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Can a Weapon Mounted Light Make You a Target?

Does a flashlight make you a bigger target in a defensive situation? We talked to experts and investigated whether a WML is a good idea or not...

There is a whole lotta hoopla about weapon-mounted lights (WMLs) out there.

More police and military forces arm themselves with WMLs these days.

Best Pistol Lights
Pistol lights

The lessons learned from LE and military use prove the WML is going nowhere soon.

Still, some concerns arise. The biggest is that a weapon-mounted light will make you a target to a potential threat.

Streamlight ProTac Rail Mount 2
Streamlight ProTac Rail Mount 2

Like many things, there isn’t a surefire yes or no answer.

Instead of an answer, we have to have a discussion.

Chit Chat

There are lots and lots of situations where a weapon-mounted light could make you a target.

Marines preparing for a night raid will find having a light negligently discharge makes them a target.

That situation doesn’t appeal to the majority of people reading this, though.

Daniel Defense DDM4 V7 Night Shoot
Night-time raids might look different than your average home defense encounter.

Police and military tactics and situations are vastly different than those faced by civilians.

So, let’s evaluate this topic from the viewpoint of concealed carriers and home defenders from both sides. We’ll focus on the civilian aspect and the ability to engage and utilize a weapon-mounted light.

Table of Contents


Is a WML a Bad Idea?

Here’s the bottom line.

A WML is an outstanding tool every home defender should have and every concealed carrier should consider.

The threat of becoming a target when using a WML is a bit overblown for the civilian defensive shooter when proper tactics are applied.

Cloud Defensive OWL, light on
Cloud Defensive OWL

How often do you stress about the sun making you a target? Or fluorescent lights making you a target? Not very often.

You don’t dart willy-nilly from shadow to shadow like an amateur Batman hiding from all potential bad guys all the time.

Engaging your WML properly, the bad guy is highly unlikely to know that light is coming from a gun.

In a brightly lit self-defense situation, your gun will make you a target. Yet, we don’t concern ourselves with that scenario.

PL Pro Light
Putting in the time to properly train and understand light discipline is critical.

We all know that darkness provides a degree of concealment. So, yes, a WML can break that concealment.

But before you start running scenarios in your head about your light getting you killed in the streets, let’s actually run-down realistic scenarios a normal civilian defender most often finds themselves in.

WMLs for Home Defense

Home defense is the most common situation where WMLs are discussed as making people targets.

But here’s the thing, you’re already a target.

Bad guys likely understand that two cars outside, lights going on and off, and activity means someone’s home. They’ve likely cased the place.

Home Invasion

So, if someone is kicking down your door, you’re the target.

Home defense is where a bright white light is an absolute must-have.


Because it’s vital to positively identify a potential threat, a WML will determine friend from foe – bad guy from a teenager sneaking back home after curfew.

Can a bad guy take advantage of that light and know where I’m coming from?

In a home defense scenario, you shouldn’t be clearing your own home in the first place.

Cloud Defensive Rein Barn with Light
You don’t need to go from room to room, or in this case, to the barn, looking for baddies.

Bumbling around with a light, trying to clear room by room, and keeping the light on constantly, will mark you as a potential target. But that task is not part of a civilian self-defense mission.

Police military forces find the bad guy. That’s part of their job. It’s not yours.

If you have to search for the baddie, you may need to consider a tactic’s change.

Ron Swanson Rethink

In my home defense plan, I’m putting myself between my family and an intruder.

The bad guy can take anything he wants in my house as long as he/she doesn’t cross the red line that puts my family and me in danger.

I’m isolating and waiting in ambush – with the light off until I need it.

The WML is used when the weapon is aimed, and you’re prepared to engage. That presents an almost nonexistent window in which you’re a target.

olight odin 1
I’m only switching my WML on when I need it.

Worst case scenario: you must move through the house to put yourself between your family and the bad guy.

In that situation, you shouldn’t be shining your light around like a dude at a rave. You know how your house is laid out, and there is likely enough ambient light to guide you.

Your WML is not for navigating.

Streamlight TLR-8 on Glock
A light is not for playing around. It’s a serious tool.

If you run into a bad guy on your way across your home, then hit the light and engage the bad guy.

With proper tactics, there’s not enough time for a light to make you a target.

“A WML could make you a target, but that risk can be minimized with proper training,” Renowned self-defense instructor Greg Ellifritz told us. “If forced to use a WML only (usually on a long gun), I prefer to employ the on/off techniques as well as indirect lighting. When bouncing light off of the ceiling, floor, or walls, it makes it more difficult for an attacker to target the light.”

It all comes down to tactics, my friends.

WMLs in the Concealed Carry Life

We’ve all seen movies that leave an impression of what a low-light concealed carry situation might look like.

Ya’ know, cutting through ‘Crime Alley’ as a shortcut, or stumbling through a dark parking garage, or fighting Tom Cruise in a nightclub.

Tom Cruise
Someone has had way too much caffeine

In reality, you could be doing any of those things…or walking your pup after he’s woken you up for the 8th time now. And you’re really angry that you agreed to the dog when the kids promised they’d take care of him, but you’re the one always walking him!

You know, normal stuff.

Kids Responsibility
I’m not bitter at all…

When we go back to our initial premise in the context of a concealed carry situation, we see that, again, it’s nearly impossible to make yourself a target with a WML.

As a concealed carrier, you react. And if you are reacting, then someone is acting upon you.

Simply put, you’re already someone’s target.

Reacting with a WML allows you to identify a threat, exercise proper shot placement, proper sight alignment, and fry the threat’s OODA loop.

Ozark Light Beam
That light in your face will definitely disrupt some thoughts.

Bright blinding light can freeze the decision-making process for a split second, squashing their momentum.

A self-defense scenario that ends without a single shot fired is the best possible scenario. Light can help end the fight.

Plus, if the threat stops and runs away, an illuminated baddie means you have a much better description to give to police.

POlice Sketch

In a situation where you are reacting to protect another person, then the fight is already on. A WML better illuminates the situation.

WML for an Active Shooter Situation

Though an active shooter situation falls under concealed carry, it varies enough to warrant its own category descriptor.

Historically, there are very few situations where a WML would be used to identify a threat in an active shooter scenario.

An indiscriminate shooter is quite obvious.

Olights Equipped
Olights Equipped

That said, a civilian shooter can use a WML to stop an active shooter.

In these scenarios, a light could make you a target in a dark environment if you misuse it.

Again, you shouldn’t leave a WML on constant-on, sweeping back and forth for the bad guy.

If using a WML, use it in momentary-on mode. Use it sparingly, engaging it before you need to take a shot. A flash of a WML identifies the threat and confirms it.

Streamlight Travis Test (6)
Momentary on is your friend.

Taking an unsure shot in the dark could easily kill an innocent person.

It’s unlikely that a bad guy will know that the light is attached to a weapon. And, if you’re concerned about that, Ellifritz suggests exchanging a WML for a handheld light.

“I carried a WML on my police duty pistol, but I always searched with an additional handheld light. Turning the handheld on and off while keeping it moving makes it more difficult for an attacker to target me based on the location of the light,” he explained.

Harries Flashlight Technique
Harries Flashlight Technique

Light discipline and proper low-light shooting training is the key to preventing a WML from turning you into a target.

Final Thoughts

A WML doesn’t replace the handheld light you should carry for navigating, reading, and dealing with obstacles in low-light situations. It merely compliments your EDC loadout with the ability to wield a light and gun simultaneously.

I keep a WML on all my defensive weapons these days — rifles, shotguns, and pistols. I see massive value in using a WML as a tool for a concealed carry and home defense.

Bunch of Pistols and Lights
Bunch of Pistols and Lights

These aren’t like any old flashlight, though. So, remember, the focus of a civilian WML is to identify a threat and let the user know if they can take a shot safely or not.

As fellow PPT writer and former LEO Sean Curtis said, “A weapon-mounted light can potentially make you a target if it’s used indiscriminately, but the legal requirement of identifying your target and the threat outweighs this risk.”

Need some tips on using a weapon-mounted light? Check out the Brownells Daily Defense video below.

What say, you fine folks? Do you keep WMLs on your defensive weapons? Let me know in the comments below. For inspiration on specific lights to add to your setup, check out our list of the Best Pistol Lights, Best AR-15 Flashlights & Best Budget Weapon Lights.

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5 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    Yes on my home defense weapon, no on my EDC’s. Adds weight, much harder to conceal and changes the weapon’s balance. Bigger issue, you do not want to use that light to ID a threat - or you may have just committed a felony. Use a small flashlight for that purpose, but I am not unholstering the firearm until I can legally use it.

    December 29, 2022 5:20 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chuck Cochran

    I keep a WML on my AR Pistol, which is my go to for Home Defense, but not my CC Weapon. I'm sure they make lights for Sub Compacts that work well, but I went with a laser on my SIG P365, so there's no place to put a light on it..
    Maybe I'll look for one to mount on one of my other pistols as a backup

    December 7, 2022 10:05 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Gregory Scott

    As a husband and father my primary responsibility is to protect my family (and walk the puppy). That said, I've used handguns and long guns in a professional capacity (LEO) for over 40 years. Weapon mounted lights are an integral part of any weapon system. Cheatin' tip, if you're goin' to guns, you're already a target, be ready to fight for your family. Identifying your assailant as a credible threat is a critical part of the self-defense equation. Based on a wee bit of experience, reputable WMLs are painful to experience, not a small distraction, and can be used as a less than lethal weapon unto themselves while you are making life changing decisions. I've even broken down and put laser/light combos on my go toos. That red dot has stopped more than a couple of shootings that I'm aware of. Any fight you avoid, you win automatically, and...Christmas is coming.

    December 7, 2022 3:30 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tommy M

    I try to remember to keep a flashlight somewhere near my bed stand. That way, if someone scary breaks into my house, I can fumble for it, along with my weapon, and hold it wayyy out of the way! That way, the scary guy thinks that I'm 2 feet to the left, and he (or she) is surprised by my attempts to achieve any amount of accuracy while shooting with one hand. All while I'm puking from being so nervous. But at least I didn't give away my position!

    April 18, 2021 12:03 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I have a WML on my AR 15 but not on any handguns. I carry a hand held Surefire with momentary tail switch and have practiced and used this method for over40 years. May be "old school" now but for me it is both comfortable and comforting. YMMV, the key is to practice and make it natural for you, both strong and weak hand with the option to vary with the light extended away from the body high or low as needed.

    March 30, 2021 7:00 pm
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