OCEAN CITY – After weeks of often heated debate, Ocean City officials this week officially passed an ordinance that, if enforced, should put an end to the summer-long laser pointer issue.
The ubiquitous green laser pointers that have become all the rage this summer could go the route of so many Boardwalk crazes that have come before them over the years with the passage of an emergency ordinance on Monday that immediately placed stringent regulations on who can purchase them and, perhaps more importantly, where they can be used. The emergency legislation, which went into effect after a unanimous Ocean City Council vote on Monday, prohibits the sale of laser pointers to minors and their possession by minors.
The ordinance does allow the sale of laser pointers to adults, but strictly limits where they can be used, effectively making them obsolete. For example, it is now unlawful to shine a laser pointer anywhere onto the beach, the Boardwalk, streets or sidewalks in Ocean City. It is also unlawful to shine the lasers from any public property onto private property, or from one private property to another private property.
In short, the lasers were essentially regulated out of existence in Ocean City on Monday and would have been banned completely if there weren’t some practical and professional uses for the devices. In the only exception in the town’s new ordinance, sworn police officers, fire marshals and firemen are allowed to use laser pointers in the performance of their duties.
In addition, the new ordinance sets stringent rules governing the sale of the devices in the resort. For example, it is unlawful to sell a laser pointer without having a sign conspicuously posted in the store advising potential purchasers of the changes spelled out in the ordinance. The ordinance also requires sellers to provide a potential purchaser with written notice, in bold type, a verbatim copy of the new law.
One citizen in attendance on Monday questioned whether the ordinance went far enough. He said the ordinance did not have enough teeth and wanted purchasers to fill out information including their name, age, address, and telephone number, for example, to keep on file with the police department. However, Mayor Rick Meehan said that likely wasn’t necessary and the ordinance, as written, went far enough.
“This basically says you can’t use them,” he said. “I think this ordinance goes a long way, above and beyond really, and I don’t see any loopholes in there.”
Meehan said the new law should effectively eliminate the laser pointer issue in the resort this summer and going forward.
“I think when the public realizes they can’t use them, this will go away,” he said. “I’ve talked to people who said they would stop selling them because there isn’t going to be a market for them. I think you’ll see these things come off the shelves.”
The ordinance makes the illegal use or possession of a laser pointer a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to six months. Councilman Jim Hall asked if the punitive sections of the ordinance applied to youths caught with laser pointers.
“Just so we’re clear, any kid walking down the Boardwalk or the beach and shining these things is in trouble, right?” he asked.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres explained juveniles caught in possession of or using a laser pointer would be subject to the same penalties, but the cases would be handled by the Department of Juvenile Services, just like other misdemeanors.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, whose vision has been hampered since being hit in the eyes with a laser earlier this summer, said she could support the bill as written, but continued to push for an outright ban of the devices.
“I’m going to vote for this, but I am in favor of restricting this for adults,” she said. “It covers shining them, but it doesn’t appear to cover buying them.”
Pillas related the story of an adult who came into her store last week and rebuffed her attempt to prevent him from using a laser pointer. She said when she told the man they weren’t allowed in her store, he said it was a bunch of gibberish and didn’t want to hear any more about it.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Mary Knight said the signs posted in the area in advance of the ordinance passing on Monday helped quell the situation somewhat last weekend.
“I have to say thanks for getting those signs up because they apparently worked,” she said. “I talked to people who were up there and said it was definitely less of a Star Wars situation that we’ve seen recently.”
Ocean City Police Lieutenant Scott Kirkpatrick was on hand to demonstrate the latest models of laser pointers along with a few relics of the past, being careful, of course, not to shine them on anyone.
“We’ve had complaints from people who were on boats three quarters of a mile out in the ocean,” he said. “We also had complaints from people in West Ocean City who were seeing the laser lights all the way from the Stowaway.”