Earlier this week, one Colorado town floated the idea of letting its residents buy hunting permits for drones. Now, the FAA has responded to the proposal by telling Americans to please stop thinking about shooting down drones.
The proposal itself sounds more like a clever way to get Rand Paul-type libertarians to donate to a local government budget than a viable way to protect a town from federal drones. According to the draft of the proposed ordinance, residents of Deer Trail, Colorado could pay $25 a year for a drone hunting permit. And there's a $100 reward for any successful downed drone, providing the unmanned aerial vehicle's "markings and configuration are consistent with those used on any similar craft known to be owned or operated by the United States federal government."
The man behind the Deer Trail proposal, who seems to be one of the few people in the town taking it seriously, knows the idea is against the law, but doesn't really care. Phillip Steel, speaking to CNN, said "Is it illegal? Of course it is. But it's also illegal to spy on American citizens...If they fly in town, we will shoot them down."
The FAA, too, is taking the idea very, very seriously, it seems. The agency, which is already behind schedule to meet a 2015 deadline for new regulations governing drone use in the U.S., released a statement reminding Deer Trail that the federal agency is responsible for regulating the air space over the town, and indicating that they'd enforce existing laws to punish any enterprising drone hunters in Colorado or anywhere else. Here's the AP, quoting from the statement:
A drone "hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air," the statement said. "Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane."
But until the FAA integrates drones into the national airspace, however, the residents of Deer Trail won't have very much "game" out there to shoot down. The FAA hasn't been terribly transparent about the number of unmanned aircraft flights they've authorized in the U.S., but we do know of a few government agencies who do, or who have in the past, used drones to patrol American soil. The Customs and Border Protection, for instance, have stepped up their drone game dramatically recently, even conducting drone missions on behalf of other agencies. And a North Dakota town apparently used a drone on loan from the Department of Homeland Security to catch a cattle thief in 2012.