It might soon be legal to shoot a drone out of the sky.
Though the newly launched drone registration requirement will allow authorities to figure out who owns the drone thats breaking the rules, it doesn’t actually help law enforcement in the moment. With that in mind, lawmakers in Utah have proposed a more immediate solution to the problem of drones interfering with law enforcement: shoot ’em down.
Drones have become a big problem for law enforcement, and an even bigger problem for firefighters. When large fires were sweeping across the Midwest last year, the firefighters found their large planes grounded due to drones being spotted in the area. Rules prohibit aircraft from flying in airspace where drones are flying, so firefighters lost some ground with the fire while waiting for the hapless drone pilot to leave.
In fact, the problem got so bad that San Bernardino County, which dealt with some serious fire last summer, was offering $25,000 for information on rogue drones that derailed operations in three separate cases. One three to four foot drone was spotted flying in between two firefighting aircraft, which grounded the air support team. About one month later, a drone grounded a tanker. During the final incident, five drones were spotted over a fire, even chasing the air support units. Experts estimated the third incident delayed efforts by 15 to 20 minutes, which is a long time when so many things are at risk.
The U.S. Forest Service had to reiterate their commitment to keeping their pilots safe by grounding aircraft if a drone is spotted–even if that delay means the fire gets worse or destroys more property. They also more recently reported that in 2014 they had only a handful of drone incidents, but that interference rose to include more than a dozen wildfires in 2015.
Lawmakers in Utah actually have two separate, but similar, bills on the table. One would allow law enforcement to “neutralize” drones. While “neutralize” is a fairly unassuming word, it could include shooting the drones, jamming their signals, or simply asking the pilot to leave. The vote was tabled while the legislation hears from the public, but according to an interview by AP of Sen Alvin Jackson, chair of the technology committee, most of that is already covered by state and federal laws.
The second bill hasn’t been debated yet, but it probably doesn’t give anyone express permission to shoot down a drone, since the bill’s sponsor noted that is the most dangerous way to get rid of a drone.
The important part is that no legislation gives you, the average gun owner, the legal okay to shoot down a drone. In fact, generally that is frowned up. In fact, when Brett McBay shot down Eric Joe’s drone, which McBay claimed was flying over his land, the court ruled in Joe’s favor. The court found that McBay “acted unreasonably in having his son shoot the drone down regardless of whether it was over his property or not.”
Generally, agencies try and find a less dangerous way to get drones out of the way, including tracking down the operators.
It’s not clear how much traction either of these bills will gain, but a similar bill in California that would have protected law enforcement from an repercussions should they shoot down a drone vetoed by the governor. A bill in Oklahoma that would have made it legal for homeowners to do shoot down drones also failed.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense