In comments on Would a laser weapon visibly fire?, it is claimed that the majority of devices sold to consumers as lasers are, in fact, LED-based. I think that (at least in the US), laser devices up to a few milliwatts power are legal and inexpensive. For instance, I own this device, which I believe to be a laser. Is it? More generally, are real lasers available for purchase to consumers for less than, let us say, $100US?
All the laser pointers I have seen, are in fact lasers. It's easy to tell, If you point one at a wall about 20 feet away, it will create a very small point of light, a few mm across. If you do that with a LED light, the beam, if it's powerful enough will be anywhere from half a meter to a meter in diameter. Only a laser can keep a beam that tight.
The device you link to is a real Laser
There are laser Diodes, which might be the source of the LED comment. Here are some commercially available laser diode modules.
Small, inefficient lasers are cheap. They're used in DVD players, CD players, bar code readers, and in the mouse I'm using.
The device you have is a real laser pointer, with a wavelength of 532nm and an output power <5mW - and I can pick one up for $70 or £50. You can also get ones with a power output of up to 1W for personal usage - as this one proudly states.
They are widely available in the US and the rest of the world, so relevant legislation for you in the US is as follows (from Wikipedia):
- Laser pointers are Class II or Class IIIa devices, with output beam power less than 5 milliwatts (<5 mW). According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, more powerful lasers may not be sold or promoted as laser pointers.
- Also, any laser with class higher than IIIa (more than 5 milliwatts) requires a key-switch interlock and other safety features.
- Shining a laser pointer of any class at an aircraft is illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $11,000.
- All laser products offered in commerce in the US must be registered with the FDA, regardless of output power.