This is why you don’t shoot down a drone

small white quad drone image

This is not the drone that was shot down.We expect that drone is still at the drone hospital.

Shooting down a drone that’s hovering over your property might seem like a good idea, but as a recent court case shows, it’s definitely not.

Presenting the case of Eric Joe and Brett McBay.  A few months ago, Joe took a ride out to his parents rural property to fly his homemade hexacopter drone. After about three and half minutes of flying, the drone hit the dirt, courtesy of a 12-gauge shotgun.

When he went to collect the drone, he encountered his parent’s neighbor, Brett McBay and his son. According to an interview with arstechnica, when asked if he shot the drone, McBay said, “Yeah, did we get it?”

After examining the downed drone, Joe estimated about $700 worth of damage, and asked McBay to cover the expenses. They had a pretty civil exchange of emails, which are worth a read, before things got a little heated. McBay insists in the emails that the $700 is excessive and he’ll split the cost. He notes that people “live in the country for privacy” and to let them know next time Joe is “testing surveillance equipment.”

Joe insisted on payment, claiming that the drone’s GPS showed he hadn’t left his parent’s property. The conversation went downhill after that, but not before Joe points out how dangerous it is to shoot live ammunition in the direction of a house and notes that this is the third incident where McBay has been responsible for hitting Joe’s house or property.

McBay refused to pay.

Joe took him to court.

The court ruled in Joe’s favor and McBay now has to pony up $850.

There are really two different issues at play here. One, don’t shoot live ammunition in the direction of people. That’s just a safety PSA. The real issue is a  little more complicated. McBay claims the drone was flying over his property, and as such, he had the right to shoot it down. However, the court found that McBay “acted unreasonably in having his son shoot the drone down regardless of whether it was over his property or not.”

Basically, you can’t go around willy-nilly shooting things out of the sky just because it may or may not be close to your land. Furthermore, even if the drone had been over his property–Joe’s lawyer maintains it only briefly left Joe’s parent’s property and hovered over a shared county access road–it’s not a legitimate case of using reasonable force in defense of property.

This case is bound to be one of many. It’s difficult to figure out if a drone is just flying by or up to a more nefarious purpose, and the laws regulating this activity are having difficulty keeping up with the technology’s popularity. It raises some interesting questions about airspace and trespassing and what’s acceptable behavior. For now, keep your drones over your own property, and try not to shoot your neighbors.


Henry Sapiecha

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