Look through just about any magazine or website devoted to gun owners, especially if it has a focus on self-defense, and you will find ads for laser sights. Lasers have generated a lot of interest for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their prominence in TV and movies.

Special forces operators advance through darkened hallways, their (usually red) beams sweeping left and right as they seek out terrorists or similar threats. SWAT team members are likewise often shown using lasers on more “normal” bad guys.

Less often shown are laser-equipped pistols. High-intensity weapons lights are seen more often on handguns, especially those used in Hollywood depictions of police, although lasers do occasionally make an appearance there as well.

But how useful are these high-tech (and admittedly “cool”) devices for the average man or woman who keeps a gun on his or her nightstand for in-home protection? And what about those of us who routinely carry a gun outside the home?

Like most tools, if used properly, they can be helpful; in the home, that red beam can be a great deterrent to an invader. And miniaturization of lasers has made them more practical for carry guns. But mistakenly believing that a laser is some sort of “magic bullet” can lead to neglecting more important things like live-fire practice at the range.

One of the questions I nearly always ask in conversations with people I run into in gun stores and at gun shows is, “So, how often do you go to the range?” When the answer comes back, “Not that often,” I usually inquire as to why not. There are, of course, the usual excuses: expense, no time, “I travel a lot,” etc.

But since lasers came on the scene, I have lost count of the number of people who responded to my “Why not?” question with something like, “Well, I have a laser,” as if having one means they don’t need to practice. Big mistake.

One of the primary causes of this attitude is that too many people believe the hype that “you just put the red dot on the bad guy, and you’re home free” — an instant “Jason Bourne” or “John Wick.” But watch anyone at the gun range trying to do that with a laser and you will notice how difficult it is (and that’s against a motionless paper target).

Now imagine you’re in a dimly lit parking garage, facing an assailant who is moving rapidly and erratically — easier said than done. Just ask any combat veteran how much more difficult things become when you are under attack. If you think you will be able to concentrate on that tiny, wildly bouncing red dot, think again.

Now, I am not saying you shouldn’t own a laser. I’m just suggesting that you view it realistically, as an auxiliary tool, not a substitute for skill. In fact, a laser can be used to actually improve your skill — doing dry-firing exercises at home. The technique is to point your (unloaded!) gun at some target object — a door, a lamp, a TV — and then activate the laser to see if your impact point is where you thought it was. Here again, regular and frequent repetition is key.

In summary, I have nothing against lasers. They have their place. Just remember that when the worst happens, skill will be what saves your life.

Be smart. Be safe. Practice, practice, practice.