November 2010

Laser Lightshow: Crimson Trace, LaserMax, LaserLyte Compete

The Crimson Trace LG-401 sight was the easiest laser sight to adapt to, our testers said, while the LaserMax 1911M and the LaserLyte RL-19N took more practice to become proficient.

Proponents of laser sights say the electronic devices make it easier and faster to hit a target—on average, a half second to 1 second faster, depending on the shooter. Mainly, the reason is optical: Shooting with iron sights takes effort, since three focal planes need to be aligned: rear sight, front sight, and target. By projecting an aiming point onto the target plan, the laser folds all three sight plans into one target plane. Place the dot on a target at the zeroed in range, and that is where the bullets will hit. Another advantage laserphiles claim is that lasers allow the shooter to hit targets from unconventional or inconvenient shooting positions with ease. And, importantly, laser sights also make good training devices. Dry-firing exercises with the red dots show shooters if they are correctly pressing back on the trigger and not exerting side pressure, or have some other flaw that the jiggling red dot exposes.

Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, or, laser for short, is a way to emit electromagnetic radiation in the form of visible light. Physics aside, a laser sight is actually a laser pointer on steroids. The FDA regulates laser sights as Class IIIa devices that operate at 1 to 5 mW (milliwatts). Early generations of laser sights were conspicuous bolt-ons. More gadget than gear. Current laser sights are more integrated with firearms. We wanted to test current laser sights to see how they would perform, including ease of installation and use, durability and concealability, so we chose the Crimson Trace LG-401, $329; LaserLyte’s RL-19N, $200; and the LaserMax LMS-1911M, $400, as three examples of lasers that operate slightly differently because of how they’re fitted to the gun.

Several cautionary notes, however. Lasers can be hazardous. In fact, Crimson Trace instructs buyers to attach a tiny warning label on their firearms before the sight is installed, and it warns about shining lasers in your or other people’s eyes, as the rays may damage the recipients’ retinas. Also, it’s useful to note that a laser can reflect off hard, smooth surfaces. When you hear a bump in the night and activate a laser, be aware of your surroundings. Mirrors, glass, TV screens, and other surfaces will reflect a laser’s dot. The reflected light could temporarily disorient you or deflect, looking like multiple lasers. Save the light shows for the concert arenas. Have a plan in mind to illuminate your targets, but not the wife’s glass-fronted cabinets. Also, firearms with lasers require additional maintenance. Oil, dust, and other debris on the glass window of the laser’s projection port can diffuse the beam. Clean the glass window, and the laser’s dot will be sharp and clear. Crimson Trace recommends removing the grips prior to cleaning. Excessive oil can also affect circuitry. Replace the batteries, just as you would with a flashlight. If you use the [IMGCAP(3)]laser sights often, replace them more frequently. And there’s the signature debate: the laser may be a deterrent or it may not. A bad guy can see the laser and back off knowing his position is compromised, or if he is determined to do harm, the laser indicates your location.

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