Rather than pass judgment here on a Gamber man who told us he made a "horrible mistake" when he shined a green laser pointer at a Maryland State Police helicopter, we prefer to let the judicial process play itself out. However, it seems a good opportunity to remind people about the dangers of laser pointers, and why police take situations like this so seriously.

Laser pointers — which can be purchased at office supply stores for use during PowerPoint presentations, at pet shops to play games with your cat or dog, and just about anywhere online, often for $20 or less — aren't a new problem.


Many stadiums and arenas banned their use when fans in the stands would shine them on players to distract them or just to amuse their friends. It wasn't until a few years ago that Maryland's General Assembly passed a law that made using a laser pointer on an aircraft a crime, and shortly thereafter, coastal resort town Ocean City banned the sale of the devices on the boardwalk after law enforcement and others provided anecdotal evidence that's where most youth were buying the lasers they later were caught pointing at police helicopters and the like.

A Gamber man charged with shining a green laser at a police helicopter says he takes full responsibility for his actions.

Even so, it may be difficult to understand how a tiny dot of light produced by the laser can be dangerous to pilots hundreds or thousands of feet in the air. However, over such long distances, the laser beam actually spreads "from the concentrated dot to a large diffuse glow … spreading the laser's power over many square inches or feet," according to LaserPointerSafety.com, a website promoting the safe and responsible use of lasers and laser pointers. It can be difficult or even impossible for pilots to see through the glow.

The glow can also cause temporary flashblindness, as seemed to be the case in Saturday's incident — one of the troopers told us it created a "big green flash" that "lit up the inside of the helicopter," and left him experiencing spots on his vision as if he had just looked at the sun. Both he and the pilot were treated for injuries, released and back at work the next day.

True, there have been no reported incidents of permanent eye damage to pilots because of laser pointers, but common sense dictates that you don't want someone piloting aircraft after suffering temporary blindness, distraction or repeated glare (just think about how frustrating and difficult it is to drive if someone's high beams are being shone in your windshield or reflected in your vehicle's mirrors).

Despite recent laws passed and numerous news reports about incidents like Saturday's — LaserPointerSafety.com estimates there are almost 10 laser pointer incident reports each night in the U.S. — some people still don't realize or understand the dangers these tiny, inexpensive devices can cause.

If you own a laser pointer, please, use it for its intended purpose and never flash it in anyone's eyes, whether they are right next to you or several thousand feet in the air.