US

Oklahoma lawmaker wants to protect people who destroy drones flying on their property

A remote controlled DJI Phantom drone with attached GoPro 3 camera.

A remote controlled DJI Phantom drone with attached GoPro 3 camera.  (AP)

Trespassing drones are becoming such a problem, says one Oklahoma lawmaker, that he wants people to be able to shoot them down without facing civil liability.

State Sen. Ralph Shortey, a Republican who represents the Oklahoma City area, authored a bill that exempts people from lawsuits if they damage drones that veer onto their property, according to multiple reports.

The lawmaker’s measure unanimously passed out of the state Senate Judiciary Committee in late February and is headed for a full vote in the upper chamber sometime this month, according to ABC-TV affiliate KTUL.com

The measure applies to drones that are not under Federal Aviation Administration regulation.

“There (are) privacy issues that have not been addressed by any of the FAA regulations or state law,” Shortey was quoted by KTUL as saying.

"It doesn't matter how you damage that thing," Shortey said. "As a private citizen, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy above your property where the public does not have access and that is under 400 feet."

Shortey cited an incident in 2015 when a drone was shot down during a pigeon shoot being held to raise money for Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, an animal protection advocacy group, was filming video of the event on private property.

Shortey said the measure doesn't mention how the drone should be taken down, whether it is with a gun, a net or another device. He also said the measure doesn't exonerate a person participating in a criminal activity, such as discharging a weapon where it's prohibited except for self-defense.

Stephen McKeever serves as chairman of the state governor's Unmanned Aerial Systems Council, which opposes the legislation. He said drones are classified as aircraft and that it's against federal law to shoot down an aircraft.

"So, the bill opens itself up to the state preemption of federal law," McKeever said.

He also argued that the bill encourages the discharge of a weapon within a residential area, which is against state law.

The bill is opposed by drone operators, who fear that it could lead to someone getting hurt if a person aiming for a drone shoots and injures – or kills – a bystander.

“A bill that gives them the ability to do something like that, more people are going to feel like they can,” Jake Nicks, owner of Outdoor Creations OK, said. Nicks, who has an FAA certification and operates his drone every day in demonstrations for customers, told KTUL that he is afraid that he or his customers could be hurt one day.

“If somebody is shooting at the drone, we could be hit. It’s just not smart at all,” said Nicks.

Arstechnica.com asked the FAA to comment on the Oklahoma bill, but it declined. It did reiterate some points, however.

"A private citizen shooting at any aircraft – including unmanned aircraft – poses a significant safety hazard," the agency told Arstechnica.com. "An unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air. Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in a civil penalty from the FAA and/or criminal charges filed by federal, state or local law enforcement."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.