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Man gets jail time after pointing laser at airplanes

A California man has been sentenced to 30 months in federal prison under a new Obama-era law that criminalizes the pointing of lasers at airplanes in flight.

Adam Gardenhire, 19, of North Hollywood, was accused of pointing a commercial-grade laser at several airplanes on March 29, 2012, including a Cessna that was preparing to land at Burbank airport. Court filings indicate that Gardenhire then retrained the device on a Pasedena Police Department helicopter that was answering the alert about reckless lasering.

The reckoning came this Monday, when U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson sentenced Gardenhire to 30 months, saying that "the prison term should serve as a message to other would-be defendents."

The judge rejected Gardenhire's arguments that "pointing a laser at an aircraft in flight was not really very dangerous and determined that, by deliberately targeting the aircraft with his laser, Gardenhire had recklessly endangered the safety of the aircraft," the U.S. attorney said.

U.S. pilots reported as many as 3,500 laser pointing incidents in 2011, according to FBI data, with the problem especially pronounced in California. It being California, and all.

But as the L.A. Weekly observes, Gardenhire is a pioneer of sorts, as an early contestent in what is now very much a federal case. Pending appeal -- and no indication yet that Gardenhire will fight this -- he is on the losing side. Although arguably, it could have been worse, as the new federal law provides for sentences of up to 10 years behind bars.

As you ponder that, we offer a reminder to skywriters amongst us that Canadian law calls for imprisonment of up to five years and a $100,000 fine for anyone convicted of pointing a laser at an aircraft cockpit north of the border.

Transport Canada spells out the rules on a website dedicated to the issue, replete with images of what these green laser flashes look like from the inside of a cockpit.

Mitch Potter is the Toronto Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Toronto Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites



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