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By Derek McDonald, Vice President of Marketing, SureFire:
Recently an article appeared in an email newsletter distributed by the Force Science News of the Force Science Institute, quoting its own Dr. Lewinski. The article and Dr. Lewinski make several troubling assertions that must be rebutted in the (long-term) interest of officer safety. The gist of the article and Lewinski is that grip-activated pistol-light switches are unsafe. I paraphrase (to clarify), quote, and respond to some of the more disturbing assertions below.
1) You cannot train officers to keep their finger off the trigger under stress. According to the article, “…despite training to the contrary, officers in high-stress situations tend to move the finger onto the trigger…”
Response: If true, this has nothing to do with grip-switches, but it would support a ban on the use of firearms in general. But obviously, it is not true; officers can be trained to keep their fingers off the trigger in high-stress situations. If the fact were otherwise there would be thousands of unintended discharges each day.
2) The device is unsafe. The article states, “At least twice in recent months the device has been associated with shootings in which officers reportedly said they thought they were turning on the flashlight…”
Response: In 1986 SureFire introduced the first light designed specifically for mounting on handguns. This light (equipped with remote switching) was quickly adopted by SWAT teams, including LAPD’s D-Platoon. In 2004 SureFire introduced the current X-Series WeaponLights, intended primarily for attachment to handguns. There are well over 100,000 SureFire X-Series lights and tens of thousands of optional grip-activated “DG” and “SL” switches in use today, and our competitors have sold hundreds of thousands of other pistol-mountable lights themselves. During this 24-year period the only reported safety-related incidents involving such lights are the two incidents mentioned above. These figures alone prove that SureFire WeaponLights, and weapon-mounted lights in general, are safe.
3) According to the article, Lewinski asserts that, “…an officer pressing his middle finger against the flashlight switch pad will produce a sympathetic reaction in the index finger. If that finger happens to be inside the trigger guard and on the pistol’s trigger, the reaction may be forceful enough to cause an unintentional discharge.”
Response: Sympathetic Response is a real phenomenon, but it’s not the boogeyman and it can be addressed with training. Think about it: our trigger finger doesn’t magically pull the trigger when we use our thumb to manipulate the safety or the magazine release. Nor does the trigger finger unconsciously jump into action when we use our opposite hand to activate our radio, handheld flashlight, or pepper spray. The answer to Sympathetic Response is training and adherence to Rule #2 of The Four Basic Rules of Firearms Safety: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you are ready to fire.
And please note, if an officer experiences Sympathetic Response while his or her finger is on the trigger when it shouldn’t be there, it would not matter which light switch the officer is using, or whether the officer has a weapon-mounted light at all. The point is, the officer’s finger is on the trigger when it shouldn’t be there.
4) The article quotes Lewinski as saying, “When you think you’re doing one thing but are actually doing another, the result often is directly opposite of what you intended.”
Response: I believe he is referring to the phenomenon of reverting (under stress) from an intended action (activating the grip switch) to another action (pulling the trigger).
Let’s borrow Lewinski’s own analogy of drivers stepping on the gas pedal when they meant to step on the brake pedal. Can this happen? Of course, it’s called a mistake. Does every driver do it? No, in fact, most do not. Do trained drivers—such as highway patrolmen, or professional racecar drivers—make this mistake? No, not in any number that is statistically significant. Again, the issue here is training. You cannot make officers safer by taking away their equipment—you must provide them with adequate training.
Dr. Lewinski lists research as one of the services he provides. Yet—with the newsletter in question—he has published what most would assume to be a professional opinion—based on just two isolated incidents (out of 24 years of safe use) that he read about in news reports, incidents that are still under investigation and that he is not privy to at this time. While he may have conducted legitimate research regarding human dynamics during deadly force encounters, he does not appear to have done any research particular to SureFire products or the use of weapon-mounted lights. For that reason alone I find the article to be unprofessional and certainly not qualified to stand as an expert opinion.
I assume Lewinski is acting out of a real concern for officer safety—and not to generate future engagements as an expert witness. But I fear the article may actually have the opposite effect by frightening some administrations into depriving their officers of crucial safety tools. Regardless, Lewinski’s opinion is just that.
The greater issue is whether officers are provided adequate training to ensure they can safely use the tools they have. To address that issue I have attached a separate document, unconcerned with Dr. Lewinski’s opinions, entitled, Officer Training for Low-Light Conditions- A Matter of Life and Death .
It should be noted that Force Science News is a communications vehicle for the Force Science Research Center, of which Lewinski is the executive director. Quoting yourself in your own publication and referencing your own studies is questionable at best. And finally, the article ends with this statement: “Lawsuits have been filed in both shootings.” For clarification, SureFire has not been named in those lawsuits.
Vice President of Marketing, SureFire
Relevant experience includes but is not limited to:
U.S. Navy Gunners Mate “A” and “C” schools
U.S. Navy Small Arms Instructor / Range Master
P.O.S.T. certified instructor of Officer Survival in Low-Light Conditions
SureFire Institute founding instructor cadre member
NRA Law Enforcement Tactical Handgun Instructor
Simunition Scenario & Safety Instructor
Hundreds of hours providing training to, and conducting informal interviews of, law enforcement officers with regard to lethal-force encounters, specifically as it relates to the use of low-light tactics and lighting tools