More and more people are seeing the value of weapon lights like the Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro Universal Laser Sight with Tactical Light and laser sights for their firearms. Laser sight-equipped pistols certainly make sense for personal protection and offer advantages that you simply can’t get with traditional iron sights. Laser sights allow the gun to be accurately aimed from any position, whether lying on the floor or seeking cover behind a barrier. Laser sights also offer an advantage when you are engaged in a violent encounter in low-light conditions.
The primary debate regarding laser sights revolves around color options — red or green. And while selecting between a red or green laser sight for your firearm may seem no more important than choosing between a brown and black leather holster, there are fundamental differences between the two colors that should be considered before you purchase an optic. Understanding how red and green laser sights are built — and how your eye responds to each — is critical to making the right purchase.
Laser Sights and the Human Eye
Laser sights emit optically magnified light through the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation, a process that essentially concentrates one wavelength of light. Lasers have the potential to damage human tissue, so the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to limit the wattage of laser sights that can be purchased by civilians to 5 milliwatts (5mW). These laser sights are classified as 3R devices; the same type of laser sights we mount on our firearms.
Our eyes are extraordinarily complex organs that allow us to view the world in multiple dimensions and in color. What we actually perceive as “color” is really electromagnetic radiation with wave-lengths of 390 to 700 nanometers (nm) with 390 being the color we recognize as violet and 700 being what we know as red. Electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths shorter than violet fall into the ultraviolet category, and wavelengths slightly longer than red are considered infrared. Both ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths are outside of our visible spectrum and invisible to the human eye.
So, how does this pertain to laser sights? That depends on lighting conditions. In daylight, especially in very bright conditions, the eye is better able to see green light since the wavelengths emitted by green light trigger both the M-a n d L-cone receptor cells within the eye. Essentially, green light triggers a higher number of those 6 million cones inside the eye to react. In very bright conditions — such as at the range on a clear, sunny day — a green laser sight will be more visible on target than a red laser sight.
Green light offers less of an advantage over red light in dim conditions. In reduced-light conditions, the cones in the eye are able to pick up both red and green light almost equally well, so while green laser sights are significantly more visible than red light in bright sun, the two colors are both easily discernable in darker lighting conditions. According to Crimson Trace’s Media Manager Mike Faw, there’s a widely held misconception that the military uses green laser sights when engaging combatants at night, a myth that’s been perpetuated by television and film.
Tip: Faw says, those laser sights that are clearly visible at night with special night vision equipment are actually infrared laser sights and are not visible to the naked eye.
Which Laser Sight is for You?
Deciding which laser sight to mount on your gun is a personal decision. Your decision to purchase a red or a green laser sight will ultimately require a balancing of the pros and cons of both colors. If you’re looking to save some money and are OK with sacrificing a bit of bright-light performance for a lighter and less-expensive unit, go with red. There are plenty of options available for under $200. However, if you are primarily concerned with the visibility of the laser sight under all conditions and don’t mind the extra cost and bulk of a green laser sight, then that is your best option.
Red or Green, having a laser sight on your firearm makes the firearm more versatile. With the launch of the Sig Sauer P365 and Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9EZ firearms, there has been an up trend in the laser sights for both of these popular firearms with a 50/50 selection of Red vs. Green. You’ll shoot accurately in any light conditions, and you don’t have to align the sights with your eye to make an accurate shot, even at moderate ranges.
No matter which laser sight you choose, you won’t make a poor choice.
By Brad Fitzpatrick for Crimson Trace