They cost about $10, and they're everywhere. The pointers are designed for professional presentations, or even as pet toys. But that's not what they're always used for. They are being misused in ways that can be hazardous to their targets, or to their owners.
The laser lights come with a federal warning: "Do not stare into beam." One manufacturer discounts the danger. Delena Giattino, president of Miracle Beam, says "In order to hurt yourself, you'd have to hold it close to your eye and shine it in for eight minutes."
But some doctors say damage could occur in less time. According to Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler of the UCLA Laser Refractor Center, "Children have used the laser improperly by looking at the light for five or ten seconds, and that has demonstrated some probable eye injuries in those few cases."
The danger to prank-prone children could be even worse. During a recent gang bust, Glendale, California Officer Mel Barnes saw a red dot on his chest as if a gun were targeted at him: "I thought, 'My God, what do I have, a sniper here, somebody aiming a laser at me?' I thought I was being sighted in on. I felt extremely vulnerable. I felt naked."
Luckily, before any shots were fired the officer discovered it was a prankster with a laser light.
Eight-year-old Nick Martinez, of Fontana, California, had an even closer call before he went back to playing with toy trucks. No more laser lights for him.
Shining a laser from his window was a nightly game for Nick. He'd target drivers in cars going by. One night, he recalls, "I was shining the laser out the window. It was really dark. I couldn't see anything."
He got a response he wasn't expecting. "I was up on my chair. I had the laser. I was shining at him. He shined his laser back at me. My little brother said, 'there's something on your head. There's a laser on your head.'"
It was not a toy shining back at him. It was a police officer's gun. "I saw him take his gun out and point it to me. So it was really scary... "I felt like my heart was going to burst out and splatter all over the wall."
Nick decided the laser toy wasn't designed to be played with:
"They're not so good. People get hurt. People might die just because of these little toys." The police officer gave Nick a stern lecture and his parents took away the laser light.
Some storeowners say they don't sell the devices to anyone under age 18. On the other hand, Nick says the driver of the ice cream truck in his neighborhood sells them to children.
Local communities are takinaction. School districts are banning laser toys in Minnesota, Maine, and Massachusetts.
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