The U.S. Army authorized its personnel in 2017 to shoot to kill privately-owned, non-military drones that got too close for comfort. We can understand the need for our national defenders to enforce the sanctity of their operational airspace. But can I, an ordinary citizen, open fire on a pilotless consumer aircraft?
I’m not the only one who is concerned about privacy invasions and nuisance noise suffered from the growing number of remote-controlled aircraft in the skies above.
On February 23, 2019, Gerard Chasteen spotted a 2-pound DJI Mavic 2 Zoom flying near his property in Long Island, New York. The Mavic 2 Zoom is “the first foldable consumer drone with optical zoom.” The drone, battery, remote controller, charger, and four pairs of propellers cost $1,249 – affordable for many business and personal budgets.
Chasteen took action with his firearm and crashed the intruder. The drone was being operated by a couple of volunteer pet rescuers with Missing Angels Long Island who were looking for a lost dog. Their real-time aerial surveillance ended abruptly when Lynn Fodale and Teddy Henn lost their connection to the drone. According to Fodale, said her partner thought a bird had attacked the airborne camera system.
The two terrestrial pilots tracked the drone by its last reported GPS (global satellite positioning) coordinates. They arrived only to experience a close encounter with the unrepentant and unapologetic Chasteen. The dialog went like this:
“Did you shoot down our drone? queried Fodale.
“Yeah. You can’t fly over my house,” Chasteen answered.
The two animal rescuers summoned the Suffolk County police who charged Chasteen with third-degree criminal mischief and prohibited use of a weapon. The drone killer may be able to dodge a dispute bullet since recent cases have sided against drone pilots in favor of homeowners where property is at issue.
In 2015, the Kentucky lawsuit between plaintiff David Boggs and defendant William Meredith was dismissed due to “lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” Meredith shot down a quadcopter drone while it hovered over his home “below the tree line,” as three witnesses affirmed.
The Bullitt County resident testified that he had watched the $1800 drone stop over a neighboring yard where it seemed to be capturing images of property obscured by a canopy. When Meredith’s daughter told him the drone had taken up a position over their land, the homeowner grabbed his shotgun and took aim directly overhead – not across fences or the road:
“I was being watched. It was an invasion of privacy and I…wouldn’t put up with it no more.”
Meredith reported feeling good about protecting his civil rights as a taxpaying American citizen who had been abandoned by local law enforcement agents:
“I feel vindicated. Police told me there was nothing they could do about it. Nobody would do anything about it, so I did something about it.”
Judge Rebecca Ward ruled for the homeowner:
“I think it’s credible testimony that his drone was hovering…two or three times over these people’s property, that it was an invasion of their privacy, and that they had the right to shoot this drone. I’m going to dismiss his charge.”
Meredith’s victory was tempered by his subsequent arrest on the charges of felony wanton endangerment and discharging a firearm in the city limits of Hillview.
Mike Brown of Springfield, Missouri, doesn’t own a gun but was curious to find out if firing on a drone flying 100 feet overhead was legal? The short answer is no – because it is illegal to discharge a firearm within the Springfield city limits.
Local police spokeswoman Lisa Cox provided this tip:
“If anyone has a concern that their privacy is being invaded, it’s best that they call 911 so an officer can handle it.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) classifies drones as “aircraft,” falling under its jurisdiction. A law passed on January 3, 2018, requires all recreational drone users to register their UAVs (unmanned aircraft vehicles) with the FAA and carry proof of registration when flying. UAVs weighing more 0.55-55 pounds must be registered.
The outside of the drone must be marked with the registration number and can be operated only for recreational purposes. Furthermore, FAA regulations mandate that the pilot must keep the drone below 400 feet in uncontrolled “Class G” airspace.
As of December 10, 2019, the FAA reported that 1,509,617 drones had been registered in the U.S. This number includes 1,085,392 recreational drones, 420,340 commercial drones, and 160,748 certified remote pilots.
It is a federal crime under Title 18 of U.S. Code 32 to shoot down aircraft – including drones. The FCC deems any form of signal “jamming” or other interference with radio transmission to be a violation of the Communications Act of 1934.
State laws regarding drones vary so if you’re trigger happy, be wise and get schooled on all current laws that apply to your gun, property, and privacy rights.