How Not to Use Laser Pointers, From Aiming Guns at Swedes to Blinding Pilots

A few pointers for using laser pointers.

Laser pointers are equal parts classroom disruptors and security threats.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Jan. 6, 2014, 12:04 p.m.

There’s a time and place for laser point­ers, those tiny, hand­held devices that emit a steady stream of light. Middle-school classrooms, for one. Board­room present­a­tions, for an­oth­er.

This concept evades some New York­ers, like Gov. An­drew Cuomo’s home­land se­cur­ity chief, who have found oth­er, cre­at­ive uses for the tech­no­logy. The laser point­er Jerome M. Hauer used to point to something dur­ing an Oc­to­ber present­a­tion on the re­sponse to Hur­ricane Sandy was at­tached to the bar­rel of his hand­gun, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port from Al­bany’s Times Uni­on. The move shocked the Swedish of­fi­cials in at­tend­ance:

These of­fi­cials, one of whom claimed to be an eye­wit­ness, said that three Swedish emer­gency man­agers in the del­eg­a­tion were rattled when the gun’s laser tracked across one of their heads be­fore Hauer found the map of New York, at which he wanted to point.

Mor­al of the story: Don’t use your laser-equipped gun as a present­a­tion tool.

Oth­er New York­ers have used laser devices to point at something much farther away, like air­planes. In 2013, re­ports of laser point­ers aimed at run­way-bound planes jumped 17 per­cent com­pared with 2012, from 64 in­cid­ents to 75, The New York Times re­por­ted in Oc­to­ber.

Such beams of light can eas­ily dis­tract pi­lots, and even tem­por­ar­ily dam­age their vis­ion. “Sev­er­al com­mer­cial pi­lots earli­er this year suffered sig­ni­fic­ant in­jury, in­clud­ing a burnt ret­ina,” The Times wrote.

At the hands of the av­er­age trouble­maker, the beam from a laser point­er ap­pears to end a few hun­dred feet away. In real­ity, a pi­lot can clearly see the light from a low-powered laser more than two miles away, and from a power­ful laser more than sev­en miles away, ac­cord­ing to Laser­point­er­safety.com, which tracks re­ports of the devices aimed at air­planes.

U.S. pi­lots re­port see­ing or be­ing il­lu­min­ated by laser beams about 10 times a night, ac­cord­ing to the web­site. The people be­hind the beams risk more than the con­fis­ca­tion of their tiny devices if they get caught: Point­ing a laser at a plane has been a fed­er­al crime since 2012.

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