This month, the FBI announced that it was expanding a program rewarding anyone who reports an incident of an individual aiming a laser pointer at an airplane with $10,000. ( This use of the cheap lasers is a federal crime.) The bounty was previously offered in a handful of cities, but because it seems to have reduced the number of laser strikes on planes, it is being expanded nationwide.
Wait…is this really a problem? It’s several problems, in fact. The main problem is that laser pointers can, if the wielder of one gets “lucky,’ bring down an airplane. The related problem is that this country is littered with so many unbelievable assholes that we even have to discuss this….and imagine what other stupid, dangerous, irresponsible things they do when they aren’t trying blind pilots thousands of feet in the air.
Incidents where laser pointers interfered with the operation of commercial airliners have increased a ridiculous 1000% rate since 2005, when federal agencies started compiling statistics. Last year, there were 3,960 laser strikes against aircraft reported, an average of almost 11 incidents per day.
Some ethics-related thoughts:
1. There is no way around it: sociopaths, who are essentially ethics-free, are a constant threat and blight on society. Aside from the children involved, whose conduct can be chalked up to immaturity and flawed reasoning, the people who would aim a laser pointer at an airplane just for the hell of it are kin to those who set fires, vandalize buildings, create computer viruses and generally make life ugly and dangerous for the rest of us because they can. You can’t educate them or give them a sense of right and wrong. All you can do is make laws with harsh punishment for the stupid, destructive conduct these individuals engage in to give themselves a sense of power and importance. Ethics is irrelevant; their ethics alarms can’t be repaired, because they don’t exist. The laser-abusers illustrate the maxim often quoted here that “When ethics fails, the law steps in.”
2. Anyone who uses a laser pointer this way and who is aware of the potential results is capable of much worse. This is signature significance, don’t you think? It is tempting to use such a crime as a justification for pre-crime: anyone who would do this is too stupid or too inherently anti-social to be trusted in a free society. Pre-crime, however, is a concept too prone to abuse, a slippery slope that the Constitution wisely precludes. I would, however, see no reason not to require a conviction of this crime to be disclosed to every potential employer, for all time. Nobody should trust someone who even once would risk causing an airplane to fall out of the sky because it would be cool, and I don’t care if the reason for the act was the lack of brain cells, IQ points, the sense God gave a mollusk or a missing conscience. I don’t want you in my neighborhood, near my family, or in my workplace. I don’t trust you. and I never will. Does this place a burden on you, if others feel as I do? Good, and too bad for you. Don’t try to shoot 757s out of the sky for laughs, and you won’t have the problem. Continue reading