While the list of things you can do at Burning Man is about as long as your imagination, the list of things you can’t do at Burning Man is very, very short. But things on that very short list are the things that can either outright kill you (weapons, speeding vehicles, serving iffy food) or screw up the environment (burning stuff right on the playa floor, visiting the hot springs during the event).
Why is the list so short? Because radical self-reliance, that’s why. We firmly believe that people should exercise their own personal responsibility when it comes to their entertainment and personal safety. The Burning Man organization has long resisted establishing rules when we could instead establish community guidelines that would accomplish the same thing. We believe in acculturation and education over creating a rule when something needs fixing — Leave No Trace is a great example.
But sometimes you have to make a rule, because it’s the right thing to do. And this is one of those times.
At the 2014 Burn, a member of our Black Rock Rangers reported that somebody in the crowd scanned her face with a laser, and that as a result she was blinded in one eye and partially blinded in the other. We didn’t know of any other incidents like this one in the 30 years of our event, but once her story went out on the airwaves, we started hearing from other folks who’d been hit by lasers but had not reported anything to us.
When handheld lasers first came onto the scene, they were expensive and not very powerful. In recent years, they have become stronger and more easily accessible. Lasers are now so powerful that even the handheld ones can do permanent damage to somebody standing 10 miles away. And that, by any definition, by any standard, is a weapon. And dangerous weapons — ones that can permanently and irreparably injure somebody standing literally on the other side of Black Rock City — really have no place at Burning Man.
So this is one of those times. Starting in 2015, handheld lasers will be prohibited in Black Rock City. Mounted lasers are only permitted on art pieces, Mutant Vehicles and in theme camps if they comply with specific restrictions.
To learn more, visit our Lasers page on the Burning Man website.