A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: Ocean City NJ initially votes to ban sales, possession of laser pointers

The city council of Ocean City, New Jersey, voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance to ban the sale and possession of laser pointers over 1 milliwatt. The “first reading” vote took place on June 23 2011; the ordinance will take effect if the council votes again for it at a “second reading” on July 14. An initial violation would be fined $500; subsequent violations would be fined $1000 and/or up to 30 days in jail.

The move comes after significant laser misuse during the resort city’s 2010 summer season, and a rise in 2011 incidents against aircraft, vehicles and citizens. The “straw that broke the camel’s back” may have been a June 7 illumination, where a 21-year-old purchased a green laser pointer from a Boardwalk store and almost immediately aimed it at a Coast Guard helicopter two miles offshore. The man, Eric Bouda, was arrested within minutes. (More on the story here.)

Last year, the local merchants’ association and the police asked for a voluntary ban on sales. However, the ban was not successful, with merchants resuming sales for competitive reasons.
The Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce supports the ban. Director Michele Gillian said “You always want merchants to have the free will to sell things that are marketable. But the safety issue is critical. I think banning them is a good thing. There’s lots of other things that kids can play with besides laser gadgets.”

Police department spokeperson Capt. Steve Ang said, “Pilots are telling us that flying off the Ocean City Boardwalk is like a laser show. This is the second year in a row we’ve had problems. With the most recent incident, it’s reached a point where we have to do something.”

The police would like a complete ban on possession of laser pointers. Even if the Ocean City sales ban passes, laser pointers still could be bought in other jurisdictions or from the Internet. Said Ang, “We need it to become a crime to possess a laser pointer.... We are having further discussions with the mayor and solicitor to see if there is a way to make it illegal to possess them.” [It is unclear whether this quote was made at an early stage of the ordinance proposal, when it only banned sales, or if the quote refers to additional restrictions on laser pointer possession, such as banning all pointers and not just those over 1 milliwatt.]

The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted one of the largest U.S. pointer distributors as saying “Making all lasers illegal is definitely overreaching.” The owner of OnPoint Lasers added "Customs should be cracking down on what comes into the country and how it's being distributed. . . . It's very easy for people to get their hands on lasers that exceed the legal limits.”

A Councilwoman was concerned about out-of-town visitors who might not know that possession was illegal. She suggested that notices be posted. The city solicitor replied that the law “would be like any other in Ocean City” and police would have discretion regarding enforcement in such cases.

News of the vote from the Ocean City Patch. Additional background information from the Ocean City Patch, Press of Atlantic City, Shore News Today, Shore News Today (another story) and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Related LaserPointerSafety.com news stories about Ocean City and New Jersey laser troubles