Shooting Down Drones

A Kentucky man shot down a drone that was hovering in his backyard:

“It was just right there,” he told Ars. “It was hovering, I would never have shot it if it was flying. When he came down with a video camera right over my back deck, that’s not going to work. I know they’re neat little vehicles, but one of those uses shouldn’t be flying into people’s yards and videotaping.”

Minutes later, a car full of four men that he didn’t recognize rolled up, “looking for a fight.”

“Are you the son of a bitch that shot my drone?” one said, according to Merideth.

His terse reply to the men, while wearing a 10mm Glock holstered on his hip: “If you cross that sidewalk onto my property, there’s going to be another shooting.”

He was arrested, but what’s the law?

In the view of drone lawyer Brendan Schulman and robotics law professor Ryan Calo, home owners can’t just start shooting when they see a drone over their house. The reason is because the law frowns on self-help when a person can just call the police instead. This means that Meredith may not have been defending his house, but instead engaging in criminal acts and property damage for which he could have to pay.

But a different and bolder argument, put forward by law professor Michael Froomkin, could provide Meredith some cover. In a paper, Froomkin argues that it’s reasonable to assume robotic intrusions are not harmless, and that people may have a right to “employ violent self-help.”

Froomkin’s paper is well worth reading:

Abstract: Robots can pose—or can appear to pose—a threat to life, property, and privacy. May a landowner legally shoot down a trespassing drone? Can she hold a trespassing autonomous car as security against damage done or further torts? Is the fear that a drone may be operated by a paparazzo or a peeping Tom sufficient grounds to disable or interfere with it? How hard may you shove if the office robot rolls over your foot? This paper addresses all those issues and one more: what rules and standards we could put into place to make the resolution of those questions easier and fairer to all concerned.

The default common-law legal rules governing each of these perceived threats are somewhat different, although reasonableness always plays an important role in defining legal rights and options. In certain cases—drone overflights, autonomous cars, national, state, and even local regulation—may trump the common law. Because it is in most cases obvious that humans can use force to protect themselves against actual physical attack, the paper concentrates on the more interesting cases of (1) robot (and especially drone) trespass and (2) responses to perceived threats other than physical attack by robots notably the risk that the robot (or drone) may be spying – perceptions which may not always be justified, but which sometimes may nonetheless be considered reasonable in law.

We argue that the scope of permissible self-help in defending one’s privacy should be quite broad. There is exigency in that resort to legally administered remedies would be impracticable; and worse, the harm caused by a drone that escapes with intrusive recordings can be substantial and hard to remedy after the fact. Further, it is common for new technology to be seen as risky and dangerous, and until proven otherwise drones are no exception. At least initially, violent self-help will seem, and often may be, reasonable even when the privacy threat is not great—or even extant. We therefore suggest measures to reduce uncertainties about robots, ranging from forbidding weaponized robots to requiring lights, and other markings that would announce a robot’s capabilities, and RFID chips and serial numbers that would uniquely identify the robot’s owner.

The paper concludes with a brief examination of what if anything our survey of a person’s right to defend against robots might tell us about the current state of robot rights against people.

Note that there are drones that shoot back.

Here are two books that talk about these topics. And an article from 2012.

EDITED TO ADD (8/9): How to shoot down a drone.

Posted on August 4, 2015 at 8:24 AM113 Comments


wiredog August 4, 2015 8:39 AM

Be aware that the FAA considers quadcopters to be aircraft, and the FAA takes a very dim view of shooting down, laseing, and otherwise harassing aircraft.

Clive Robinson August 4, 2015 8:48 AM

The “threat to life” defence, is not as far fetched as it sounds.

Profesionaly licenced and operated drones used in the entertainment industry have failed, and sportspersons have already been injured.

Technicaly drones are remotely controled or experimental aircraft, and thus in the past subject to all sorts of regulation.

But under the influence of MIC and other sales persons, they are making the usual “save money”, “increased capability” and most importantly “increased safety” claims.

The safety claims are based primarily on the idea that a criminal shooting at a drone, is not shooting at the opperator of the drone.

Thus I would argue that the “increased safety” argument is highly asymetric, and thus the “stand your ground” etc legislation should be appropriately adjusted in favour of the defender. Because with near zero risk to the operator, they will not have any caution thus recklessly abandon caution that would otherwise ensure an adiquate safety margin for the defender.

drones August 4, 2015 8:56 AM

Law enforcement can’t even do anything about drones when they’re blocking emergency services when lives are in danger (ex. wildfires). Why would someone believe that they’re going to be effective at doing anything about a drone that’s merely invading someone’s privacy on their own property.

That said, in the country I live in, we probably even have less of a legal leg to stand on with respect to dealing with drone nuisances on private property.

Coulson August 4, 2015 9:00 AM

@Bruce Schneier:

there are drones that shoot back

how fabulous. let’s hope criminals and gangs don’t start using these.

the law frowns on self-help when a person can just call the police instead

I thought that was more like some Scandinavian thing and that here in US you can shoot to keep trespassers away?

Chris August 4, 2015 9:06 AM

I’d be more worried about where the bullets go after passing through the flimsy plastic; yeah, a drone might scratch you, but that bullet’s going to rip a hole through the head of whoever was unfortunate enough to be behind it (like – inside the house next door…).

Those 4 thugs need dealing with though, IMHO. They knew what happened, thus proving they were up-to-no-good… imagine if the homeowner had simply smashed it with a bat – would those 4 thugs have caved his head in absent the Glock protection?

sideshowbob August 4, 2015 9:07 AM

I’m totally with shooting them down if they are invading my space. What would a call to the police result in? Absolutely nothing that’s what.

pat August 4, 2015 9:09 AM

Actually, @wiredog, the first 500 feet of airspace above a persons property belongs to them, and is not to be trespassed upon. The FAA does not allow aircraft to fly in this zone except for takeoff, landing, and in an emergency. I’m not aware of any FAA regulation which prohibits nor allows disabling drones.

And from :

“Section 91.119(c) prescribes that, except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no
person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:
(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except
over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.”

In the future, please state your claims more clearly and back up your claims with citations. For example, it’s not clear if your last post was claiming that the FAA thinks it’s OK to use a drone to trespass on other people’s property below 500ft. Or maybe you’re saying that the FAA thinks that kind of action is completely forbidden, but they have a regulation against disabling it. Perhaps you are saying that the FAA also forbids shooting down a drone which is armed? You could be disputing the fact that this is untested ground and are trying to inform people that the FAA has clear guidelines about how this situation should be handled. It’s really just not clear at all.

Pat August 4, 2015 9:13 AM

@Coulson The trespassing laws vary greatly from one state to another in the USA. Most require you to feel like your life is threatened, but I believe Texas is an exception. If I recall correctly, they allow using firearms to protect property as well. I do not know the Kentucky law off the top of my head.

Craig August 4, 2015 9:29 AM

What is more dangerous, a hovering drone or a bullet in a parabolic trajectory who-knows-where?

One of those has actually caused harm to people and is not merely theoretical.

Don’t the gun owners have a responsibility to measure their response to the threat?

George August 4, 2015 9:36 AM

As the AT story points out, the property owner used a shotgun loaded with birdshot, not a 9mm pistol or a rifle. The danger to persons and property downrange would have been minimal or nil.

Bardi August 4, 2015 9:45 AM


How about jamming the signal? Of course that may cause the drone to become uncontrolled with unintended consequences.

What if the drone “lands” on one’s property, does it become yours?

Daniel August 4, 2015 10:07 AM

wait a second…drones that shoot back…shouldn’t we be more worried about drones that shoot first? Ideally, if you shoot a drone it shouldn’t be able to shoot back…it doesn’t take an ICBM to take one out.

I said it before when it came to Yemen…sooner or later those things will show up here and then what?

albert August 4, 2015 10:14 AM

I’m all for it. Shoot ’em down.

Some of the commenters don’t know anything about firearms and their proper use, and should shut up.

We all knew this would happen. Face it, laws ‘regulating’ drone operation are going to be as useless as tits on a boar hog.

Though the shotgun sends a strong message to AH drone owners, I would prefer a good RF jammer…

“…ranging from forbidding weaponized robots to requiring lights, and other markings that would announce a robot’s capabilities, and RFID chips and serial numbers that would uniquely identify the robot’s owner….” Anyone with at least two brain cells connected together can see that this is BS. Yeah, even allowing it’s a lawyer speaking, (and I agree with his position. Froomkin, how are those serial numbers working in gun control?

Jared August 4, 2015 10:22 AM

@pat, Kentucky defines 3rd degree trespassing when someone “knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in or upon premises.” [1] They define “premises” as buildings and “any real property.” [1] Although the property owner does have the air rights up to 500ft I’m not sure that it is considered “real property.”

Either way the laws don’t make it easy to interpret trespassing [1] and self defense [2] for UAVs. They seem pretty specific to a person perpetrating the laws in person.

A drone is much more likely to cause damage to your property after it is damaged, so shooting it may not be a safe option.



Spaceman Spiff August 4, 2015 10:34 AM

Personally, I think he was justified and that the drone pilot should have respected his family’s privacy.

Loren Pechtel August 4, 2015 10:43 AM

I note multiple posts that are worried about what becomes of the bullet after it hits (or misses) the drone. That’s a very valid concern–bullets fired into the air do come back down with potentially lethal energy so long as they are fired at an angle. (A bullet that goes straight up reaches a point of zero velocity and no longer remains stable. Once it’s tumbling drag is much higher and it comes back down with merely bruising force.)

Note, however, that his weapon was a shotgun firing birdshot. This is a very different scenario–small shotgun pellets do not retain their velocity very long and come back down with little energy. The falling drone poses a lot more risk to those on the ground than the falling shot.

Jim Strathmeyer August 4, 2015 11:00 AM

So, has anyone suggested that the only surefire way to combat “drone surveillance”… is by using your own “drone” to follow it home?

Patrick August 4, 2015 11:01 AM

Just some notes from other sources I read:
The drone was legally operating over the neighbor’s property. It was being used to take pictures of the neighbor’s house at an altitude of 207′ when it was shot down. The owner of the drone states that he has video to prove that the drone never crossed the property line and was only being used in the manner described.

Personally, I would be pretty pissed if I was taking pictures of a house with an $1,800 piece of equipment and some jackass decided to shoot at it. Maybe the rules need to be changed, but you don’t go shooting down aircraft because you think it may possibly be trying to take candid shots of your teenage daughter. And if you do, be prepared to be wrong and liable for the damages you caused and laws you broke.

Barry Summers August 4, 2015 11:23 AM

What if they are clearly breaking the law with their drone over your property? Know the laws in your state. In North Carolina, it’s illegal to conduct surveillance of a person or their property without their consent (unless you’re in law enforcement, and then practically anything goes.)

If anyone flew a drone with a camera around my house, I would feel justified in bringing it down, and THEN calling the cops.

Petter August 4, 2015 11:27 AM

I would not feel threatened of a smaller quads like the Phantom et al although they might cause some harm if the pilot lost control or if they crashed them at altitude which caused them to fall down.

But a quad is still a RC “toy”.

But as the size grows, the rotors is getting bigger and the power plants reaches 10kW they are plain deadly for a bystander in its way.
I would really fear for my life if I was getting approached/attacked/threatened by some one with lets say a Goblin 700 doing hard manoeuvres like Tariq does here.

There’s deaths involved from time to time with helis.
Often because the pilot does not respect the safety distances needed for helis like these.

Jordan Brown August 4, 2015 11:40 AM

It seems important to remember that the device in question here is a remote controlled aircraft, not an autonomous robot. It’s a direct extension of the pilot’s will, while a robot is in some ways more like a wandering pet.

Also note that in a conventional trespass, you have the opportunity to tell the trespasser to leave before you escalate, and that option is not available here.

jdgalt August 4, 2015 11:47 AM

I think he was justified, but I would not have used a shotgun in a residential neighborhood. Some child or pet could get hurt. I would throw a rock.

LessThanObvious August 4, 2015 11:58 AM

The police should leave him alone. I will not tolerate obtrusive use of drones and I would want to do the same thing if I saw one over my property. We should let people defend their privacy and security. They can face the consequences if their actions result in harm, but simply shooting down the drone that is harassing you should be just fine. A right that cannot be defended with impunity and without apology is not a right at all.

Cassandra August 4, 2015 12:25 PM

What if the drone is not over your property but (a) is clearly showing cameras with zoom lenses pointed towards you/your property, or (b) you are unsure if it has cameras or other equipment that could violate a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’?

In some parts of the world, you are fair game for cameras situated on public roads pointed towards private property, in others, not so much. A drone needn’t be in your airspace/hovering over your property to be a nuisance. Military UAVs can be several miles away and still disturb your peace with a missile (or surveillance cameras).

Does this mean that you can only have a reasonable expectation of privacy if you are permanently behind non-tranparent walls and under a non-transparent roof?

ianf August 4, 2015 12:38 PM


… would be pretty pissed if [he] was taking pictures of a house with an $1,800 piece of equipment and some jackass decided to shoot at it.”

That jackass was the client’s adjoining neighbor… who might have considered in advance that others may not share his/her acceptance of buzzing UFOs above, or near his abode. Thus a simple canvassing the few lots nearby, telling the neighbors of the upcoming photo session, presumably would have prevented the shooting down of the expensive piece of equipment… indeed, I’m surprised that that wasn’t the drone operator’s SOP (elementary social skills, my dear Watson!)

Slightly OT, this reminded me of Steve Roberts‘, a pioneer electronic nomad (Winnebiko; Behemoth, etc) of late 80s/ early 90s, once suggesting in a forum that airborne photography of rural properties from kites might be a viable on-the-road business method for a world traveler. Because it has been proven to work (a self-timed light camera made to slide up the kite line); he himself managed it once or twice; and kites are easy to fold & transport on a bike. Do it, I thought, in the Third World, count on getting thrown in jail on spying charges.

Rob August 4, 2015 1:07 PM

They don’t want to allow people to protect themselves from drones because they plan on ramping up the use of them.

This is the beginning of a bad sci-fi movie.

Patrick August 4, 2015 1:10 PM


Our trigger happy friend may also not like a neighbor’s loud music, but that doesn’t give him the right to shoot out their speakers. Like I said, The drone operator claims the video proves the shooter was in the wrong. The shooter should be held liable for destroying the drone and be charged under the same laws as if he had shot at any other piece of equipment on his neighbors property.

And to your kite story: Here’s another one. This guy back in the early 1900’s used a series of kites and a 46lb camera to take pictures 800′ off the ground. If you look around, you can find more of his work. It’s really impressive.

JRD August 4, 2015 1:34 PM

I’ve seen the video of the telemetry data. You can, too:

The drone was in the air less than 2 minutes. It should have been visible by the shooter for about 30 seconds, I think. That’s a pretty quick judgement to whip out the shotgun.

I agree that the #8 birdshot was probably the safest thing he could fire into the sky. It’s not a bullet and it wouldn’t hurt if it fell back down and hit you.

I think a person has the right to shoot down a drone that hovers over their property, but I think I’d give it longer than 30 seconds before blowing it out of the sky.

xd0s August 4, 2015 1:46 PM

Instead of using bullet, which have the unfortunate side effect of collateral damage and physics issues like returning to earth, non-lethal means might be more useful for drone intrusions.

Net guns to capture the drone, or maybe electromagnetic disruption of the motors and camera are viable?

Likely some downstream impacts from the falling object, where it lands and who might get hit by it etc.

PaulD August 4, 2015 1:51 PM


“A bullet that goes straight up reaches a point of zero velocity and no longer remains stable. Once it’s tumbling drag is much higher and it comes back down with merely bruising force.”

That’s interesting. In Los Angeles County it has long been a problem that people discharge fire arms on New Year’s Eve and the stray bullets end up killing people. I guess the police should put up signs: “Do not celebrate New Year’s by discharging a fire arm. But if you do, be sure to aim straight up.”

Bystander August 4, 2015 2:16 PM

To me it looks like a case of poor social skills of the drone operator(s).

The person shooting the drone did not have many choices to defend himself from the intrusion.
Choosing birdshot was a good decision in terms of gun safety, shooting after a short time can be criticized, but on the other hand – how to interact with a drone?

Maybe a good occasion to sit down and define a code of conduct for private drones, this might end up as a regulation, law, whatever…

Picayune Grass August 4, 2015 2:16 PM

I don\’t give a flying f_ck (no pun intended) what the law says. If I saw a drone hovering over my property taking photos of my house, sniffing my wifi or setting up a malicious AP, I guarantee you I won\’t stop until I blast it out of the sky.

albert August 4, 2015 2:16 PM

“…Our trigger happy friend may also not like a neighbor’s loud music, but that doesn’t give him the right to shoot out their speakers….”

Brilliant! – You should be a lawyer.

“…Like I said, The drone operator claims the video proves the shooter was in the wrong….” DUH! “OK, I’ll admit it, I just wanted to see his wife naked.”

I doubt the ‘drone operator’ (who approached the man with pistol on his belt) is smart enough to prove it.

Y’all are missing the point here.

Drones have removed the protections that fences and walls provide for citizens privacy. We have, by law, a reasonable expectation of privacy within our home or behind our fences. Notwithstanding the safety issues (are they are serious, despite stupid comments trivializing them), laws need to address this. FAA regulations are not enough. Regulation is not enough. Banning hobby drones would work.

R/C aircraft have been around since the 40s. They have always required quite a lot of skill to pilot. Now that computer control has arrived, any dolt can buy one and go out looking for trouble, and they are finding it:)

Greg Magarshak August 4, 2015 2:42 PM

I just finished reading your blog post, “Shooting Down Drones”, and wanted to write you to mention more expansive concerns. Over the years I’ve enjoyed reading your perspectives and I seem to have very similar interests about how in technology will affect society and security. I’m a big proponent of decentralization in computer networks and run a company that’s been working to achieve it, but at the same time I’m always interested in understanding the trade-offs between centralization and decentralization.

When it comes to drones, there seems to be an unprecedented combination. For the first time, autonomous robots with increasing intelligence will have ready access to public spaces. Self-driving cars are another example, but they are expensive to produce. But because of how cheap it will be to produce programmable drones, this can create a serious problem for society.

Our social systems aren’t designed to cope with AI, and many rely on inefficiency on the part of current actors, or “security through obscurity”. When a driver does a hit-and-run, we at least have a lead (the car, the human) and can set up some sort of retaliatory mechanism as a deterrent. Terrorism is largely a problem of technology (e.g. swords vs the gunpowder plot vs 9/11). When drones produced by no-name manufacturers are programmed and dispatched by anonymous individuals, they can wreak all kinds of havoc, without any repercussions. It takes 1 out of 10,000 rogue actors (whether nutcases, terror cells, other countries, etc.) to do something. If Amazon has its way and drones are legalized, whatever framework we adopt, what is to prevent a drone from taking off and doing damage anonymously? Even with zero malicious intent, an increase in heavy drone traffic raises chances of death by impact. But having anonymous drones equipped with bombs or like this seems like a real danger. It seems to be an arms race that’s coming up faster than the arms race that lots of people are concerned about.

And yet there is no way to stop technology. This is one place where decentralization may not be such a good thing. What can we do?

Richard Schwartz August 4, 2015 3:02 PM

Sure, this guy used bird shot instead of bullets. Inevitably someone else won’t, and someone else is going to injure or kill someone this way.

But the ammunition isn’t the only concern, is it? Shot and bullets aren’t the only objects that will fall out of the sky when people shoot at drones. I think it’s inevitable that allowing people to shoot down drones will result in a disabled drone itself, or fragments thereof, causing serious injury or death to someone.

The liability lawyers are going to have a field day with this.

Bob S. August 4, 2015 3:10 PM

In Roman times, the good old days:

“Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad caelum et ad inferos”
“For whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to Heaven and down to Hell.”

Then came the FAA which claims jurisdiction over all all space. Anyway:

IF the government doesn’t want them shot down, then they should make it illegal to fly them over or near private residential property without permission. But, they won’t. The current proposed rule only states they must stay BELOW 500 feet, which includes the altitude of your bedroom window by default.

Spark gap jammers are less dramatic than gunfire, but more covert. They are illegal to use (not build), too.

My biggest concern is the corporations and government are maneuvering to take possession of all potential drone air space without the least regard for the personal privacy, security and physical safety of the peasantry.

Drones can and do crash all the time, like their hobby craft ancestors. A military drone crashed in Florida recently. Meanwhile, Google: “418 US military drones crashed since 2001, report reveals”. Those were is Afghanistan etc. Several people have been seriously injured by hobby drone crashes in the USA.

However, the bottom line is: Drones are being prepared as yet another assault weapon against the people. We all know it, yet nothing and no one can stop it.

AName August 4, 2015 3:32 PM

From slashdot:

Hillview, Kentucky resident William H. Merideth describes his weekend: “Sunday afternoon, the kids – my girls – were out on the back deck, and the neighbors were out in their yard. And they come in and said, ‘Dad, there’s a drone out here, flying over everybody’s yard.'” Merideth’s neighbors saw it too. “It was just hovering above our house and it stayed for a few moments and then she finally waved and it took off,” said neighbor Kim VanMeter. Merideth grabbed his shotgun and waited to see if the drone crossed over his property. When it did, he took aim and shot it out of the sky.

The owners showed up shortly, and the police right after. He was arrested and charged with first degree criminal mischief and first degree wanton endangerment before being released the next day. Merideth says he will pursue legal action against the drone’s owner: “He didn’t just fly over. If he had been moving and just kept moving, that would have been one thing — but when he come directly over our heads, and just hovered there, I felt like I had the right. You know, when you’re in your own property, within a six-foot privacy fence, you have the expectation of privacy. We don’t know if he was looking at the girls. We don’t know if he was looking for something to steal. To me, it was the same as trespassing.”

Gee, hovering over private property, the private property of multiple people, protected by a six-foot fence no less, to oggle his girls. Paints somewhat of a different picture, don’t you think?

The pilot of the drone shot down Sunday evening over a Kentucky property has now come forward with video seemingly showing that the drone wasn’t nearly as close as the property owner made it out to be. The data also shows that it was well over 200 feet above the ground before the fatal shots fired. The shooter, meanwhile, continues to maintain that the drone flew 20 feet over a neighbour’s house before ascending to “60 to 80 [feet] above me.”

200 feet, huh? So is our shooter shooting straight up or at an angle? Remember sine and cosine and all that? That’s got to be a 300 or 400 foot shot along the hypotenuse. What kind of shotgun, loaded with birdshot no less, can shoot at that kind of range with iron sights and why aren’t these awesome amazing weapons more commonly used by hunters? Surely one of these super guns would be cheaper than messing about with blinds and decoys and all that to get birds to fly lower.

You’re talking about shooting something the size of a small animal that’s on the 17th story of an office building from the grounds outside. Forget about how do you shoot it, I want to know how you see it! Has this shooter been eating carrots all his life or what?

And while were at it, how do they know it’s 200 feet up? Do they have a laser rangefinder aimed at the ground? (Straight down or at an angle?) Are they using a GPS? An altimeter? How do they compensate for the changing barometric pressure to get such an accurate reading? Even GPS has deep inaccuracies! And how do they know how high the local ground is above sea level?

This whole thing just ain’t passing the smell test. There’s some serious levels of bullshit being thrown around to vilify the gun user.

I wonder if all of you would feel the same way if that drone had killed one of his girls. It doesn’t take much to take one of those things down. People die from unsafe operations all the time. Do you think these operators would have turned themselves in to the police if they were facing a murder charge? Or would it be “We can’t tell who was operating it?”

This isn’t the first time drones have been shot down. I wonder how the other cases are faring in court? Has anyone heard anything?

AName August 4, 2015 3:38 PM

p.s. With regard to the dangers of birdshot coming down. If it wasn’t safe, hunters would be killing each other all the time. As it is, you can talk to any hunter, and they can tell you firsthand what it’s like to get hit by birdshot coming back down. It’s no big deal. It’s quite safe, at a very low velocity.

Edward Collins August 4, 2015 3:40 PM

The day before yesterday there was a drone hovering over the undeveloped park next to my house. It’s pretty obvious it could easily spy on my family even if it wasn’t technically on my property. I felt violated. My kids like to play in the backyard and now it’s easy for them to get spied on. I suddenly have new sympathy for celebrities dealing with the paparazzi. If it comes on my property I will definitely throw rocks at it and consider the purchase of a shotgun.

Jim Simpson August 4, 2015 3:44 PM

Throw a weighted hunting net over it. It’s yours if it’s in your property, or at least the owners can call the police if they don’t like the outcome and we can all head off to court.

I have no sympathy with the drone operators. If it had a camera, then peeping tom laws may apply. If the homeowner felt his physical safety or that of his property was being threatened, he was well within his rights in my state.

albert August 4, 2015 4:20 PM

A heavy drone falling could hurt you. A light drone flying 44 ft/sec into your face could blind you. Permanently. Which is the greater danger?
A video from the drone operator? LOL Does it have a UFO shot in it as well?
If the guy is an experienced bird hunter, he’s gonna have a good idea of range and altitude. He’ll also know gun safety better than some commenters here.
The gummint will wait and wait, until someone gets killed, then they’ll ban hobby drones for good. The Hobby Drone Lobby isn’t powerful enough to stop it. While drones may be necessary for LE and the military, they are dangerous, invasive, and totally unnecessary toys for everyone else.

sideshowbob August 4, 2015 5:05 PM


Totally false argument. In order to shoot his neighbors speakers he would have to trespass onto his neighbors property. The situation is the other way around. If indeed the drone was over his property he should be able to take it down and even keep it. No different than if his neighbor threw a baseball onto his property. Both would have been under his neighbors control initially. The fact that he used a shotgun is what seems to be most at debate here. Maybe not the best choice for taking it down but he certainly should have been able to take it down.

Dirk Praet August 4, 2015 5:26 PM

This is a simple case of legislation lagging behind reality.

Over here, there is a legislative proposal on the table containing the following key elements:

  • Drones for private use can fly over private property only and not higher than 30 meters (98 feet). Private property in this context means property owned by the operator or another private party that has explicitly given its consent. All privacy restrictions apply, i.e. that no pictures or other sound/video recordings of persons can be made without their explicit consent.
  • Professional drones can fly up to 90 meters (295 feet), but they have to be registered and the operator has to qualify for a series of medical, theoretical and practical tests. If used for “high risk” activities such as flying over masses of people, prior approval from civil aviation authorities is required, and on a case by case basis.
  • Controlled airspace, both civil and military, is off limits for any type of drone, unless explicit approval has been given by aviation authorities.

In the case of Mr. Merideth, and in absence of unequivocal legislation, I tend to side with the defendant, especially if the property line was crossed. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes and property and an unidentified robotic intrusion to me qualifies in the same way as a human one. The incident was entirely avoidable had the drone owner just informed Mr. Merideth of his plans. In a trigger-happy country like the US, the outcome was entirely predictable.

65535 August 4, 2015 5:40 PM

I was non-committal on the right to shoot down drowns with bird shot or other relatively safe ammunition and fairly safe firearms methods.

But, after seeing Bruce’s “Note that there are drones that Drones Shoot back” link I am now firmly on the side of the “drone eliminator.” The guy should be able to sue the owner of drone and the law enforcement entity that arrested, booked, and jailed him. Here is my take:

The gun on a drone could be concealed as a benevolent component or camera with the barrel disguised as a camera lens – but is really lethal weapon. Or, it could be some other weapon in disguise – a fragmentary explosive, incendiary device, chemical or biological weapon, a land mine seeder and so on.

This not strictly a privacy issue but a safety issue. Who wants to get shot by a drone or have a child shot by a drone?

I believe the use of drones will have to be legally revisited given that they can be used for good or bad things.

John F August 4, 2015 5:48 PM

@patrick, @jim simpson:

“Maybe the rules need to be changed, but you don’t go shooting down aircraft because you think it may possibly be trying to take candid shots of your teenage daughter”


“I have no sympathy with the drone operators. If it had a camera, then peeping tom laws may apply. If the homeowner felt his physical safety or that of his property was being threatened, he was well within his rights in my state.”


The guy lost a drone, and he’s pissed. The drone operator should be very, very, thankful that the dad didn’t anonymously tip off the FBI (or the local TV station) about “a possible child pornographer using a drone to spy on neighborhood children.” Oh, it would have eventually been straightened out, but it would have been a far more impactful message for the drone operator.

LessThanObvious August 4, 2015 6:49 PM

Unmanned Aircraft System Operations Industry “Code of Conduct”

I think they seriously need to add “Don’t fly or linger over private property without consent” and “Don’t observe individuals on private property who would not be readily visible from a non-aerial vantage point”.

65535 August 4, 2015 7:28 PM

@ LessThanObvious

Yes, I concur.


“We will respect the privacy of individuals.”

Unmanned Aircraft System Operations Industry “Code of Conduct”

Ha, not every drone operator follows this code!

ianf August 4, 2015 7:30 PM

I wasn’t suggesting that guns be the civilian/ residential “No-Drone” policy solution, only that, in the USA, they will end up being “THE SOLUTION.” Because, let’s face it, the overall American mentality (pace Canada) has it that guns ARE the answer to everything.

@Edward Collins … suddenly feels new sympathy for celebrities dealing with the paparazzi

I saw the OFFICIAL VIDEO of the Madonna–Sean Penn wedding (in Barbra Streisand’s California beach property(?)). In ancient, pre-drone times, but precedents apply: Madonna blew up an unauthorized news helicopter with a Bazooka. If Madonna can do it, why couldn’t we rhetorical question.

@albert The gummint will wait and wait…

Now, what kind of gumbo(?)-language is that?

David Irving (no relation) August 4, 2015 10:02 PM

Down here in Australia, at least, the operator of a drone (either remotely controlled or autonomous) is required under air safety regulations to maintain line-of-sight visibility at all times. The drone is also required to be no more than 400′ above ground level. I’m pretty sure that flying one in a built-up area would be forbidden as well, without applying for appropriate waivers (which is not trivial).

On the other hand, if anyone in Australia discharges a firearm in a residential area, they’re guilty of several firearms offences. They’d lose all their guns and their firearms licence, likely for life, as well as face a substantial fine and maybe prison.

Both these things strike me as being eminently sensible. (And before anyone flames me, I own both drones and firearms.)

TRS August 5, 2015 1:01 AM

There are at least a couple of other issues worth considering at this time also. First, and I’m guessing here, because the majority of consumer electronic and radio devices are unlicensed devices and regulated under FCC part 15 rules which state that the device may not cause harmful interference and must accept any interference encountered, the operator would have limited recourse if the control or A/V signals were disrupted. (It also speaks specifically on eavesdropping) However, it is also illegal to intentionally cause interference, so any type of intentional jamming would basically be out of the question from a legal standpoint.

Second, the life cycle of technology has historically been large and crude to exponentially smaller and more advanced. Addressing the legal framework without this in mind would be a very short sighted solution. Today the question could be asked, is it legal to use a drone to enter and photograph the inside of an open building on private property not normally visable by ways of the public? This question causes enough trouble when the vehicle is often visible to the casual observer. What happens when this technology becomes miniaturized to the point where it can follow you into your house unnoticed or be piloted through the screen of an open window? Everyone has had a house fly in their home and wondered how and when it got in. That house fly beaming a live video feed of your bedroom out to the world is a novel problem for most of us and should be very concerning to all of us.

If you came home from work and found that someone had covertly entered your home and installed cameras while you were gone you would have a legal case. Should it really matter if these cameras don’t actually touch the ground? If there is no reliable detection method, time to detection could be very high and your physical world becomes just as insecure as the electronic world has proven to be.

Regina August 5, 2015 2:49 AM

The DroneSlayer’s house is 1/2 mile from an airport. It is a Federal crime to operate a drone within a five mile radius of an airport.
The flight plan the drone operator provided is all that was shown as evidence of where the drone was (supposedly).
It was noted on the news that the SD card for video or pictures must have been lost in flight. It supposedly was not In the drone when it was found. How odd! There was no damage to the drone at the SD port.

All I can say is I hope those drones don’t fly over my house when I’m practicing skeet shooting.

Curious August 5, 2015 4:14 AM

I am thinking that discharging a firearm is more dangerous and socially less acceptable than downing someone’s drone per se.

I wonder if any new legislation might have unintended consequences. Maybe it would center around firearms specifically, or perhaps something else, that would make it all even worse, as if somehow ending up protecting drone users.

ianf August 5, 2015 7:58 AM

Asks @TRS:

what happens when [drone] technology becomes miniaturized to the point where it can follow you into your house unnoticed or be piloted through an open window?

Baring discovery & deployment of some sci-fi silent propulsion method for the miniaturized drones, they may never be wholly unnoticed in human presence in enclosed spaces, but that in itself is not an obstacle for them being turned into DIY precision-targeted suicide ordnance. If USAF can have their Tomahawk cruise missiles For Wrecking Havoc In The Line Of Duty, we could well have, say, RC-Kookaburra[*] drones for wrecking mini-havoc in competitors’ HQ through the open 4-story windows (in a shopping mall nearby roost several tits, or sparrows, that have mastered the art of swooping down on & contaminating one’s sandwich or salad plate the moment one even fleetingly turns the gaze away. No AI was necessary, they figured out the best tactics & approaches all on their own in a generation or two). Now imagine such “pocket change drones” becoming so cheap, that a coördinated swarm-like attack of bumblebee-sized exploding charges becomes a possibility… an S-F scenario suddenly within grasp of lone wolf terrorists and cheapskate dictators alike!

[^*] Kookaburras are VICIOUS, they eat snakes ‘n all!

Johann August 5, 2015 8:27 AM


RC-Kookaburra[*] drones for wrecking mini-havoc in competitors’ HQ

hmm yea it made me think of this…

Counterterrorism expert says it’s time to give companies offensive cybercapabilities

…so I can see the competitor then responding by launching a targeted cyber attack from their IT-HQ (strategically separated from their main HQ, of course)…

Long gone are the days when competitors where crushed through LOWER PRICES! and RELENTLESS FOCUS ON EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Les August 5, 2015 8:29 AM

“Baring discovery & deployment of some sci-fi silent propulsion method”

Sci-fi? The very first flying machines were totally silent.

ianf August 5, 2015 8:56 AM

@Les The very first flying machines were totally silent.

Yes, sci-fi. I spoke/wrote of precision-controlled, targeted delivery, not haphazard flying rigs like kites. And then definitely not of this miniature scale.

rgaff August 5, 2015 10:19 AM

Ok… this whole thread is driving me nuts. Everyone needs to learn English! Here’s the issue:


A “drone” is any aircraft (big or small) that is NOT being controlled by a human, it operates autonomously by a program. Since there WAS someone remote-controlling this thing (i.e. a pilot flew it remotely from the ground), it is NOT a drone. Stop calling it a drone.

Almost ALL small aircraft are remote-controlled by humans, they are not drones. Do you go to a “droneport” and hop on a “drone” to fly to another city? Those passenger aircraft have an autopilot… and a pilot… same as any small aircraft also has a pilot and some hardware/software to help him fly it more easily. That’s all. The only difference is the pilot is not inside it. It’s too small for him to fit.

Since my rant is unlikely to change our steady march to redefine the language without thinking… Are we going to rewrite history and call all small hobbyist planes from the past several decades “drones” now too? How ridiculous.

Dirk Praet August 5, 2015 10:42 AM

@ rgaff

Everyone needs to learn English

According to Merriam-Webster: Drone – 3 : An unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control or onboard computers.

Gerard van Vooren August 5, 2015 11:31 AM

@ rgaff, Dirk,


“Everyone needs to learn English”

In that case, maybe it’s also wise to “redesign” English and get rid of some weak spots. (it’s not gonna happen of course)

Pasca August 5, 2015 11:48 AM

@Loren Pechtel

“(A bullet that goes straight up reaches a point of zero velocity and no longer remains stable. Once it’s tumbling drag is much higher and it comes back down with merely bruising force.)”

Really? As Carl Sagan was fond of saying in reply to incomplete arguments: “Maybe.”

Example: (only one)

Gerard van Vooren August 5, 2015 12:20 PM

@ Pasca,

“(A bullet that goes straight up reaches a point of zero velocity and no longer remains stable. Once it’s tumbling drag is much higher and it comes back down with merely bruising force.)”

Really? As Carl Sagan was fond of saying in reply to incomplete arguments: “Maybe.”

It depends on the angle. When shooting almost straight up, the bullet at one point has zero speed due to gravity and returns to earth with the speed of v=0.5at2 where a=9.81m/s2 and soon reaches terminal velocity (approx 200 km/h). When a bullet from a .45 pistol leaves the barrel it has an speed of 251 m/s (903 km/h), which is 4.5 times the terminal velocity speed. Since E=0.5mv2 speed (v) is square, which means that the energy of the bullet leaving the barrel is 4.5*4.5=20.25 times the falling down bullet. But it’s a different story when the bullet is shot at a low angle.

Outta here August 5, 2015 12:41 PM

I’m pretty sure that a case could be made for shooting a drone if it were black…

Tim August 5, 2015 1:36 PM

If it doesn’t have a tail number then I don’t think the FAA will consider it an aircraft… I know they don’t treat my RC planes (not drones!) like aircraft.

Tim August 5, 2015 1:39 PM

Of course if it had a tail number then one could report it to authorities.

I don’t see how these drone operating yahoos get away w/o any charges. These quadro copters are flying Cuisinarts and quite dangerous if abused to say nothing of privacy violations.

Tim August 5, 2015 2:08 PM

I think this aircraft met the FAA’s definition of a drone. It was capable of autonomous flight and was being operated out of direct sight of the operator. The “pilot” was no more flying it than the an air traffic controller flies jets.

rgaff August 5, 2015 3:43 PM

@Dirk Praet

Then why haven’t small model airplanes flown by hobbyists for the past neraly 100 years always been called “drones”?

Clive Robinson August 5, 2015 3:50 PM

@ Pasca,

Really? As Carl Sagan was fond of saying in reply to incomplete arguments: “Maybe.”

The argument is complex, but the end result is fairly easy to see.

What does the damage is the energy released by a projectile at retardation, and thus the properties of the retarding agent as well as the projectile, apparently simple so far…

However involved with this process is a vector addition of both the projectile and retarding agent and importantly the ill understood properties of inertia. So less simple…

One problem is that unless you are in a position that where all other matter and fields are removed there is more than one retarding agent, and these may be nonlinear or chaotic in nature. So into “butterfly’s wings” territory…

A bullet is considered high or low velocity depending on if it’s velocity exceeds the speed of sound in the medium it is designed to travel in. However the medium is a retarding agent, with nonlinear properties and in the normaly considered case of a bullet fiered on earth, starts applying to the projectile the moment it starts moving with respect to the medium around it.

If you are thinking “this is as clear as mud” then you are begining to understand why the act of a golfer hitting a golf ball is so unpredictable and why this unpredictability applies to all projectiles, including bullets and re-entering space craft.

It’s not that we can not calculate the exact results if we have all the required data, it’s just that for various reasons we can not know all the required data prior to full retardation of a projectile by the retarding agent. The usuall way to deal with this is by performing a large number of simulations using Monte Carlo methods, and going with the most probable predictions. The big problem here is there is no real agrement on how the “method” should be applied.

Engineers and others just shrug their shoulders over this, and except it as “normal”.

JD August 5, 2015 3:50 PM

What would worry me more, is that the govt has been trying to sanction drone usage under FAA guidelines, which, in many cases, do not differentiate between a personal drone and a commercial aircraft. Which means this guy could be charged with a crime equal to shooting down an airplane, likely not a commercial jet, but possibly a private cesna.

Just another area where the law lags behind tech.

It is going to be interesting to see how it pans out. Generally, if you can see into someones yard from public property (the street, a park hill, etc) then you enjoy ZERO privacy rights in that yard, and in the case of the serial pool toy humper, can be arrested for lewd behavior in your own backyard.

rgaff August 5, 2015 3:55 PM

@ Tim

Every detail of the flight is usually commanded in real time by a pilot. The craft’s flight is usually “viewed” by the pilot through the onboard camera, so that when the craft is behind obstructions it’s still controllable. There are exceptions where the craft is programmed to fly around to certain waypoints and auto detect things, perform tasks, then return, but that’s very very rare in practice, almost all hobbyist and camera type so-called “drones” are fully under control of a pilot at all times, even with craft that are technically capable of autonomous flying around. There may be computers involved so that he’s not individually controlling the speed of every single rotor, sure, he’s just saying “go forward” now “go up” now “back a little” now “turn the camera to the left” now “save that picture” etc… But he’s still doing the flying in the sense that he’s issuing every command in real time, and the craft doesn’t “do anything” without his explicit input in real time.

Dirk Praet August 5, 2015 5:25 PM

@ rgaff

Then why haven’t small model airplanes flown by hobbyists for the past nearly 100 years always been called “drones”?

In 1935, U.S. Adm. William H. Standley was overseeing a British demonstration of the Royal Navy’s new remote-control aircraft for target practice, the DH 82B Queen Bee. He subsequently charged Commander Delmer Fahrney with developing something similar for the Navy. Fahrney adopted the name ‘drone’ to refer to these aircraft in homage to the Queen Bee. The term fit in that a drone – original meaning a male honeybee – could only function when controlled by an operator on the ground or in a “mother” plane.

The word never gained a lot of traction outside military circles until after 9/11 with the advent of covert “drone” strikes aimed at terror suspects. Your interpretation of the word drone as “an autonomous aircraft” (like the X-47B) is factually incorrect both from a historical and etymological point of view. Although they are nowadays also referred to as drones, “flying robots” would be a more correct name until someone comes up with something more catchy.

TRS August 5, 2015 5:38 PM


The common gnat and fruit fly have already developed a very passable, at least to human perception at any distance, “Sci-Fi silent propulsion method”. Nano technology will soon allow for a very small vehicle which takes very little energy to support.

Two hundred years ago, two people having a conversation in real time across the world would have sounded like “Sci-Fi”. Fifty years ago, it would have a tough sell to covince people that in 2015, most people would carry a telephone in their pocket, the post office would be in financial trouble because nobody communicates by letter, and an individual in China could become you in about five minutes without ever leaving their house. Today conversations are being had about injecting computers into a human body to remedy medical conditions. To the person who figured that one out, building a miniature air plane might not seem like a real stretch of their talent. Moore’s Law touches more and more aspects of life every day.

rgaff August 5, 2015 5:40 PM

@Dirk Praet

So the hobbyist RC airplane industry hasn’t been called the “DRONE” industry for almost 100 years simply because it “didn’t catch on”?? What has the world come to… 🙂

Anura August 5, 2015 6:25 PM


The term is used because of their similarity to military drones, which are piloted remotely via an onboard camera, the difference being that old-school RC planes couldn’t go very far because you couldn’t control them without a line of sight. With an onboard camera, the distance you can fly drones is limited only by the range of the radio connection.

rgaff August 5, 2015 6:43 PM

@ Anura

According to Dirk it sounds like you and I are both off though… and all “old-school RC planes” are drones too, and always have been, just people didn’t commonly use the term until more recent, and often perhaps how you say, whether correct or not.

You can mount a camera to just about anything and IMO it shouldn’t change the whole nature of what the object is called nor the terror level everyone views it as… (i.e. RC planes are fun but “drones” are scary)

rgaff August 5, 2015 6:50 PM

I should have said… “…drones are scary, terrorizing my children, someone get my shotgun NOW”

ianf August 5, 2015 7:39 PM



blockquote>The common gnat and fruit fly have already developed a very passable, at least to human perception at any distance, “Sci-Fi silent propulsion method”.



Correct, only it only took them give or take a few million years to acquire those capabilities. One of us is talking of fast-tracking biological evolution, i.e. sci-fi, and it ain’t me. Invoking Moore’s Law in this context (whether it will hold up in perpetuity or—methinks—not) is EMPTY CASUISTRY.

Besides, assuming a RC-drone can/will be miniaturized at that scale & perhaps flown by hitherto untapped “gravitational phase waves” (i.e. external propulsion source that doesn’t weight down the vehicle) or something: then there’s the question(mark) of its [nefarious] payload. We all know that insects generally are able to carry many multiples of their own weight, but how much in fractions of a gram could that be for a gnat-lookylike? Even the deadliest poisons require a minimum critical mass to be of (ab)use. Perhaps Evil Scientists could develop Extra Strength Cyanide² Pollen™ for sprinkling on a swarm of such RC-gnats to be precision-guided to human targets’ air-intake orifices?

Dirk Praet August 5, 2015 8:15 PM

@ Outta here

I’m pretty sure that a case could be made for shooting a drone if it were black…

Probably not, but one cannot but wonder how the event would have panned out if the operator and his friends had been Arab-looking muslims. I’m pretty sure the scenario would have looked something like this:

Upon arrival at the scene, a paranoid police officer shoots the unarmed operator for “resisting arrest” when trying to explain to him that he was the one who called them. Some retard at Fox News sees a Da’esh (IS) connection immediately, with most other mainstream media following his lead without even bothering to verify their sources. The case is transferred to the feds in no time and the NRA is lauding Mr. Merideth as an American hero for single-handedly foiling a most vicious plot.

TLA directors scream about going dark again and retired generals feel vindicated over their calls for internment camps. In view of this latest terrorist attack on US soil, terrified Congress members pass CISPA without even reading what’s in there.

Meanwhile at Da’esh headquarters, nobody has a clue what’s going on until someone comes up with an Intercept article describing what really happened. They all laugh their asses off, pour champagne and issue an official statement in praise of the courageous martyrs that have struck a tremendous blow to the American heartland. Invigorated by this show of force, even more idiots join their movement.

Clive Robinson August 5, 2015 11:24 PM

@ Dirk Praet,

They all… …pour champagne and issue an official statement…

Now that would be newsworthy 😉

@ ianf,

Besides, assuming a RC-drone can/will be miniaturized at that scale & perhaps flown by hitherto untapped”gravitational phase waves”

Why bother re-inventing the wheel, when you can hijack an existing one?

Nature has shown that “owning systems” is not new, there are all sorts of things such as moulds that to reproduce take over insects, molluscs and many other very small creatures. Even human behaviour can be modified using virus and bacteria. @Bruce occasionaly blogs about them.

We humans have tried to replicate this, for instance at a very crude level we can cause mosquitoes to follow false chemical trails away from cattle etc. We have also “chiped bees” to follow their flight patterns to see what effects organophosphate chemicals used in farming have on them. Thus as some insects follow “sound trails” it might be possible to steer them by having a chip mounted on them synthesize an inverse sound signal to guide the insect.

Howevef some creatures are attracted to various wavelengths of EM radiation, any one who has played with a laser pointer and a cat knows this. Likewise “moths to a flame” and other daytime insects to UV “bug zappers”.

Thus it may be possible to have small insects fly towards a point of EM energy humans can not see, just as “smart bombs” fly down towards a target “painted” by a laser.

Thus co-opting existing biological control systems maybe a simpler way to go.

As for,

Even the deadliest poisons require a minimum critical mass to be of (ab)use. Perhaps Evil Scientists could develop Pollen™

How small a critical mass?, you might be suprised when you think not in terms of fast acting but slowish acting poisons. That is those that act as catalysts or neurotoxins, how about proteins?

Afterall the world’s oft said number one killer is the malaria parasite carried in the gut of a mosquito, there are poisons with a critical mass below that (look up botox poison, various mercury compounds and even plutonium). It’s also said that “you can not hear the mosquito that feasts on your blood” and there is a degree of truth in this.

It’s known that the US Secret Service is getting quite touchy about US Presidential DNA. Some think because it may be possible to make a targeted virus or similar designed specifically for a very very limited DNA set.

Now I’m not saying any of this is going to happen… but we do know that during WWII and later, scientific studies were carried out to use creatures such as pigeons for target recognition with the hope of using then to control glider bombs etc.

So from a security perspective these are things we should consider as potential threats and keep an eye on the scientific research.

Buck August 6, 2015 2:02 AM

@Dirk Praet

Add a little bit of fiction to that story, and you’ve already got my vote for the next Movie-Plot Threat Contest!

Perhaps, some 300 years after the “Great War” our unlikely protagonists would stumble upon some strange-looking silicon chips, tucked away somewhere deep in a dumpster, in a plane far-far away from the planet we currently recognize as Earth…

Generations have come and gone; only the crumbling ruins of a once-great civilization can still stand in what are now highly-toxic nuclear danger-zones. None of what were previously known as ancient Umans exist anymore, yet new advances in archeology are always providing an ever-widening glimpse into the past.

Our intrepid heros just so happen to be the Great-great-great-grandchildren of a sanitation engineer — brought froth from the loins of a long line of female librarians. We find them down on their luck — until that one moment!! That time when you don’t give two-shits that you’re knee-deep in a pile of dung — Eureka, we’ve found it!!!

Was it Chinese; perhaps it was eastern European..? At this point in time, it no longer makes any difference! After another three generations of absolutely unshakable faith to our most strict religious guidelines, the temple of reverse-engineering cannot deny that our Arab-looking friends of yore were totally screwed right from the start…

Google August 6, 2015 4:22 AM

In 2016 Q1, we will launch drones to take a video of your property. Also we will
collect your wifi network and devices.

You can’t shoot down our drones because these are a property of google.
We will take your photographs – backyard, garden, whatever – and publish
for “google map live”.

The privacy is not exist anymore. Be naked, don’t be evil, you’re just a
“information domestic animals”.

Johnn Lawless August 6, 2015 8:07 AM

It is completely reasonable for a man to protect the privacy of his home. Case dismissed!

Keep your drones and videos off private property and we won’t have this problem. Is that so hard?

TRS August 6, 2015 10:55 AM


First, how did we connect the dots between miniaturization of technology and biological evolution? Insects, to my knowledge, also don’t often use electronics for purposes that some people find objectionable. It took us millions of years to get there too but the point is, we’re there today, and that’s the entire issue. My argument is simply that the when the payload becomes small enough (Moore’s Law), proof of concept for the vehicle exists everywhere. Making a mechanical replica shouldn’t be difficult.

Second, I never said anything about biological attack. The context of my point here is covert bugging, a concept with which humans have proven to be very interested and crafty.

To Clive Robinson’s point, the CIA once upon a time experimented with attaching tiny incendiary devices to bats hoping to release them in an enemy city. The idea was somewhat successful. The bats managed to burn one of our own hangers down. The “Acustic Kitty” is another expample of using living animals as vehicles.

MarkH August 7, 2015 12:05 PM

@Loren Pechtel et al:

There’s been some back-and-forth here about the danger posed by bullets fired “straight up.”

  1. Not relevant to the specific case, in which no bullet was fired.
  2. If someone were shooting at a flying gadget with bullets, common sense suggests that in the great majority of cases the direction of fire would be substantially off-vertical, so the special case of vertical fire is not significant from a safety standpoint.
  3. If the statements in this article are correct, then a man was killed by a near-perfectly vertical shot, disproving Pechtel’s assertion. However, I found no citation, and cannot confirm the story.
  4. Bullets come in a vast array of sizes and designs. These vary quite a lot profile shape, density, and position of their center of mass. As an amateur student of aerodynamics, I am confident that there must be broad variation in the aerodynamic stability of various bullet types. For this reason, I regard a blanket assertion about the tumbling of bullets with deep skepticism.
  5. Even if bullets fired vertically do normally tumble, tumbling is an inherently chaotic process. Unless it is proven that such tumbling has a kind of “stable instability,” then it is possible for the tumbling to lead to a point-down orientation for the bullet, in which case it could return to stability and achieve its maximum terminal velocity. Because this is non-deterministic, even a series of test firings could lead to a wrong conclusion about the maximum velocity of fall.

I suggest that whilst firing bullets vertically is a highly inefficient method of attempted suicide, it is nothing like safe.

Note to readers: Please don’t rely on the TV series “Mythbusters”. I’m sure that many of their conclusions are valid. However, as scientists, those guys are … show-biz special effects designers.

tyr August 7, 2015 3:50 PM


Oakland California fourth of July
Man killed himself with a 45 automatic by firing
straight up. This was reported on TV news at the
time. The slug mass is what makes this dangerous
and big caliber handguns aren’t safe to be under.

Most objects falling from a height are not safe.

Today has some weird TV. RT had Kevin Mitnick on
at noon. Then Bruce was on at 2PM. I expect to
see Clive there this evening. : ^ ).

Johann August 7, 2015 4:55 PM

So it looks like there’s another way to get rid of drones hovering near your property…

…no “shooting” needed…I mean no shooting with bullets needed…so this should be legal(?) even in Kentucky…

South Korea study proves sound waves can disable drones

In 20 trials, scientists were able to incapacitate 50% of drones using concentrated sound waves. Most drones use gyroscopes to maintain level flight and orientation. By blasting said gyroscopes with high-frequency sound waves, Korean scientists were able to disable the flying drones and bring them crashing to the ground.

Clive Robinson August 7, 2015 4:58 PM

@ tyr,

Then Bruce was on at 2PM. I expect to see Clive there this evening. : ^ )

Would you know what I look like or what my stage name is?

After all “Clive Robinson” is not a catchy name “Robin Cliveson” sounds better but “C NoEvilNobSir” is definitely out 😉

Steve August 7, 2015 6:38 PM

I saw Shooting Down Drones open for Badly Drawn Boy at the Largo in LA a couple of years ago.

QnJ1Y2U August 9, 2015 1:15 AM


Note to readers: Please don’t rely on the TV series “Mythbusters”. I’m sure that many of their conclusions are valid. However, as scientists, those guys are … show-biz special effects designers.

Dang – you had a great set of points, but marred it by throwing in this bit of ad hominem.

Of course the Mythbusters are scientists. They state a hypothesis, they design and perform experiments around that hypothesis, and they derive their results from those experiments. Then they publish the results, along with much of their methodology and data, and even invite and respond to peer review.

Where things go wrong is when they and others extrapolate from what was actually demonstrated to something else. And in this, they have a lot in common with other scientists, although the Mythbusters encourage it a bit by boiling the results down to a single word, e.g. ‘busted’.

The ‘bullets fired straight up’ episode was a special case, btw – they concluded it was all of their statuses: busted, plausible, and confirmed, with conditions for each case.

Anyway, the Mythbusters are way, way more reliable source than most of us pseudonymous internet commenters.

… it is possible for the tumbling to lead to a point-down orientation for the bullet, in which case it could return to stability and achieve its maximum terminal velocity.

The point-down orientation would be a very unstable equilibrium. I think it’s extremely unlikely that anything not designed like a flechette could maintain that equilibrium for any significant length of time. But, unlike the Mythbusters, I don’t have any empirical data to back my assertion – it’s just a guess.


Oakland California fourth of July …

I can’t find anything on this. Do you have a reference? (Although, as MarkH noted, bullets fired directly up are a pretty insignificant part of the shooting drones discussion).

MarkH August 9, 2015 4:08 AM


Are those entertainment industry special-effects guys more reliable than anonymous internet commenters? Sure! Are they amateur scientists? You bet!

Are they anything like professional scientists? Assessing that requires more knowledge of scientific research than the average anonymous internet commenter probably has. Hint: it’s very, very easy to make mistakes in experimental design that lead to invalid conclusions. Career scientists spend a lot of their time in efforts to guard against such errors.

A propos of my hypothesis of point-down stabilization:

You have it correctly, the hypothesis wouldn’t apply to small-arms rounds, which in general are aerodynamically unstable. It would be possible to make a stable bullet, but as far as I’m aware these aren’t on the market.

Clive Robinson August 9, 2015 9:05 AM

@ Mark H, QnJ1Y2U,

You have it correctly, the hypothesis wouldn’t apply to small- arms rounds, which in general are aerodynamically unstable. It would be possible to make a stable bullet, but as far as I’m aware these aren’t on the market.

Most “aerodynamic” objects are unstable, wings and prop blades would tumble and not provide lift unless securely mounted to have the right angle of attack.

Bullet rounds as we know them are held stable in flight because they spin like gyroscopes.

Thus it’s possible to make a round with it’s center of gravity towards the back of the bullet and make the nose aerodynamic and make it “keep the nose into the wind” reducing the displacment force of pushing the air asside.

For other reasons the back of some rounds are “boat tailed” this is to reduce the vortex vacuum sucking at the round with a backwards force significantly reducing it’s stable flight duration and distance.

To make a round that remains stable in flight untill all kinetic energy is expended requires the center of gravity to be atleast in the first third of the round. You can do this in a number of ways. The early “mini round” was in effect a ball with a skirt, the original design for the skirt was to provide a tighter seal between the round and the gun barrel which would originaly have been unrifled. Thus a “hollow tail” round will remain much more stable, as will a round made of very different densities of material with a high density material forming the nose and the low density the tail. Such rounds do exist as does a heavy nose flechet which can have six or seven times the range of an equivalent sized conventional ball round fired by the same charge from the same weapon.

The reason flechets are not normally heavy nose is so they tumble on hitting their target rather than passing through, likewise with many rounds that are designed to deform on impact, thus maximum energy transfere and disruptive shock wave in the target.

One of the unintended consequences of the ban by military convention of “Dum-Dum” rounds, is that small caliber high velocity rounds will pass through a target and carry on for quite some distance, often in an unpredictable path. There have been reports of unoficial combatants firing from within crowds of non combatants, and being shot by military forces, where the round has gone fairly cleanly through the unofficial combatant who has been able to survive and get away, whilst two or more non combatants have been injured or killed. It’s one of the reasons hollow point rounds are prefered by Law Enforcment for their “stopping power”, a point that was not lost on Samuel Colt when he designed his revolver.

Oh one thing to remember it’s generally not the direct force of the impact –in foot pounds– that does the significant damage to the target, but the inertial velocity and the shockwave it produces. The cone of force does way more significant damage to the flesh and organs of a person than you would expect. There used to be a report up on the web that used pig corpses to show the effects of various types of round at various velocities, it appears to nolonger be available, though you can find links in academic papers cited in PubMed, if you want to track it down.

MarkH August 9, 2015 10:34 PM

Clive’s category of “‘aerodynamic’ objects” is rather eccentric, but we expect no less 🙂

If we restrict aerodynamic objects to gadgets meant to fly through the air, then many classes of such objects (transport airplanes, arrows, missiles, the space shuttle etc etc) exhibit quite a significant degree of aerodynamic stability.

If you rip a piece off of such a vehicle (such as Clive’s airplane wing), that piece is very likely to be unstable.

Rather more than 50 years ago, engineers who make ejection seats for military aircraft applied quite a lot of time and money to the development of seats that could eject an aircrew member at supersonic speeds without necessarily killing the poor bastard. Eventually they came to the conclusion that if the plane is broken badly enough that ejection is necessary, its airspeed is almost guaranteed to be subsonic within a few seconds, even if it was supersonic when the plane broke. The quest for supersonic ejection seats was abandoned.

Flying gadgets function most efficiently, when all of the bits are properly stuck together.

fajensen August 10, 2015 7:47 AM

Does this drone menace mean that I can now get a permit for that old (but lovingly restored) FLAK 34 I inherited from granddad – or do I have to move to Texas first?

MarkH August 10, 2015 9:12 PM


If I understand correctly prevailing attitudes in Texas, you shouldn’t even need a permit there.

But perhaps when you take your AA artillery piece out for a stroll, you will be required to “open carry” 🙂

Fascist Nation August 12, 2015 11:47 PM

You cannot legally shoot someone peering through your window in most states (Texas an exception). Shooting a drone (which admittedly is a thing and not a person) would likely not be protected unless one feared for one’s life. Discharging a firearm is frowned upon within a mile or so of people. Claiming the drone might have been wired with C4 might work.

Jim OReilly August 13, 2015 9:31 PM

So, according to “stand your ground” laws, I CAN shoot unauthorized people on my property, but if some jerk is floating a drone over my property, I CAN’T shoot that?
Thanks, Mitt
“Drones are people too”

MarkH August 13, 2015 9:47 PM

@Jim OReilly:

Your point is well taken.

Surely “Fascist Nation” (TM) errs in assuming that laws restricting deadly violence against persons, apply to attacks on drones.

I think a good case can be made — setting to one side the issue of hazards to safety that might result from actions against drones — that causing the crash of a drone at low altitude over one’s own property, deserves that same legal status as confiscation of items that are placed on one’s real property without permission.

Despite the charges brought against the “drone killer” whose story is a subject of Bruce’s post, the legal questions in this area are only now being asked, and are very far from being settled.

Many non-rural areas of the US have a general prohibition against discharge of firearms. Had Merideth attacked the drone with a slingshot, and its wreckage come down on his land, then his legal situation would perhaps be quite different.

Drone confiscation creates a situation in which the drone trespasser must either identify and declare himself, or silently accept the loss of the drone.

JimBob August 13, 2015 11:00 PM

@Jim OReilly

yea and in the future if some jerk is floating ON a drone over your property, you probably cannot legally shoot him

Clive Robinson August 14, 2015 2:12 AM

@ MarkH,

Despite the charges brought against the “drone killer” whose story is a subject of Bruce’s post, the legal questions in this area are only now being asked, and are very far from being settled.

However there is case law covering an intermdiate step.

Consider the cases of trespassers in vehicles where the owner / tennant of the property feels their life is threatened by the use of the vehicle.

In my mind there is little doubt that a drone sufficient to carry a 1Kg load is on it’s own a significant threat to life if flown at the face, head or neck of a person.

There is also the question of theft or other criminal activity. If a person gains unauthorised entry to your property to an area that would not be reasonably visable to an unassisted person from off the proprty, it’s fairly clear that the owner / tennant has not put that area or it’s contents on public display. Thus taking photos is at the very least a civil tort, but if the intent of the person taking the photos is to sell them for gain, then it is crossing the line between a civil tort and a criminal activity. Generaly it is not considerd that a person needs to know beyond doubt that a crime is being committed only that they have reasonable suspicion that a crime has taken place.

In his statment the owner mentiones his teenage daughters were out in the garden, it’s a fair presumption that they were out their “sunning themselves”, thus the question as to their state of dress in what they would consider a private area. Now he does not state their age but it may well be the case that one or more of his daughters was legally a minor. Thus you would have to ask if the photographs qualified as those prohibited under law for the protection of minors.

Thus it’s quite likely the operator of the drone was commiting a criminal offense whilst trespassing and in possession of a lethal weapon.

Now I don’t know what the actual state and federal rules are in place where this occured but I gather that the penalties for committing a serious crime whilst armed with a lethal weapon can be quite severe.

Thus if that not unreasonable view is taken, then the drone operator could be looking at a quite unpleasent future, or lack there of.

Ron Ruble August 31, 2015 11:34 AM

@Pat – I don’t believe you’re quite correct about the definition of trespassing for this purpose being that your life is threatened. According to my reading, it could be Life, Injury or Unlawful Contact (such as sexual contact), an that you could only defend yourself by force, and that the force be not more than needed to defend yourself.
Admittedly, in this case, the homeowner used destructive force, but it was not against a human, but a machine of (to him) unknown ability.
It might well be found legal, I think.

Moose November 28, 2015 10:59 AM

I have cattle and other livestock that would be frightened and possibly injure themselves. The chickens would percieve the drone as a bird of prey and would very likely injure themselves or suffer psychosis as a result of a drone encounter. I recommend a long barrelled ten gauge shotgun with magnum goose loads. Although at my place I could use a rifle. No one else lives nearby.

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