Utah Bill Would Let Police Shoot Down Drones

Debating public safety rules about neutralizing rogue craft

Johnny Dronehunter
A still from "Johnny Dronehunter," an ad for shotgun silencer maker SilencerCo. In the ad, the protagonist shoots down a bunch of drones with a shotgun like so many clay pigeons.SilencerCo

Are guns the answer to drones? This is both a technical and a legal question. It is possible, with great effort (and machine guns) to shoot down small drones, but it's not something people can legally do. In 2013, the Colorado town of Deer Trail debated the sale of drone hunting permits, before deciding against it. In Utah, state representative David E. Lifferth has now proposed a bill that would let law enforcement shoot down drones if they interfere with emergency response.

Lifferth's HB 420 is titled Unmanned Vehicle Amendments, and it wants to give public safety officials the authority to disable or destroy drones that get in the way of emergency response. As written, the authority is pretty narrow, with "acute emergency" defined as "a fire, a flood, extreme weather, a missing person situation, or a natural or man-made disaster that is expected to present an imminent threat to life or property, or to public health, safety, or welfare for more than 24 hours," and "neutralize" spelled out as forcing termination by disabling or destroying the drone, interfering with it, or taking it over. This is broadly written, so counter-drones with nets, net guns, jamming tools, and maybe even eagles would count. As well as guns.

I feel that "this applies to guns" is a pretty big point. Guns will, more times than not, be the means on hand for police to knock a drone out of the sky. If guns become the standard anti-drone tool, then it'll be less likely for police to invest in non-gun anti-drone options. Like these net guns.

Lifferth's bill specifies though, that drones have to be neutralized "in the most safe and practicable manner available; and (b) in a manner that causes as little damage or destruction as possible, in light of the circumstances, to the unmanned vehicle and other property." So shooting them with actual bullets is an avenue of last resort. This is also, despite headlines, the case in a similar drone regulating bill from Utah State Senator Wayne A. Harper.