By Joe Wright
As hobby drones continue to proliferate across the U.S., the rules about their use remain murky, as do the rules for blasting them out of the sky if you feel personally threatened by one. Since we have had a fair amount of reader support for taking down drones, it’s worthwhile to look at what one might expect if a course of action is taken.
The small town of Deer Trail, Colorado was the first to make national news when in 2013 they announced a proposal to offer residents $100 bounties for every drone shot down via official drone hunting licenses. As Mac Slavo wrote at the time:
Phillip Steel, who authored the original proposal in Deer Trail, Colorado says his ordinance is a “pre-emptive strike” against what he calls a “virtual prison” being created through continued expansion of the surveillance state. (Source)
The proposal of course drew the ire of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which stated that those engaging in such activity would be severely penalized. The town subsequently voted down the measure.
Since then, several cases have emerged where people have felt that either a threat to their privacy or a threat to their safety warranted taking matters into their own hands and downing invasive drones … and it has happened both over private and public property.
A New Jersey man, Russell Percenti, in late 2014 was the first to have been arrested for downing a drone. He was charged with criminal mischief and released on bail after blasting his neighbor’s drone with a shotgun, which was subsequently seized. It’s not clear whether the drone was exactly over his property when the shots were fired – later reports say the drone was “near his house” – but the owner admitted to taking pictures of a nearby friend’s house that was under construction. Percenti has since been indicted by a grand jury and is facing 10 years in prison.
A Kentucky man appears to have been the second person arrested for shooting down a neighbor’s drone. In this case the man, William Merideth, stated that he specifically waited for the drone to hover above his property before taking action.
“Well, I came out and it was down by the neighbor’s house, about 10 feet off the ground, looking under their canopy that they’ve got in their back yard,” Merideth told WDRB. “I went and got my shotgun and I said, ‘I’m not going to do anything unless it’s directly over my property.’”
“Within a minute or so, here it came,” he said. “It was hovering over top of my property, and I shot it out of the sky.”
“I have a right as an American citizen to defend my property,” Merideth said, according to NBC News. “I think — no, I know — that I was completely justified in protecting my family.”
Seems reasonable … and, in fact, it later was determined by a judge to be absolutely reasonable, as Meredith was cleared of first-degree endangerment and criminal mischief.
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A third, and more bizarre, story emerged this past August when an Encinitas, California man who was at the public beach with his friends and family took down a drone with his T-shirt after fearing for the safety of small children in his party. He described the drone as something similar to a flying lawnmower. It took only 10 minutes for sheriff’s deputies to respond and arrest him on charges of felony vandalism. His bail was set at $10,000. Fortunately for him, charges were dropped, but no mention was made of any charges being brought against the drone operator.
Now a new state has a case of drone downing. In Pennsylvania, 65-year-old Marti Wlodsarski claims she felt a threat to her safety from a drone being operated by her neighbor; she described it similarly as being “like weed whackers coming at you.” In her case, she was able to down the drone with a rock (nice aim!). While she seemed to insinuate that the drone flew over her, it was later proven by video that it was not the case, and she went out of her way to down the drone off her property. She had to pay for damages, but was cleared of criminal mischief charges. She is unrepentant, as you will see below in the news coverage of the event.
Clearly, these three cases alone highlight the fact that there is not a universal approach to how law enforcement will respond to those who down drones either in public or private space. And from this “problem” the FAA is already working on the solution.
It was reported by AFP just days ago that the US moves toward mandatory registration of drones. Just in time for Christmas…
Owners of drones weighing 250 grams or more should provide authorities with their name and address and put an ID number on the aircraft, experts hired by the US government recommended Monday.
The tips came as the government rushes to make registration for the popular aircraft mandatory ahead of an expected onslaught of Christmas purchases of them.
Current US law bars drone operators from flying them above an altitude of 400 feet (120 meters) or near an airport.
But the rules are often flouted and authorities are often powerless to do anything about it.
In cases of mishaps, “finding the drone has not been as much of a problem as finding the person who was using the drone. The registration is designed to close that loophole,” US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said last month.
As most readers of independent media understand, any time we hear the word “mandatory,” especially coming from Federal agencies, essential liberty tends to be on the chopping block and must be analyzed with utmost skepticism.
Interestingly, a final snippet appears in the story about the woman who downed the drone with gravel – people can actually declare their property a no-fly zone … and it can be done online, for free. You can learn more at NoFlyZone.org. Perhaps doing so would at least further strengthen one’s argument for taking action against a drone hovering above their property, while leaving responsibility where it first belongs – with the individual.
Please leave your thoughts in the comment section about what should be done in this new age of drone technology.
Joe Wright’s articles can be found at ActivistPost.com