For years now, people who hate or fear drones have been threatening to shoot them down. Well, someone finally went and did it.
According to police in Lower Township, New Jersey, last Friday, a person there shot down his neighbor's quadcopter with his shotgun.
This is, of course, very illegal: Russell Percenti, an (alleged) real-life Johnny Dronehunter, was arrested on charges of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and criminal mischief. Federal statute suggests that anyone who "sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft" can face up to 20 years in prison.
Percenti, it seems, does not appreciate the many positive uses of drones.
Whether a drone is an aircraft or not is a matter that's up for debate (the Federal Aviation Administration would argue that it is), though it's hard to see Percenti being put away for two decades for something like this.
The Federal Aviation Administration has previously suggested that "shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane."
So, what nefarious thing was the pilot, whose name has yet to be released by the police, doing with his drone? Taking aerial pictures of a still-under-construction house that his friend was building.
"Patrolman Michael Nuscis spoke with the owner of the drone, who reported he was taking aerial photographs of his friend’s home, which is under construction," a police press release (below) says. "While doing so he heard several gunshots as he simultaneously lost control of the drone. Upon retrieving the drone, he found multiple holes in it, which look like a shotgun blast."
A public information officer with the Lower Township police told me she couldn't release any additional information to me. A Facebook message to a person I believe to be Percenti wasn't returned.
Though this is the first time that a hobbyist's drone has been shot down, several years ago, an animal rights group's drone was shot down over a South Carolina shooting club.
As insane as it sounds, many Americans believe they should have the right to shoot down a drone if it comes onto their property. According to a Reason.com poll from February of last year, 47 percent of Americans said they "should have the right to destroy" any drone that is recording them.
In fact, at an industry meeting I attended last year, Steve Ingley, executive director of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, said that drones have been so villainized that "the first person who shoots down [a drone] will be a hero."
That perception has probably changed in the last year and a half, with the positive uses of drones coming more to the forefront and fear of them receding a bit. Thankfully, a measure that would have made drone hunting legal in a Colorado town was voted down.
I'm trying to learn more about this incident, and will update as we hear more. It wouldn't be the first act of violence against a drone pilot.