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US: UPDATED - Ocean City MD passes emergency ordinance banning sales, possession of laser pointers

The town of Ocean City, Maryland on May 19 2014 passed emergency legislation banning laser pointers. The action was taken on the Monday just before the upcoming Memorial Day weekend holiday.

The action comes after a number of previous measures had failed to stop misuse of lasers.
  • The town in 1998 had passed an emergency ordinance banning the harassing or annoying shining of laser pointers on a person. This became a Maryland state law in 1999.

  • In August 2010 the town passed an emergency law banning sales to minors; possession by minors; and making it illegal to shine pointers on persons, streets, bays, sidewalks or the Boardwalk.

The 2014 emergency ordinance goes further. It bans all laser pointer sales, possession in public (except for use in instructional presentations), possession by minors, and on shining laser pointers onto public or private property.

The police department asked for the measure, saying there had been almost 1,000 calls for service in the past three years, relating to laser pointer misuse. They also cited the potential for injury to eyes, and misuse by aiming at aircraft.

In addition, a councilman stated that a police officer and a Boardwalk tram driver had been “struck and injured” by laser light.

Laser pointer wholesaler Jeff Morris told the council “It would be a big loss to the merchants who sell them by the thousands a year. They are being sold all over the country. I have customers from New Jersey to Florida, so it is not going to hurt me per se but it will hurt the merchants.”

Morris said that merchants had been complying with the 2010 ordinance requiring signs and written notices to inform buyers of Ocean City’s laws. A councilman countered that “We know for a fact that is not being done ... they have had their chance.... I have no further patience for this and it needs to come to an end.”

According to a 2014 news story, in 2010 laser pointers were “the hottest item for sale on the Boardwalk”, despite costing up to $60. A 2010 news story said that 23 local stores had sold more than 30,000 laser pointers, making it “like Star Wars on the Boardwalk.”

From delmarva.now, the Dispatch, and the Washington Post. Thanks to Neil Spiller for bringing the Post article to our attention. Text of the 2014 Ocean City ordinance is here.

Note that other U.S. beach towns have enacted bans or restrictions on laser pointers, including Ocean City, NJ in 2011, Virginia Beach and towns in the Myrtle Beach, SC area. Past LaserPointerSafety.com news stories can be found with the tags
Ocean City, Virginia Beach and Myrtle Beach.

UPDATE May 27 2014: An opinion piece, “Banning lasers, knives will accomplish nothing” was published on the DelmarvaNow.com website. It appears to be a “letter to the editor” or similar non-staff opinion. In it, Dustin Levy writes: “...this particular ordinance goes well beyond federal and state standards, banning sale and possession of the most common classes of laser pointers traditionally used by business professionals for presentations and stargazers. It does not prohibit actual criminal actions. It will instead ban, restrict and punish lawful commerce....not consistent with federal standards.”

UPDATE 2 May 29 2014: The Ocean City laser ban is justified, says Delmarva.com in an editorial, “Laser pointer, switchblade bans appropriate.” The opinion piece’s concludes: “Laser pointers are not marketed as weapons, yet they can be used to blind or injure.... Critics of the new approach say it is an unlawful restriction of commerce. They see a difference between simply possessing an item and the decision to wield it illegally. Given how many pointers have been sold at Boardwalk shops in recent years, it would be no surprise if a lawsuit emerges to challenge the ban. Such an approach is in keeping with our country's heritage of hashing out complex issues through both legislative and legal means. But whatever a court might decide, Ocean City officials rightly chose to take a stand for the protection of residents and visitors alike.”