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By thisistwitchy  •  December 30, 2004 12:52 PM

Following up on those weird laser beam stories, I note that at least one online retailer has now stopped selling high power green lasers. (Thanks to reader Mike G. for the tip.) The proprietor of Laser Shoppe.com explains here and wants your opinion about his decision:

Unfortunately, we have decided to STOP selling these lasers. Too many people have been doing stupid things with lasers recently. I can’t sleep at night thinking that something I sold could fall into the wrong hands and hurt people. It’s unfortunate that that the actions of a few idiots have ruined it for many responsible people who want to use this laser for legitimate applications.
I’m leaving the site up in case people are interested in reading it. Am I doing the right thing by halting sales?

Check it out.

A poster at Slashdot observes that even regular laser pointers can cause real damage. Meanwhile, the green lasers are still on sale here and here, among many other places.

Reader Ron Schwarz comments that regulating laser sales/purchases is “for better or worse like gun control.”

The cat’s been out of the bag for a long time, and there’s no
putting it back inside. Restricting sales to law-abiding purchasers would
accomplish nothing, as the bad guys would simply do what they always do —
break the law.

I tend to agree with Ron, though I think tracking bulk sales might make sense.

Update: In case you were wondering…

– The FDA has regulatory oversight over green laser beams. Any laser device that produces more than 5 mW of power cannot be used without a permit.

– The majority of green laser users seem to be astronomy buffs, the military, and business executives wanting to show off cool new toys.

– It looks like the big manufacturers of green lasers are based in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Update II: Lots of interesting tips and feedback coming in. Here’s an excerpt from reader Brian Brauner’s e-mail…

I wanted to offer my thoughts on the laser beam events. I have suspicions to the effect that though these events are very possibly terrorist-related, they aren’t currently being used as attacks.

If one considers the nature and strength of lasers available today for industry and entertainment, it’s not difficult to see that a determined group could obtain both completed lasers and laser technology that could be diverted to weapons use. What interests me, is that of the reported events, the energy level was fairly low, accomplishing little to no damage. I do not see that as reason to breathe a sigh of relief.

I suspect that the current events are less attacks than they are experiments. I also suspect that they are less focused on developing adequate destructive power, than they are on their ability to track and target aircraft cockpits. Lasers are now ubitiquous, but targeting technology is not. Targeting is the most difficult aspect of an endeavor such at this.

It is alarming that this latest incident possibly indicates an ability to target aircraft at altitudes as high as 8,500 feet. A daunting task, which appears to indicate a degree of sophistication that we ought to be extremely concerned about.

We also ought to be concerned about how much we cooperate with terrorists in developmental testing of such weapons. If this was indeed an effort to track an aircraft cockpit, in order to test systems or train operators, we are most generous in the feedback we are providing them. Essentially, as in the game Battleship, we are announcing “hit!” with alarming predictability. Perhaps, though I am loathe to keep things secret, we are unwisely communicating to them the degree of success they have achieved. Just a thought…


And yes, by the way, if this whole thing sounds likes something straight out of a Tom Clancy novel, it is.

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