Gun-Mounted Flashlights Linked To Accidental Shootings

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 11 months ago

The Denver Post:


Ronny Flanagan took pride in his record as a police officer in Plano, Texas. He had an incident-free career. He took safety training regularly. He was known at the range as a very good shot.

Yet he killed a man when he was simply trying to press a flashlight switch mounted beneath the trigger on his pistol.

In a deposition, Flanagan expressed his remorse and made a prediction.

“I don’t want anyone to ever sit in a chair I’m in right now,” he said. “Think about the officers that aren’t as well trained, officers that don’t take it as seriously, and you put them in a pressure situation, another accident will happen. Not if, but will.”

Flanagan was right. Three months after the October 2010 shooting in Plano, a 76-year-old man took a bullet in the stomach from a New York police officer trying to switch on the same flashlight model.

At least three other people in the U.S. over the past nine years have been shot accidentally by police officers with gun-mounted flashlights, an investigation by The Denver Post found. Two victims were fellow officers.

In Colorado, Denver’s police chief banned the use of tactical flashlights with switches below the trigger guard after two officers accidentally fired their guns last year.

One of the officers may have shot a suspect when his finger slipped from the flashlight switch to the trigger, firing a bullet into a car window of the fleeing driver.

[ … ]

In Plano, Flanagan tried to shine his flashlight on a suspected drug dealer in a dark parking lot outside a fast-food restaurant. Instead, he shot and killed Michael Alcala, leaving a 2-year-old boy fatherless.

“I don’t think it’s a very good idea to have any flashlight on a gun. You’re turning it into a loaded flashlight,” said Luke Metzler, a lawyer who sued Plano and the flashlight maker on behalf of the son, Michael Alcala Jr.

Here’s what’s happening.  In order to depress the pressure switch, shooters (in this case, cops) are squeezing their third finger, and because they have no control over their sympathetic muscle reflexes, they are also squeezing their trigger finger at the same time.  Suing the manufacturers of flashlights is about as nonsensical as I can imagine.  That’s like suing a hammer manufacturer because I may choose to hit someone over the head with it.

But what does this also show us?  The astute reader says, “that cops are (a) using their weapon mounted light as a tactical light to see things in the dark, violating requirements for muzzle discipline, and (b) they have their finger on the trigger of their weapon, showing that they are violating requirements for trigger discipline.

Recall what I said about this?

My son was a SAW gunner in the 2/6 infantry, Golf Company, 3rd Platoon, during the 2007 combat tour of Fallujah and the pre-deployment workup.  The senior Marines had experienced a tour of Iraq, and wanted their SAW gunners to have a round in the chamber, bolt open (the SAW is an open bolt weapon anyway), and finger on the trigger.  They had seen combat and they wanted their SAW gunners with zero steps to shooting.  Their lives depended on it.  They also did CQB drills with live rounds, along with squad rushes.

My son had an ID (if I’m not mistaken it was during training at Mohave Viper).  He tripped and had a sympathetic muscle reflex, squeezing the trigger of his SAW.  He spent an extended period of time in the “room of pain.”  They wanted him trained to overcome that sympathetic muscle reflex (which can be done, but it takes hundreds or thousands of hours of drills).  He spent the time learning to overcome that reflex, and performed well during his tour.  He also tried to teach his “boot” Marines the same way he was trained, but the Marines had begun to change and focus more on cultural sensitivity training and other COIN tools.  He got out of the Marine Corps.

Why am I discussing this?  Because no matter who you are, no matter how much time you spend, no matter how earnestly you wish it, no matter how many directives you write, if you are a SWAT team member, you will never be trained in such a manner.  Never.  You will never be trained like a U.S. Marine who has spent every day for a year and a half in pre-deployment workup to do a combat tour of Iraq.  Because you will never be trained in this manner, your tactics are dangerous, all of the time, and in all situations.  I don’t care how many times you have inexperienced Soldiers spend a week with you doing CQB drills.

As for cops, if they obey the same rules as we do, this kind of thing won’t happen.  And I don’t care how sad Ronny Flanagan is over this.  The shooting is his fault.  Period.

If you keep your booger hook off of the bang switch, the gun won’t go boom.  And for the sake of everything that is sensible, good and righteous, don’t use your weapon mounted tactical light as a flashlight so that you can see things in the dark.

  • paul b

    When I first saw one of these things at the range mounted on an LCP it looked to be full of fail then. That was to engage a laser pointer. I like a flash light in the weak hand as you can hold it to the side and if they are shooting at you, they miss.

  • Ned Weatherby

    No matter what, if you have a gun mounted light, you are pointing a loaded gun at whatever you’re attempting to illuminate.

    Cops routinely point loaded weapons a people for no good reason, and are always operating “withing established procedures.” I don’t believe training will likely help many with this issue, for the reasons Herschel cited. If I’m not mistaken, there have been a number of negligent discharges by police with weapons mounted lights when they weren’t even dealing with a “suspect.”

    When police use MRAPS and ever other military “toy” they can get their hands on, this is a symptom of the result. Some of these Rambos have had military training, and may be able to operate these complicated devices (flashlights) without killing someone they didn’t intend to shoot.

    But isn’t there a rule about not pointing a gun a something you don’t intend to destroy?

    I’ve used prototype tools that were unsafe. Took precautions, and wasn’t injured, and didn’t hurt anyone around me. IMO, suing Surefire – or whomever the manufacturer happens to be – is simply a diaphanous attempt to deflect blame from poor training, bad tactics, and police militarization.

    Many “civilian” firearms trainers discourage the use of weapons mounted lights, for a number of reasons, one cited by Paul B.

  • David Wright

    EXCELLENT article. You seem to’ve captured it 10,000%. In my Marine Corps days (67-93), we were taught to keep those booger-hooks VISIBLY OFF the trigger (under penalty of pain) until we were ready to squeeze it and send rounds down range.

    I agree, NO COP, of any stripe is better trained than a Marine Grunt. None. Anywhere. The growing list of dead and wounded innocent citizens attests to that.

    By the way, cops calling citizens “civilians” is laughable. These ‘roid-ragers in blue are ALSO CIVILIANS and NOT members of the armed forces of ANY type, let alone my Marine Corps. Though some are prior service, but now acting as CIVIL AUTHORITIES!!

    Tell your son his older brother says hello and…

    Semper fidelis

    D. C. Wright
    USMC Retired
    Warrior for God

  • robertsgunshop

    And that training never goes away. Maybe a bunch of these wanna be warriors should go through marine boot camp. Like theone I went through years ago, when the DI’s could still beat on the priv’s.

    Semper Fi

  • David Wright

    Roger that. I went through Parris Island starting January of ’67.

  • robertsgunshop

    I was a Hollywood marine. 1973

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  • David Wright

    Semper fi, brother!

  • Victor Cachat

    So, dumb idea proves to be dumb.

  • guest

    I’ve been saying this ever since I first saw these contraptions.

    Attaching a light to a gun means the user has just been given a tool designed to be used in a certain manner. Pointing a gun, that happens to have a light on it, at unidentified objects in order to identify them strikes me as a Very Bad Idea with predictable consequences. It violates Gun Safety Rules #2 (always be sure of where the gun is pointing) and #4 (never point a firearm at something unless you are willing to destroy it right now).

  • Burnt Toast

    “room of pain”

    When on a M-249 range doing the full MOPP gear live fire I had a run-away gun… moments from getting the neverending grass drill I had a eukeka momemt, while showing the SAW with a glove finger torn off and stuck in the trigger guard, “Hey Sargent, I bet that trigger guard is hinged so you can open up it up and won’t get your glove caught” … Sarge called up and down the line to take your glove off or open the trigger guard…

    I have never seen it published that the trigger guard is hinged for use when wearing gloves, but every time I’m looking at an AR-15 (and reaching for the wallet) I do check to se if the clone has a hinged trigger guard (some don’t), might be useful if I ever get stuck in the Great White North.

  • James

    That’s funny.. in my 6 month long State trooper stress academy we had 8 military guys in our class. Only 4 graduated (4 either failed out, or quit) and out of the 4 that graduated 2 failed out of the field training program.
    22 ‘civilians’ were in our class. 1 failed to graduate and 1 quit the field training program.

    All the military guys said they thought it’d be easy, but quickly found out it was much harder than their little 8 weeks long boot camp/basic.

  • Herschel Smith

    I won’t try to steal their thunder, but I suspect that the boys above would tell you there is a huge difference between “military guys” and Marines.

  • James

    4 of them were marines

  • Herschel Smith

    Probably not MOS 0311. I would bet money not.

  • robertsgunshop

    Which is a sad statement on today’s military. I know the decline in the Marines started about 1975. That was the year they made DI’s stop hitting the priv’s. I hear that now they get “stress cards” so the DI’s can’t even yell at them. Archibald Henderson is spinning in his grave at what the Corps is becoming. Political correctness will destroy this country.

  • Herschel Smith

    Oh, I don’t think so, not quite so much. I think he’s a troll looking for attention. I only humored him. I do think that the current USMC is focused on COIN, expeditionary warfare (which we will never wage again), and staying relevant. And when Daniel left the Corps, he couldn’t train his boots the way he was trained.
    But 2/6 was going to deploy to Fallujah. It’s funning how deploying to a war brings a certain sobriety and seriousness to the training process.

  • Mike11C

    Attaching a flashlight to a weapon is not a dumb idea. Not having a back-up flashlight, for when you don’t need to shoot something, IS.

  • Herschel Smith

    Just to be clear, I have a gun mounted light on my XDm .45 on the front rail. I turn it on actually with a switch on the light itself (as opposed to a pressure switch), and I would never point my weapon at someone just to illuminate them. Finally, my finger is off the trigger until I intend to shoot.
    Basic, simple rules. That’s all this comes down to.

  • Charles

    I agree with you… A weapon mounted flashlight does not always instantly fine its target but the intended target will know where the man behind the weapon it.. It is a signature of the weapon holders position…

  • Josh

    I think you’re either outright lying or severely embellishing a fanciful story.

  • robertsgunshop

    That’s why I use a 3-D mag-lite in my weak hand. Not only does it light up the area safely, I can use it as a baton if the need arises. I’m so old school I don’t even have a handgun with a rail. Maybe I should jump to the 21st Century.

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You are currently reading "Gun-Mounted Flashlights Linked To Accidental Shootings", entry #12320 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published June 8th, 2014 by Herschel Smith.

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