January 08, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

At first, they were a minor annoyance — a high-tech spitball. But now the spitballs are getting dangerous. Last month a seventh grader in Kansas City suffered permanent eye damage after a laser pointer, one of those key-chain-size devices originally used for business presentations, was aimed into his eye.

Until recently, laser pointers, able to project up to 800 yards and priced as low as a teen-friendly $9.95, had merely been an irritation when kids flashed them at the movie screen. But Glenn Zajicek, who manages a three-screen theater in El Campo, Tex., had to stop a recent showing of Bride of Chucky due to the numerous laser distractions. ”I shut off the movie and went down into the auditorium and told the audience that they were not in their living room,” says Zajicek. The NFL says it may consider a ban at all stadiums next year. Even the WWF has fallen victim to the little red dots. Says Buzz Huber, events manager at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Tex.: ”It’s rampant at wrestling events. It’s way out of control.”

Some observers trace the laser boom to the penultimate episode of Seinfeld, which had George Costanza being victimized by a laser-pointer wielder. Taking their cue from the laughs elicited by George’s nemesis, teens picked up the laser baton. Several cities, including New York, have since banned the sale of the devices to minors. And some of the targets are even fighting back. At a Nov. 30 Kiss concert in New Jersey, drummer Peter Criss caught a beam in the eye, prompting band mate Paul Stanley to berate the crowd. Since then, Stanley has taken up the anti-laser crusade. ”If any of those [users] want to come on stage,” he says, ”I’ll do them a service only a proctologist could do. There’s a new sheriff in town, and he wears eight-inch heels.”

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