Laser Weapons Are Always Just out of Reach

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No doubt you have seen the ads, the sale of handheld lasers is everywhere, even Amazon sells them. This one for a 3.5W (watt) laser which is 3,500mW (milliwatts).
I noticed them but never gave them much thought until I tried to use a GoZier Tactical 223 Laser Bore Sight Red Dot In-Chamber Cartridge Sighter to gross-sight a new scope on an AR I built last year. It worked very well, projected a nice beam and clear laser red dot on the target 50 feet away and I was able to adjust the sight to line up.

The $12.99 I spent for the bore-sighter probably saved me a dozen rounds of 5.56 M855/SS109 to achieve the same purpose PLUS it was playing with a new toy/method. (Boys and our toys.) The Achilles Heel here are those three little LR-41 batteries in the pic above (still in the little plastic bag on the shooting bench). More about that later.

Getting sidetracked I looked into what was on the market now that could be considered a possible laser weapon available to citizens and a search of “burning lasers” was eye-opening (pun intended.) Are they real and legal? A study done in March of 2013 (yes, 5+ years ago) showed a majority of the dinky laser pointers on the market then exceeded the power level limits set by the Code of Federal Regulations, which means a whole lot of geeks out there then wielded far more retina-burning power than they should. Now you have to take this with a dose of government salt. When government standards are set they are often backed off the real danger levels to assure that they are safe. After all, there is no such thing really as an “average” human being. As we age things change and the eyes of an 8 year old are different at 16 and at 24 and at 45 and on and on.

And while some of these higher powered laser can burn things because the beam is extremely concentrated light and light energy can be absorbed by some objects and converted to heat, they do not approach a weapons grade. Additionally I believe they have little, if any use at all outside of the workplace (laser range finder excluded of course.) Unless of course you want to give away your location, or see if it works as well on charging lions and tigers as it does on house cats. Though I suspect that the results of the latter will be written by a next of kin.

Of interest is how our government oversight addresses this workplace tool. The actual burning ability of a laser depends on several factors. In the U.S., it is legal under federal law to own a laser of any power. Now that is a bold statement. But then the word police step in and cloud the issue with talk of  “illegal laser pointers” as opposed to calling it a “laser” because a laser pointer that radiates at a power level above 5 milliwatts is illegal as a pointer, but not as a laser. So it is illegal to promote it as a “pointer” if it is above this threshold, but that is the only restriction. A milliwatt (mW) is equal to one thousandth (103) of a watt. A typical laser pointer outputs about five milliwatts of light power, whereas a typical hearing aid for people uses less than one milliwatt.

I now firmly believe that ignorance of the law should be allowed as a legal defense considering the number of ignorant people writing laws and regulations and the shear volume at which they continue to do this.

This 50,000 mw is simply 10 times stronger than the set limit to be called a laser pointer, yet it is clearly called a pointer in the ad.

At 5mw it is potentially damaging, not to the eye, but in its ability to overwhelm the eye with light, typically called flash blindness, which causes temporary effects, including the loss of visual perception – exactly why these simple pointers are illegal to point at flying aircraft. At 10 times the strength as in the one ad above, well, make your own guess.

At <5mW, a laser beam’s energy density (W/cm2 or J/cm2) isn’t sufficient to cause biological damage, and the “average” eye is protected, even though, again, there is no such thing as the average eye. Once you exceed the 5mW limit however, the blink reflex no longer offers protection and damage can occur. There is a whole industry based on stronger lasers for lasik eye surgery, hair removal, and medical lasers have been used by eye doctors, dermatologists and surgeons for a decade or more.

You and I use the technology in things like red dot sights which operate at 0.6 milliamps of energy, which is actually less energy than the normal decay of battery life. Interesting to note that having the red dot on consumes less energy than turning it off. This for a standard red dot sight operating at around 4MOA (minute of angle) which means the dot will cover 4 inches at 100 yards, or 2 inches at 50 yards or 8 inches at 200 yards.
And while the lasers you can buy off the shelf today may still be better suited to the movies as props than real life –  it works both ways and clearly marks your own location – the potential for this to morph from its uses today to a viable hand held weapon is a logical next step. After all, laser spotters that illuminate targets with an encoded back-scatter signal have been in use for decades with systems like the Hellfire missile.
An AGM-114 Hellfire missile

On the upside, almost any laser can be defeated by a solid object other than yourself, though you will work at protecting me 😉 from one.

Now, back to that laser bore-sight tool and LR-41 batteries, well, its consumption of amps is excessive. I tried to gross sight a second (below) AR I had built with a red dot sight I had and while the batteries illuminated the laser, the power level was no longer enough to project a dot onto a target 15′ away. The battery eater had a performance window of about 1 hour.
So, after setting everything up the new toy failed and then it got ugly. I could not find any LR-41 batteries at a local store (Walmart, Target, CVS or Walgreen’s) but I was armed with their commercial equivalents from Duracell and Energizer, and these I could find, at $5.99 +tax per battery ($17.97 +tax for the three I needed) and, being all set up, I bit the bullet, literally. Upon returning to the facility I discovered that the “equivalents” clearly were not and while they did project a beam, it was at a distance of 10′ max. Useless really considering the 4 MOA accuracy of the sight.

And, of course, the price of a 10 pack of LR-41 batteries on Amazon is $5.99, the same as a single equivalent replacement battery at the brick and mortar that didn’t work anyway. Live and learn.

Be safe out there.

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A former rocket scientist (really) who has traveled the world, father, freedom lover, hates to stay indoors, and loves wild places, people and things. PC challenged, irreverent but always relevant and always looking to learn new things.


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