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Laser pointers have gained popularity for various applications, from presentations to stargazing. However, the potential risks associated with these handheld devices have raised questions about their legality and safety, especially in countries like Australia. Laser pointers that exceed an output of 1 milliwatt is illegal in Australia.
We will not take a look into the regulations surrounding laser pointers in Australia and address the critical issue of whether a green laser can cause blindness.
Laser pointers are hand-held battery-operated devices designed to emit a focused beam of laser light. They are used for a multitude of purposes, including presentations, astronomy, and educational demonstrations. Laser pointers are categorised based on their power output, measured in milliwatts (mW), which determines the strength of the emitted laser beam.
In Australia, laser pointers are considered potentially dangerous items, and their use is heavily regulated. This is due to the risk they pose to public safety and the potential for eye injury. The importation, possession, and use of high-power laser pointers, especially those exceeding 1 milliwatt (mW), are strictly controlled by Australian law.
Under Australian law, any handheld laser that emits a laser beam with an output exceeding 1 mW is classified as a prohibited weapon. Possession or use of such a device without a valid reason or authorisation is illegal and may result in severe penalties.
Possessing a laser pointer without the proper authorisation can lead to a maximum of 14 years of imprisonment as outlined in section 7 of the Weapons Prohibition Act 1998 (NSW).
In order to obtain a weapons permit, one must qualify under one of three permit categories: general, weapons dealer, or theatrical weapons armourer. Each category grants specific allowances for the possession and use of prohibited weapons.
Additionally, the Weapons Act specifies penalties of up to 5 years of imprisonment for acquiring a laser pointer without the required permit for possession.
Retinal Damage and Eye Injury
One of the primary concerns regarding laser pointers, especially high-power laser pointers, is the potential for causing eye injury. When a laser beam comes into contact with the eye, it can cause retinal damage, leading to vision impairment or, in severe cases, blindness. The retina is a sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye that is crucial for vision.
Green lasers, in particular, are known to be potentially more dangerous than other colours. This is because the human eye is more sensitive to green light, making it more susceptible to damage. Even low-powered green lasers can cause harm if aimed directly at the eye.
The Blink Reflex
One of the body’s natural defences against bright light is the blink reflex. When a person is exposed to a sudden, intense light source, the eyes instinctively close to protect the retina. However, this reflex is not fool proof, especially when dealing with laser beams that emit highly concentrated light.
The regulations surrounding laser pointers are not unique to Australia. Countries around the world, including the United States, have implemented strict guidelines regarding the use and possession of high-power laser pointers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, for instance, enforces regulations to ensure that laser products meet safety standards.
Purpose of Aiming and Targeting
It is important to note that laser pointers are intended for purposes of aiming and targeting, not for casual or recreational use. Their focused beams are meant for specific applications and should not be directed towards people, animals, or vehicles.
Educational and Professional Use
Despite the potential dangers associated with laser pointers, they do serve legitimate educational and professional purposes. In educational settings, laser pointers can be invaluable tools for teachers and lecturers to emphasise specific points on a screen or board. Similarly, in professional fields like astronomy, lasers are used for pointing out celestial objects during presentations or public outreach events.
Accordingly, laser pointers are subject to strict regulations in Australia, especially those with high-power outputs. The potential for eye injury and retinal damage necessitates these measures to protect public safety. Green lasers, due to their increased sensitivity to the human eye, pose a particular risk. It is crucial for individuals to be aware of the legal restrictions and exercise caution when handling laser pointers, ensuring they are used responsibly and for their intended purposes of aiming and targeting.
If you have been charged with a prohibited weapon offence in NSW, contact our assault lawyers in Sydney. We will provide you with free legal advice for up to 15 minutes over the phone with one of our leading criminal defence lawyers.