The laser threat

If you’re under a certain age in Minnesota, you can’t buy a can of spraypaint because you might paint a bridge or railroad car with it. You can’t buy an American flag that’s not made in America because it might…. well, I haven’t quite figured out why yet. But if you want to buy a laser pointer, you can walk right in to the laser-pointer store, pay your money, and walk out with a weapon that could bring down a plane load of people, apparently.

Officials in the Twin Cities reportedly are investigating nine cases of someone with laser pointers shining them at jets, potentially blinding the pilot.

It’s happening around the country and, according to some news reports, with increasing frequency:

On Monday, police in California arrested a 50-year-old man and charged him with shining a laser pointer on a traffic helicopter. The man is a laser pointer salesman and may have been upset about the helicopter hovering around his home.

laser_pointer.jpgThere have been six cases reported around Montreal this month. An Ontario newspaper this week called for tougher penalties.

In the UK last month, a teenager got a suspended 20-week jail term for pointing one at a police helicopter.

In Scotland recently, the pilots of a 747 had to cover their eyes in the last seconds of their flight, a newspaper reported. That’s not a good thing.

Back in the ’90s, someone in Woodbury shined a laser pointer into the eyes of opposing quarterbacks for North St. Paul. That community’s then-state-rep, Betty McCollum, filed a bill to make it a crime. It passed the Senate 6-0, but died in the House in 1999, and nobody’s taken up the cause since as near as I can tell.

And that’s an odd thing, perhaps, in a country that raced to ban mouthwash, toothpaste, and bottles of water from carry-on after someone figured out that somehow they could be used as weapons against airplanes.

Australia has banned them. New Zealand may.

  • If laser pointers are outlawed, only outlaws will have laser pointers.

    If they wish to ban these, they also need to ban Power Point, the use of the word “utilize” in place of “use”, and any meeting over 90 minutes in length. Well, perhaps they could allow longer meetings but require that donuts be placed in the center of the table.

    Many will say that this is unnecessary government intrusion into the basic operation of business,but I say it’s about basic human rights – including the right to exist in an environment that has at least some stimulation beyond coffee-fueled hallucinations.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to twitter.

  • david zuhn


    You have just written the gist of a bill that can revitalize American industry. The results of such a bill would begin to encourage thinking in complete thoughts and communicating in coherent units of discourse (known as sentences). I think this would do more to bring up the Dow than any of the bailouts so far.

    Now all we need is a snappy acronym for the bill, with its correspondingly dorky full name.

  • mulad

    I’m amazed that anyone can aim a laser pointer well enough to hit a cockpit for more than a split-second. My hands are probably too wobbly for that.

    The notable feature of lasers is that they have an extremely narrow frequency range. It’s probably possible to get some eyewear that filters out the most commonly-used frequencies. With a pilot and a copilot, one of the two could wear the filters to prevent both from being temporarily blinded.