Shooting Your Neighbor’s Drone May Be Illegal—And It May Not

A man allegedly shot down his neighbor’s drone over the Jersey Shore last week, after it reportedly flew over his property. Russell J. Percenti, 32, was arrested and charged with possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and criminal mischief,” but his predicament has opened up a slew of legal questions.

The neighbor said he’d been flying the device over a friend’s home to photograph construction when he heard some gunshots and immediately lost control of the drone. When he recovered the drone, he noticed the bullet holes and contacted the police. 

There’s a growing movement over the legality of shooting down drones. In 2013, a gun owner named Phil Steel introduced a proposal to issue drone-hunting licenses in his town of Deer Trail, Colorado. The proposal failed, but Steel said he planned  to sell drone-hunting licenses online and all over the country. Meanwhile, Montana state legislator Matt Rosendale used a drone-shooting stunt as part of a political campaign.

There’s also the Salvo 12 Shotgun Silencer, which advertises itself with a mascot named Johnny Dronehunter, a tough looking guy who shoots down six DJI Phantoms in one go in the name of defending privacy. Phantoms are hobby copters that go for $600 a pop and carry nothing more lethal than cameras.

See also: Five Quintessential Quadcopters

As drones that begin to dot America’s skies, they may start fighting back. The Skunk Riot Control Copter, for instance, is armed with paint-ball cannons that fire off 80 pepper balls per second for “crowd suppression.”

Legally, drone hunting is still a gray area. The castle doctrine of common law posits that people have the right to defend their homes from attack. This isn’t extended to the sky above people’s homes, however. Otherwise airplanes would be in trouble. Ryan Calo, a robotics and cyber-law scholar at the University of Washington, said that the danger would have to be pretty apparent for you to be able to legally gun down a drone.

“You would probably have to be threatened physically, or another person or maybe your property, for you to be able to destroy someone else’s drone without fear of a counterclaim,” he told Gigaom.

See also: Why Commercial Drones Are Stuck In Regulatory Limbo

Currently only hobby drones are allowed to fly in American airspace, so it’s extremely unlikely that a drone would threaten your property. Perhaps it’ll be easier to take drone-hunting licenses more seriously if and when drones become a problem.

Update 9:40 a.m.: A previous version of this story incorrectly credited the source publication. 

Screenshot via Silencerco

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