Gun-mounted flashlights implicated in increase of accidental police shootings across U.S.

By Scott Kaufman
Sunday, June 8, 2014 13:44 EDT
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Police departments across the United States are increasingly questioning the necessity of gun-mounted flashlights after new reports indicate that they may be responsible for an uptick in accidental shootings.

David Olinger and Christopher Osher at The Denver Post reported on the case of Ronny Flanagan, a decorated police officer in Plano, Texas who accidentally shot Michael Alcala, Jr. when trying to turn on his gun-mounted flashlight in 2010.

“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,” Luke Metzler, a lawyer who sued Plano and the flashlight maker on behalf of Michael Alcala, Sr., told The Denver Post.

“I don’t want anyone to ever sit in a chair I’m in right now,” Flanagan said at his deposition. “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.”

Metzler said that he attempted to determine how many other incidents of accidental gun discharges occurred in the United States due to gun-mounted flashlights, but ran into difficulty because “unless someone is seriously injured or killed, reports of this are not made.”

Despite this difficulty, Olinger and Osher were able to find two accidental discharges blamed on gun-mounted flashlight in Colorado alone. In the first, an officer looking for a suspect in a homeless encampment attempted to turn on his gun-mounted flashlight while opening a tent, but instead fired into it. Fortunately, the tent was empty.

In the second case, an officer pulled over a suspected stolen vehicle. He approached it and tried to turn on his gun-mounted flashlight, but fired his gun instead. The suspect immediately drove off, and when the car was found abandoned, it was evident that the bullet had traveled through the driver’s side window and out the front windshield. According to internal police documents, “there was a small amount of blood on the driver’s seat and center console,” but the condition of the driver could not be determined.

Gun-mounted or “tactical” flashlights were originally designed to be used by highly trained Navy SEALs, but are increasingly available in the civilian law enforcement market. Most police departments do not have the personnel required to train their officers in the proper use of these attachments.

Gene Maloney, a retired firearms instructor with the New York City Police Department, claimed that gun-mounted flashlights are inherently unsafe because “it increases the likelihood of someone pointing a loaded firearm at someone when a threat of deadly force does not exist.”

Steve Ijames, a retired police chief, agreed, telling the Post, “I’ve seen officers use a flashlight-mounted gun to help a person search their wallet for a driver’s license. I’ve literally seen that on a traffic stop.”

["Anti Terrorist Unit Policeman During The Night Strike/Operation/Mission In Criminal'S House Aiming At The Target (Very Harsh Lighting Is Used On This Shot To Underline The Atmosphere Of Night Mission)" on Shutterstock]

Scott Kaufman
Scott Kaufman
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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