Civilian Owned Night Vision Is NOT A Problem – Military Grade Or Not

Nicholas C
by Nicholas C
Photo I took at Maunakea observatory of fellow star gazers and amateur astronomers.

Huffington Post posted an article demonizing military grade night vision in the hands of civilians. The article is full of fear and ignorance and grossly misinforms their readers. I am an ardent fan of night vision as are many others here at TFB. I know our Editors Pete and Tom both have night vision. Dick Lidell is a fellow fan of NODs (Night Observation Devices). I will explain how night vision has many more uses beyond “killing” which Huffington’s post claims.

National Security

Huffington Post’s article mentions that night vision is a national security issue. This is true however they mislead their audience a bit. They gave a story about a North Korean native trying to buy night vision in Hawaii. He was caught and arrested trying to export the night vision devices.

If Kim had an export license, very little would have prevented him from sending the equipment to North Korea, which is a major concern for experts who warn that military-grade night vision gear could fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue states

The quote above is directly from the Huffington Post article. Sure, restricted night vision is a concern going to North Korea. However we have checks in place which Huffington Post did not go into detail. We have ITAR restrictions on exporting certain night vision. Typically this is gen 2 and higher. Yes you could get an export license. But an ITAR export license is not cheap. It is a couple thousand dollars every year. Also you need to submit to the Department of Defense the proper application to export night vision. Navigating the jungle of compliance and government bureaucracy is not for the light hearted. If it is anything like exporting BIS Department of Commerce regulated items then they have restrictions on certain countries. I am pretty sure North Korea is definitely not on the approved list for exporting restricted night vision. Another issue when exporting controlled items is “who is the end user?” The person or entity receiving the controlled items must pass a sort of background check and be validated.

But people could lie and break the law!!! We should ban them!!!

Yeah that is pretty much what the article is saying. There isn’t much we can do about criminals and we already have laws and agents out there doing their best to keep such items from getting into the wrong hands. If you recall, I had BIS agents give me a personal visit because I ignorantly tried to export a Trijicon MRO to a friend in Hong Kong who wanted it for airsoft. Click here to read that story.

Tactical Night Vision Company (TNVC) has this disclaimer on their website. It is posted below every product they sell.

Export of Night Vision Equipment or related accessories (such as manuals) is strictly regulated by the US Department of State in accordance with the guidelines of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). It is a major crime to ship or carry US manufactured night vision devices outside the borders of the United States, punishable by fines and prison sentences. Ignorance of these regulations will not hold up in court. By purchasing night vision equipment from TNVC, you attest that you will not attempt to export or carry this night vision equipment outside the borders of the United States. Also, it illegal to allow a non-US Citizen to look through US Gen3 Night Vision Devices, even on US soil. Again, this is a crime punishable by fines and prison sentences.

Civilian Owned Night Vision Has Its Uses Beyond “Killing”

Huffington Post quoted Ladd Everitt a director for a gun violence prevention group.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does not regulate the sale or use of night vision equipment, a spokesperson said, and the legality of using night vision devices for hunting varies by state.

Ladd Everitt, the director of One Pulse for America, a gun violence prevention group, says that should change. Military-style gear like night vision equipment could be used in mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas, he said. (The Vegas shooter himself did not use night vision gear.)

Night vision equipment is “not the tool of sportsmen,” Everitt said. “It’s the tool of people who are seeking to kill as many people as possible in as short amount of time as possible.”

There is so much wrong with that statement. It is as ignorant as “guns are designed for killing”. Night vision has many uses outside of shooting in the dark let alone being used for dastardly deeds like murder.

Can you even think of a case where a criminal used night vision while committing a crime? I can only think of these two movies where criminals were using night vision.

Scene from Patriot Games. Screen grab from Movieclips.
Buffalo Billin Silence Of The Lambs. Photo credit from Boing Boing.

According to Boing Boing, movie theaters in the UK, use night vision to catch people trying to pirate films.

Stargazing is one of the more popular uses for night vision. It certainly won my wife over when I bought my PVS-14.

Good night vision, like the “military grade” ones actually amplify light. Whereas the digital night vision just allows the digital camera to see infrared light. So when you point real night vision up at the stars you can see a lot more stars than your unaided eye. Just like normal star gazing if you go to an area with less ambient light aka light pollution you can see even more stars.

Last year we took a trip to Kona in Hawaii for my friend’s wedding. While we were there my wife and I went up Mount Maunakea for their star gazing event at the observatory visitor center. The deactivated volcano has an elevation of 10k feet. No light pollution and you can see the stars very clearly. But with night vision you can see even more.

Milky Way under night vision.

Andromeda Galaxy is easy to spot with night vision.

When we drove up and down the dormant volcano, I drove most of the way using my PVS-14. There was so much ambient light that I could clearly see the road for miles. If I used the head lights in our rental car, I could only see 100 yards out in front of me at best. “but what about oncoming traffic?” Well I can see their head lights much sooner than without night vision. As soon as I did see the hint of oncoming traffic, I would turn my head lights back on.

This is the view from the visitor center near the top of Maunakea

Night vision is just another way of seeing in the dark and actually offers a different perspective to night photography.

Photo of amateur astronomer with computer controlled telescope.
Photo of mountains on Oahu
I took my PVS-14 to Walt Disney World and took this photo during the fireworks and light ceremony at the castle.

Last December I was driving cross country and made a special detour to Mount Rushmore just so I could take a photo of the Presidents at night.

This was photographed with my iPhone.

While there are plenty of long exposure photos of the Presidents, I have never seen a photograph of them through night vision. Here is my photo taken through my PVS-14.

Night vision also works better than a flashlight. See this comparison of train tracks viewed through night vision, illuminated by a SureFire Hellfighter and what your normal vision would see.

Navigation is another reason to use night vision. Here is a photo I took on an airplane flying at night. Without my night vision I would only be able to see the lights.

I imagine flying at night is much easier with night vision. I dabbled in learning to fly a Cessna 152 over two decades ago and I still vividly recall my brief stint flying at night. While you can fly at night once you are certified to do so, it is still very challenging. You just cant see in the dark and no amount of lights will help you. You are almost flying blind and relying a lot on ground reference, seeing things on the ground and identifying it, and heavily relying on your instruments like your altimeter and compass. While commercial airliners fly at a much higher altitude than what I flew, mountains are a major concern for civilian pilots. When I flew at night, the Angeles Crest mountains were ever present and were too high for me to fly over. At night they are pitch black. When looking out at the city you can see city lights and cars driving on the freeways. But mountains and airports are black holes among all those lights. Night vision would help spot them.

I spoke with my friend Lee, a US Army Apache pilot, and while he is definitely using military grade night vision, he said if he flew commercially he would most definitely want to have night vision with him if he flew at night. It just makes flying at night easier. Not only can you see the ground and what is around you, you can spot other aircraft much easier as their positioning lights show up at further distances than your eye can pick up. Only problem with this is knowing what color the lights are since the lights on the planes are colored so pilots can tell which side is facing them and more importantly what direction that airplane is headed.

Obviously night vision can be used for land navigation as well. I already mentioned driving at night with night vision. Don’t do that on a busy street. Not only will you not see as much with so much light coming from oncoming traffic, it is not something you should practice doing in traffic. It takes getting used to navigating with night vision. It is great for walking around in nature or driving roads with little to no traffic or lights.

Night vision is not only for photography or navigation. They can be used for taking care of someone. When my daughter was an infant I used my PVS-14 to check up on her. She would cry at night, as babies do, but turning on the lights to find out what the problem was just makes it worse. Using night vision I can see if she had rolled over or in most cases her pacifier had fallen out. Also giving bottles of milk is easier at night with night vision.

Night vision is not just relegated to proper parenting. It can be used medically for helping to find veins in the dark.

I wrapped my hand around a Surefire Vampire head and the IR light shines through my hand showing the veins underneath.

TNVC has a product specifically designed to do this.

BattleView © is a patented, combat-tested, near-infrared vascular trans-illuminator designed to aid IV insertion at night without compromising an operator’s position. Utilizing standard-issue night vision goggles, medics can apply BattleView © to venous area to easily locate an IV target without the use of white light. The device incorporates four encapsulated IR LED’s that bond with the iron in the venous blood travelling back to the heart, effectively fluorescing the veins. This makes target veins extremely easy to spot, allowing IV’s to be inserted as if under normal lighting conditions.

BattleView © has a fantastic power to size ratio, capable of shining right through several inches of tissue. It can be used on the upper appendages to locate commonly targeted veins (Cephalic and Dorsal Venous) in the hand and wrist. It can even reveal the veins in the medial part of the lower arm (Median Anti-Brachial and Cephalic). In areas of higher muscular density, BattleView © can be rotated to the same side as the infiltration site to trans-illuminate the superficial target veins. The same can be done on the lower appendages when targeting common structures like the Saphenous Vein.

Civilian owned night vision is not a problem. Night vision is just a different way of looking at the world. How one uses it determines its validity. Ignorantly saying “these are for killing” is plain wrong. While some night vision is controlled for national security that only applies to enemies of the country. Night vision has many uses and are enjoyed by law abiding citizens. If you have been on the fence regarding buying night vision, I recommend buying one. You will see the world in a new light. (pun intended)

Nicholas C
Nicholas C

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  • Sharp Sharp on Dec 04, 2018

    Huffington Post posted an article demonizing military grade night vision in the hands of civilians. The article is full of fear and ignorance and grossly misinforms their readers.

    Sheesh -- it the Huffington Post. Their articles on anything related to firearms are full of completely and objectively false statements to their core.

  • Joshua Joshua on Dec 05, 2018

    every time I hear the phrase "Military grade" my brain translates it to "lowest bidder"

    anyone else have that?