When it comes to types of lasers, we need to think in two dimensions. The first relates to how a laser is integrated with the handgun. The second addresses the method of activation. That’s fancy terminology for “how does it turn on and off?”
Crimson Trace is the undisputed leader when it comes to integrated grip lasers. Batteries and electronics can be hidden in the grip panels themselves, and the small laser lens, aiming adjustments and housing can be molded into the top. The laser beam will travel from the top of the grip alongside the frame of the gun. Since the laser is high on the frame, it’s only offset from the bore of the handgun by an inch or less — slightly below and to the side.
Lasergrips are a great solution for a number of reasons. As the laser is built into the grip, there are no significant changes to the shape and size of the gun itself. Rarely will you have to stock an entirely different holster for a Lasergrip-equipped handgun. There are no extra pieces to knock off or damage, either. It’s a discreet and natural solution.
Many newer handguns feature one-piece polymer frames. The grip is part of the gun frame itself, so there are no traditional removable panels that can be replaced with Lasergrips. Fortunately, many of these guns have Picatinny rails in front of the trigger guard. As these rails are standard width and shape, manufacturers can develop accessories like lasers to fit there.
The benefit of a rail-mounted laser is that you can add a laser (or laser/light combo) to virtually any handgun equipped with a rail. On the flip side, there’s a new piece of gear under the barrel, so the customer will need a compatible holster.
Trigger Guard Lasers
Some handguns are compact and smooth, so they do not have a sharp-edged rail segment up front. Companies like LaserLyte will often develop a custom laser that wraps around the underside of the frame and attaches to the trigger guard. It’s a little bit like a rail-mounted laser, except it doesn’t require a rail and is made for a specific gun model.
As with rail-mounted lasers, you’ll need to steer the customer toward a compatible holster, as there is a little bit of new bulk from the laser housing.
Yet another option — available for some handguns like Glocks and Beretta 92/96 models — is a guide-rod laser. LaserMax has figured out how to make a new guide rod that has all the batteries and guts of a laser right inside. Just replace the guide rod with the laser-equipped one and a beam shoots forward just underneath the muzzle of the handgun.
The big benefit of guide rod lasers is that they add no bulk to the exterior of the handgun. Standard holsters will work just fine.
Laser Activation Methods
The other consideration when recommending the right laser is the method of activation — how do you turn it on or off? While each has a different button, switch or lever, there are two basic approaches to the whole question of how to turn the thing on.
All Lasergrips that I can think of feature instinctive activation. In English, this means that the button is placed in such a position that the natural act of gripping the handgun turns on the laser. Some models have a pressure pad on the front of the grip, others on the back and some on the sides. In any case, a firm grip causes pressure to be applied from the firing hand and the laser turns on.
You’ll also find instinctive activation on many trigger guard lasers. As the mounting is already surrounding the trigger guard area, most companies will go ahead and place a pressure pad at the front of the grip, just below the trigger guard.
Companies like Viridian have a technology that turns the laser on as it is drawn from a holster. The so-called “Instant-On” function makes it so shooters don’t have to mess around with any buttons when the heat is on. And when the firearm is re-holstered, the laser shuts off automatically.
The benefit to instinctive activation lasers is that the user has nothing to worry about or remember. If they ever need to pick up the gun in an emergency situation, the laser will be on. There’s no need to remember to flip a switch in time of need.
Many rail-mounted lasers have paddles or levers that you press with the trigger or support hand finger to turn on and off. When you pick up your handgun, these lasers will be off until you decide to turn them on.
Guide rod lasers also have a separate activation switch. In most cases, the guide rod laser will come with a new takedown lever that serves the purpose of activating the laser.
Some people like the control of a deliberate activation laser. If you don’t want that beam for any reason, don’t turn it on. Instinctive activation fans like the fact that they don’t have to think about activation during a stressful incident.