the target. They very quickly get the idea of what this is supposed to feel like. Another version of this is to adjust the laser a foot or so below the actual point of impact/aim. This allows the instructor to “see” the student’s sight picture before the student presses the trigger, but prevents the student from using the laser as a reference.
The second area that I find the laser to be of tremendous value in is doing demonstrations. I try, whenever possible, to demonstrate virtually everything that I am teaching. On the range, my live laser-equipped pistol allows students to get instant feedback on muzzle direction as it relates to ready positions, presentation, movement across multiple targets, recoil control, etc. Particularly when the class involves rapid manipulation of the pistol, things often happen so quickly that the students may not fully grasp the technique because it is difficult to follow the gun. With the laser they can see and understand exactly what you’re doing. In the classroom or on the range in a situation that doesn’t call for live fire (i.e. facing the class!) I use a laser-equipped blue gun to show many of these same things. I can demonstrate various shooting positions and more importantly movement around students with complete safety (remember I said blue gun) while still allowing the student to see exactly where the gun is pointed. Doing safety demonstrations similarly has more impact with the laser. We have all taught the laser rule forever, but it is so much more significant when you take a student and say “see what you just did?” and then imitate it using a laser blue gun and show the laser crossing them or someone else on the range.
The third area involves training groups of officers who may be working together in any capacity. It is often difficult to catch a “muzzling” incident because they happen so quickly. Even if you do catch it, the officer may not have which makes your admonishment seem arbitrary. With laser-equipped blue guns there is no question, we all saw the dot cover your partner and that simply isn’t acceptable. We can then show them how to do it without muzzling another officer.
The last training use involves giving the student immediate feedback on how well or how badly he is using cover. Again using a laser-equipped blue gun, we can allow the student to move through the training environment while the instructor engages him with his laser blue gun. In very short order the student will see how to make adjustments to his use of cover in order to minimize exposure.
So, if you still find yourself resisting laser sighting systems (yeah, who needs progress anyhow, that Model 10 is just fine!) then at least try one for training. I am firmly convinced that every Firearms Instructor can benefit greatly from having a laser sight available when they are teaching. Frankly, I wouldn’t do a class without mine. Who knows, you just might find yourself (gasp) carrying it on the street!
About the author: Rich Verdi is a former Police Sergeant, having retired after nearly 21 years with a municipal police agency in N.J. Rich served as a Patrol Officer, Patrol Supervisor, E.S.U. member and Team Leader and prior to his retirement, he was the department’s Training Officer and Rangemaster. He has been a member of IALEFI 1989 instructing at numerous training conferences and is currently serving as a member of the IALEFI Board of Directors. He is a NJ State certified Rangemaster and a member of the NJ Attorney General’s Firearms Advisory Board.