Thrusday, December 31, 1998

City may ban laser pointers to under-18s

The Cincinnati Enquirer

[laser pointers]
        Add Cincinnati to the list of cities targeting the use of those lecture tools-turned-trendy toys: laser pointers.

        The city's law department is studying Councilman Charlie Winburn's proposal to ban the sale of laser pointers to those younger than 18 and prohibit possession of the devices by the same age group.

        Democratic Councilman Todd Portune has asked the city safety director to study whether this is a “passing fad” or whether a law is necessary.

        Health and safety concerns have been raised recently about the laser pointers, whose use has gone beyond the classroom and boardroom.

        Popularity has grown espe cially among young people in recent months.

        Most laser pointers emit safe, low-intensity beams, but prolonged exposure could damage vision, the Food and Drug Administration warns. Police are concerned that the red beam could be pointed at an officer or someone else who thinks somebody is aiming a laser-scope weapon.

        “Most of the time you can't tell where (the beam) is originating from, so the police officer is left to wonder, "Am I about to be shot?'” said Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman, who supports the plan.

        Mr. Winburn said the ordinance is aimed at protecting police officers, motorists and children who might be targeted by the red beams.

        “Before laser pointers become a major problem in the city of Cincinnati, let's work toward the prevention of serious problems and with (the) view especially toward child safety,” Mr. Winburn said.

        Locally, the Cincinnati Public Schools are cracking down on laser pointers used by students. Use in the classroom could be grounds for suspension, said Lionel Brown, the district's director of student affairs.

        Mr. Winburn's proposal is modeled after a Westchester County, N.Y., plan, but is stricter than a proposed laser pointer ordinance in Hamilton, Ohio.

        Mr. Winburn envisions a law that would restrict the display of the lasers in stores, perhaps keeping them in a locked case or behind a counter to limit easy access.

        The Hamilton proposal would prohibit anyone from shining a laser pointer with intent “to harass or annoy” a person or animal.

        Similar measures have been passed in other cities, including Louisville; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Ocean City, Md.

        The details of Mr. Winburn's proposal, including penalties for pawning and possessing the devices, are being developed, but he will introduce the measure at Wednesday's council meeting. Council is not expected to take final action until mid-January at the earliest.

        Mr. Portune said he simply wants the city safety director to examine reports about problems and misuse of the laser pointers and evaluate whether a new law is appropriate.

        “Not everything, in my opinion, requires a law. I don't know if this is such a case,” Mr. Portune said.


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