Random Thoughts on Weapon Lights, Flashlights, Training, and The Gun World’s Cancel Culture

Large home defense pistol with weapon-mounted light

My phone vibrated and I read the incoming message. Have you seen the stink about Ken Hackathorn and gun lights?…to which I responded, Nope. As you might expect, the next message to arrive was a link to a short video from the Wilson Combat YouTube channel. I watched it and shook my head because I understood what had happened…and what was coming. 

As if on command, the “gun media influencers” took an edited one-minute video and piled on with their two cents in an effort to gain clicks or views for themselves. I knew that the short video hadn’t been the entirety of the conversation between Ken Hackathorn and Paul Howe.

I also realized that, based on how my friend Ken worded his statements in regards to weapon lights, there was going to be a lot of semi-righteous and completely unrighteous indignation heading his way from the masses. When Ken made the distinction between military and law enforcement versus “the private sector” I knew immediately that he had touched a nerve.      

Weapon-Mounted Lights

Thanks to a number of factors, weapon-mounted lights on handguns have become very popular. It’s been at least twenty years since all the major handgun makers in the United States started installing accessory rails onto their pistols. Weapon lights used to be rather pricey, thus the majority of them were sold to people spending taxpayer money. Now, thanks to good old Chinese ingenuity, very bright lights can be had at relatively inexpensive prices.

Where there used to be two primary companies making handgun lights and just a few models, there are now dozens of different models, sizes, and configurations of weapon lights to choose from made by several companies. I don’t envy holster makers in their efforts to keep up with the ever-changing gun light market.

Given the common practice of handguns being built with rails and the wide availability of lights to install on said rails, it’s really not very surprising that people would want to install lights on their pistols.

The issue is whether or not they’re a worthwhile addition or just another “thing” or “gadget” to hang off of the gun. 

Real World Consequences

In December of 2021, a tragic story made national headlines after a father mistakenly shot and killed his daughter having thought she was an intruder breaking into their house around 4:30 a.m. Apparently, the girl set off the home security system and the father fired his gun at a shadowy silhouette, assuming it was a home invader. It was not.

A separate incident was related to me by a friend about ten years ago. This one never made the news. My friend, a firearms trainer, had arrived home late after the family was asleep. However, he had to rise early to take care of some business. As he sat at the kitchen table waiting for the coffee to brew before sunrise, my friend heard someone outside the house and then heard them open the door to the back porch.

“I knew this was it,” my friend told me. “My mind said, someone is breaking in.” 

Having only seconds to make a decision, my friend grabbed his pistol and aimed it at the door leading from the kitchen to the porch. As the “intruder’ entered through the kitchen door, he was hit with the white beam from my friend’s 500-lumen weapon light. “Hey!” exclaimed my friend’s father-in-law. “I almost puked,” my friend told me. “Thank the Lord I had that light.”

As a follow-up, my friend’s wife swore that she told him, “My dad is coming over early tomorrow.” My friend couldn’t remember her having told him any such thing. Regardless, it would seem obvious that having a bright light available prevented a terrible tragedy. 

Know Your Target

Universal Firearms Safety Rule #4 is know your target, including what’s around and beyond it. Sadly, far too many people confuse the Universal Rules with range rules and they give only perfunctory thought to Rule #4. “Duh, my target is a steel silhouette and there’s a dirt berm behind it.”

The “know your target” rule is for the real world, not just the range. 

If you took the time to watch the original 22-minute video conversation between Ken Hackathorn and Paul Howe (which Wilson Combat has since taken down), neither one of them ever said that positively identifying your target isn’t important. Quite the contrary. Their contention is that we have people using weapon-mounted lights like utility flashlights. And that’s a problem.

Another real issue is people putting a light on their EDC gun and then neglecting to carry a separate, handheld flashlight. That’s just wrong thinking and a result of either poor training or a complete lack of it. 

When I attended the SureFire Academy Low Light Instructor training course some fifteen years ago, we were admonished by our master instructors that “Having a light on your gun does not relieve you of the responsibility to carry a separate, handheld light.” During the training program we constantly used both our weapon-mounted lights as well as performed clearing drills with our handheld lights.  

Concealed carry/EDC pistol with a handheld light 

From the Horse’s Mouth

We at Student of the Gun Radio discussed this whole kerfuffle on air and reached out to Ken Hackathorn himself to give him the chance to set the record straight. You can listen to the episode on any of the podcast apps on your phone or go to Student of the Gun.  

During our conversation with Ken we unpacked a lot of crap. One of the biggest piles was the one where people based everything they had to say about the issue on the 1-minute edited video snippet, not the entire 22-minute conversation. Not once did Ken or Paul assert that gun carriers shouldn’t carry a light on their persons.

In fact, it was the opposite. Both men stated that you need to have a light if you’re carrying a gun. The conversation they were having was about whether or not a weapon-mounted light on an EDC or concealed carry handgun is a necessity. Both agreed that it is not. That turned out to be a mistake.

The Gun Cancel Culture

While “our side” loves to point out the hypocrisy of the gun-hating liberal left and how they lie and manipulate facts to push their agenda, the Hackathorn gun light fiasco has shown that far too many in the gun community are all too willing to do exactly the same thing.

Social media gun pundits took a few words snipped from a 22-minute conversation and tried to use that as evidence that Ken — and Paul to some extent — are “Fudds” and “out of touch.” In a few cases, there were outright lies told where these basement-dwellers claimed Ken had said things that weren’t in either the 1-minute or 22-minute videos. 

Light or no light, what became evident was that there’s an internet-accepted way of equipping your wanna-be John Wick blaster and if you questions that, you’ll be called all manner of derogatory names and slandered as a “has been” “a Fudd” or just “out of touch.”

Rather than simply saying “I don’t agree,” social media media keyboard commandos devolve to knee-jerk name-calling, baseless accusations, and cries of heresy. Calls to burn them at the stake are never far behind.

The author (left) and Ken Hackathorn (right)

Bottom Line 

Ken Hackthorn spent nearly 50 years of his life teaching and training good people to shoot bad people. He doesn’t need me to fight his battles for him. What should have been a civil conversation over whether or not a firearm accessory is necessary or not devolved into a cacophony of name-calling primarily spurred on by people who were pissing in their diapers when Ken and his compatriots were creating what we now know as the American firearms training industry.

My bottom line is this: The more training and practical experience you have, the better able you’ll be to decide if an add-on or accessory is a necessity or simply looks cool on Instagram posts. If you spend all of your money on guns and gadgets and none of it on training, your opinion on the internet is of slightly less value than the deposits my dog makes in the yard each day.  

Paul G. Markel is the founder of Student of the Gun University and has been teaching Small Arms & Tactics to military personnel, police officers, and citizens for over three decades. He is the author of numerous books and is a combat decorated United States Marine veteran.

4 Responses

  1. Yeah, you can give cases where a weapon light was used by a home occupant or maybe outside the home some place. There are those cases, no doubt about it so not saying a weapon light was useless there. But some of these stories told about how a weapon light was a life saver, well, some of them don’t make sense and sound like they were made up or the light was just just cause and wasn’t even needed as they try to justify the light. Its your gun, put on it what you want and you don’t need to justify it.

    Like the tale I read once on a forum: The guy was at home and heard a scratching noise at the door. Not loud, but enough to hear from the room he was in. He went into the hallway and listened and heard the scratching noise again followed by a loud “THUMP THUMP” on the door. He grabbed his gun and dialed 911. But while dialing 911 the door opens, (and, according to him, in a sequence of just a second long all happening at once as he had practiced) he turned on his weapon light, dropped the phone, presented, then realized it was his wife that had just entered the house. She had an issue with her key (thus the scratching noise) and then the “THUMP THUMP” as she thumped on the door to get his attention to come open the door for her, but then the key worked and she opened the door. As she stepped into the house he said a “silent prayer” that he had a weapon light and could identify her with it “15 feet away”. But then at the end of his story he writes “She asked why I was using the weapon light when all the lights were on and everything was brightly lit. I told her it was to make sure.” — so end of story —- ok, well, they were only about 15 feet apart in a well lit room and he needs a weapon light to identify his wife?

    Sometimes something doesn’t make sense in some of these tales of how a weapon light saved a life.

  2. Here’s a very similar example story (2014):

    A police officer shot his 16-year-old daughter mistakenly believing her to be an intruder, then crashed his car on the way to the hospital, after the teenager came back home following a night out.

    Sergeant Easton McDonald, who works for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia, was at home getting ready for work at roughly 3.30am on Tuesday when he heard the garage alarm sounding.

    As he approached the interior of the garage he heard bangs and sounds coming from within, so grabbed a gun.

    He opened the door and saw the dark figure of a person walking towards him and fired his weapon at her torso.

  3. I tried multiple times yesterday to post a comment on this page, but I was blocked because it always loaded as being under Dan Zimmerman’s logon. Literally. The upper right said “Welcome, Dan!” and the area at the bottom showed his name. It wouldn’t complete the post(s) because the site then said it didn’t recognize my IP, and redirected to the admin logon splash. I completely closed out my browser, opened a fresh instance, but still the same, again and again all yesterday.

    Dan, you may wish to look into SNW’s back end loadup.

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