Laser pointers and the law.

Now this article is what I like to see – some sensibility in the mainstream media. Well done ABC!

No person should possess any particularly powerful laser without adequate provisions for safety, of course – but there are already laws in place regarding licensing and laser safety.

My only real concern is that the law won’t provide adequate provision for individual private citizens to own green laser pointers with a reasonable power output, say 10mW, for astronomy.

Also, it’s not like they manufacture these things in Australia – so if they’re banned from importation and seized by customs, then that’s equivalent to a complete ban.

Yes, by all means, you’ve got to account for the stupid people – but I don’t like eroding people’s civil liberties to do it.

My other chief concern is that the primary legitimate reason for private individuals to own moderately powerful laser pointers is to use them for astronomy – for pointing, telescope sighting, alignment and to create virtual stars – and obviously, that involves shining the laser beam up into the night sky! My chief concern is that ignorant citizens, and overzealous, ignorant police for that matter, will come after those who are doing that, and try and charge them, and/or seize the laser.

There seems to be a good deal of public ignorance out there about this sort of thing – laser pointers seem to be demonised a lot, and people forget that they’re legitimately useful. I remember the exact same thing started happening about 10 years ago, when red 1 mW – 5 mW laser pointers started becoming very commonplace.

I mean, most people – and most news articles – don’t seem to even recognize the distinction between a laser and a laser pointer, or that lasers have different power levels, and some are more dangerous than others – if fair use is to be protected, and people are to be aware of the consequences of inappropriate use, then clearly public education is needed.

My final concern is that the current Victorian legislation defining all laser pointers with a power output over 1 mW to be a prohibited weapon is completely stupid. A more sensible limit, say 10 mW or perhaps even 5 mW, is more appropriate.

In fact, perhaps calling it a prohibited weapon is not appropriate at all – it’s only something that can be used in an antisocial way – just like a kitchen knife. To me, calling it a prohibited weapon seems to imply that it’s a device that’s intrinsically antisocial or destructive – which a laser pointer isn’t. Kitchen knives aren’t considered prohibited weapons, are they?

The main reason why I think introducing legal restrictions at a threshold of 1 mW output power is that I’ve never, ever seen a DPSS laser pointer with a power output of 1 mW, or indeed anything below 5 mW. 99% of all the green laser pointers legitimately used for giving seminars are 5 mW – which means they’re all illegal in Victoria.

I’ve never, ever seen a 1 mW green laser pointer – if someone can provide a counterexample, I’d like to see it.

To put it in context with an example to show why this is so absurd – it means that my lecturers, who are using 523 nm laser pointers every day, are, as far as I can tell, all wielding prohibited weapons, and breaking the law!

Visible spectrum CW lasers in Class 3R are limited to 5 mW, if I remember correctly – so, it would be more reasonable to introduce legal restrictions for anything in Class 3B. A Class 3R laser is considered safe if handled carefully, with restricted beam viewing.


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