• TSG Defense

The Moth Effect and Using a Weapon-Mounted Light for Self-Defense

It's called the ‘moth effect’ and it may be responsible for motorists crashing into emergency crews, pilots nose-diving into the ground, and it could be a consideration in low-light/no-light shooting.

The moth effect is essentially the phenomenon of humans moving toward or focusing on the most identifiable and dramatic scene in view.

Flashing lights on these firetrucks cause the 'moth effect' which endangers police, fire, and emergency crews and could have negative implications for weapon-mounted lights carried for self-defense.

For drivers this can be the explanation on why emergency crews and police officers are hit by motorists passing by and why it’s more predominate during low-light situations.

During the day, our eyes are able to process not only all that is happening on the shoulder, but we’re able to gauge our speed and distance relative to vehicles and people. We can gauge what lane we’re in and we can gauge how close we are to the parked vehicles and whether we need to move to the left.

At night, it’s a different story.

There are no objects to focus on. There is a minimal flow of optic information. It’s the same as driving at night in the rain. You just can’t see well, so you’re forced to rely on those objects you can identify.

In the case of a crash, it’s those flashing lights.

Fatal attraction: ‘The moth effect’ endangers motorists, police

This phenomenon also affects us in that it is not uncommon for guns and gun hands to be hit during a gunfight.

There’s this weird kind of target fixation people inexperienced in combat get. When you have a gun pointed at you, what do you focus on? The gun, not the target. Again, I see these great marksmen, excellent shooters, and they get in a situation, having to clear a room or engage an enemy for the first time, and they shoot the hostile in the hand because that’s where their eyes are.

What Really Happens During a Gunfight: Shooting down the myths of Hollywood gunplay

It's not uncommon to hear reports of bullet strikes on guns and gun hands on both sides of the two-way shooting range. I’ve seen photos from a Border Patrol After Action Report of a gunfight between two cartel gangs. Some of the photos showed magazine springs and followers on the ground with loose rounds strewn about. The photos seem suggestive that the magazines were damaged by incoming fire. Whether that can be attributed to target fixation or the sheer volume of indiscriminate fire can't be determined.

This moth effect or target fixation has some considerations for us when using flashlights (torches for our UK friends) in low-light shooting scenarios.

It seems like this is the case when the old-style FBI hold is used with a handgun. This is when you use a handheld flashlight in your support hand positioned above and away from your body. It's usually accompanied with the admonishment to use this hold because the bad guy will shoot at your light.

The flip-side we've seen is a more modern take from those using weapon-mounted lights and lights with extremely bright lumens. Here, proponents advocate ‘hiding behind a wall of light’ or stating the bad guy won't shoot you because he can't see you.

This last statement could be absolutely true — with the qualifier that the aggressor is not necessarily shooting at you, but at your light.

Ply your comments below with your take on this phenomenon and whether it affects your decision to carry a weapon-mounted light for self-defense or not. Any additional links or resource materials would also be helpful for the discussion.