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The Muddy Legality of Shooting a Drone Out of the Sky

Can you legally murder a drone?

A drone similar to the one shot down.
A drone similar to the one shot down. Tim Hoggarth/CC BY-SA 2.0

High school basketball coach Brad Jones was flying his drone on Easter Sunday when suddenly he heard a gunshot, according to Ars Technica. Moments later, Jones’ drone began falling out of the sky.

Jones often flew his drone above the land surrounding his home, but this was the first time it had been shot at. When Jones recovered the drone, he found that one of the rotors had a bullet hole in it.

It’s unclear who shot down the drone, although Jones suspected a neighbor. But that neighbor denied shooting the drone to authorities, and, as Ars Technica notes, the laws surrounding personal drones and airspace are considerably muddy, meaning that it’s unclear the extent to which shooting a drone is a crime at all.

“The short answer,” as Ars Technica writes, “is that American courts have not addressed the question adequately.”

All of which, for now, doesn’t help Jones, who’s stuck with a broken, shot-up drone he hasn’t even tried to fly again.

“It didn’t hit the ground as hard as it could have,” Jones told Ars Technica. “When it hit, it broke the left landing gear arm, snapped the molding off the Inspire. But it was still running. Didn’t damage batteries, rotors were intact. Everything was fine, except the left rear motor with a bullet hole in it.”