FAA confirms shooting at drones is a federal crime


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Lead paragraph from the Pop Sci article this week, with link at the end:


It is a federal crime to shoot down aircraft, and this week, the FAA confirmed that that includes drones. This is great news for anyone who has a drone, and for anyone who doesn’t want errant bullets falling from the sky, and it’s bad news for anyone eager to pump a quadcopter full of lead.


They need to be more precise--is the crime the act of shooting, or only if you are successful at shooting it down??  They say the latter but it I'm quite certain it's the former, regardless of success or not.  Same law that they use to file charges against people using lasers against aircraft, I believe.

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It would be great if we can get the US Attorney to file. As a retired cop, I suspect the US Attorneys will say they are too busy with drug, gangs, terrorism, etc. to bother with drones. Unless someone dies. It is an interesting legal exercise, since the FAA has chosen to insist our UAVs are aircraft and commercial UAV operators have to get an N number, it follows shooting at a commercial UAV is interfering with an air crew and destroying an "aircraft":

2. Aircraft Sabotage (18 U.S.C. 32)

Amendments to 18 U.S.C. § 32 enacted in 1984 expand United States jurisdiction over aircraft sabotage to include destruction of any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce. This statute now also makes it a Federal offense to commit an act of violence against any person on the aircraft, not simply crew members, if the act is likely to endanger the safety of the aircraft. In addition, the United States is authorized under the statute to prosecute any person who destroys a foreign civil aircraft outside of the United States if the offender is later found in the United States or, effective as of April 24, 1996, a national of the United States was aboard such aircraft (or would have been aboard if such aircraft had taken off) or a national of the United States was a perpetrator of the offense. 


Cool, can't wait for the first federal conviction.....:D

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Thanks for quoting the code. If that is the entire relevant code, then I don't see any crime for shooting at a drone if you miss. You have to cause destruction. It does explain the crime for shooting a laser at a cockpit because that would be considered violence against a person, likely to endanger the aircraft. 

Is that how you read it too?

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Yes. But criminal codes usually have preparatory offenses, such as attempt. I'm no lawyer, just a retired chief of police who also teaches criminal justice. Not familiar with the federal code but here's the Arizona criminal code on preparatory offenses:

13-1001. Attempt; classifications

A. A person commits attempt if, acting with the kind of culpability otherwise required for commission of an offense, such person:

1. Intentionally engages in conduct which would constitute an offense if the attendant circumstances were as such person believes them to be; or

2. Intentionally does or omits to do anything which, under the circumstances as such person believes them to be, is any step in a course of conduct planned to culminate in commission of an offense; or

3. Engages in conduct intended to aid another to commit an offense, although the offense is not committed or attempted by the other person, provided his conduct would establish his complicity under chapter 3 if the offense were committed or attempted by the other person.

B. It is no defense that it was impossible for the person to aid the other party's commission of the offense, provided such person could have done so had the circumstances been as he believed them to be.

If the shooter misses, s/he may very well be charged with attempted aircraft sabotage. Just my opinion.

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 4 months later...

I had something happen this morning, and found this thread to see if anyone has had this problem.

A little background for my situation:  I live in a rural area on 40 acres.  You'd think that would be good, plenty of space to fly your drone around.  But the properties here are long and fairly narrow.  So the neighbors at least two houses down on either side can see my drone even if I just go straight up and above my house.  Now, if I go down towards the back of the property, which is wide open and sloping, the neighbors have an even better view of the drone flying around.

Now some background on many of the people that live out here:  You're sort've afraid to go on anyone's property to knock on their door.  You don't know what might happen.  Now, mind you, I'm a gun person, but I'm not a nutjob like quite a few people out here are.  And I think the mentality on drones with them, is that it's one of those "spyin' machines".  And if they see one, they'll shoot it.  Period.

I have not flown over anyone's house nor even their property except maybe it's crossed the edges way down at the far ends, where you can hardly see the property or the drone(it's almost a half mile away), and there is absolutely nothing down there.

Anyway, so I go out for a quick flight, circle the house a couple of times for practice shots, then go out into the back for a little distance.  I hear shots (definitely a shotgun, like I said, I do have guns and know what they sound like) from one of the neighbors to the north.  And while there is some shooting that goes on here (you can shoot on your property here), I have never ever heard shooting from that location.  And it was only while my drone was flying.  Hmmmm...

So wanted to come on here and see if anyone had posted about the legality of such things, which I see they have.

And just letting you know of a situation where some "rural" people may give us some problems.



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