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Question of the Month ~ April 2016


Q. Have any states banned weaponized drones with legislation that restricts or regulates the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles?

When videos emerged online last year showing armed drones firing a pistol and roasting a turkey with a homemade flame thrower, legislators nationwide took notice. Now bills proposing to ban the use of armed drones are appearing in state legislatures across the country.
The most recent example is Connecticut, whence the most infamous of those videos emerged. Legislators in the Nutmeg State responded with HB 5274, which would ban equipping drones with deadly weapons, explosives, tear gas “or any like or similar deleterious agent.” Under this bill, the penalty for “weaponizing drones” would be a prison term of one to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Wisconsin is the first and, as of early April, only Midwestern state to ban weaponized drones, having enacted a law in 2014 making operation of one a felony punishable by a prison term of up to six years and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Outside the region, Nevada, North Carolina and Oregon now prohibit weaponized drones.
As of March, Kansas appeared to be the only Midwestern state considering an overt ban; HB 2397 would ban weaponized drones as part of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Regulation and Privacy Act. Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio are mulling broader approaches. Michigan’s HB 4868 doesn’t include the phrase “weaponized drone,” but would ban myriad uses of drones, including “for the purpose of committing an act that is punishable as a felony or misdemeanor under the law of this state.”
HF 3517 in Minnesota would make operating drones “in such a manner as to indicate either a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” or carrying “any explosive substance” on drones (unless permitted by federal law) misdemeanors. Ohio’s HB 228 would establish a new crime — “engaging in criminal activity through use of a drone” — and make it an unspecified felony to use a drone, or direct or supervise use of a drone by someone else, in the commission of 28 underlying offenses.
Drone-related legislation in the Midwest also addresses privacy concerns or would restrict their uses by law enforcement agencies. Some bills would ban drones from being flown near or over airports, or over state prisons. Others would ban the use of drones to interfere with legitimate hunting or fishing, or even ban their use to actually hunt or fish.
Illinois and Wisconsin would criminalize flying drones over state prisons; Illinois’ HB 4538 and SB 2344 would also make the dropping of contraband from a drone punishable by an additional year added to current felony penalties for delivering contraband. Wisconsin’s SB 497 and AB 671 would create enhanced penalty provisions for using a drone in commission of a controlled-substance-related crime.
Nebraska’s LB 720 would make the person operating a drone liable for invasion of privacy if his or her drone flies less than 200 feet above the ground level of private property without the owner’s consent “while capturing any type of visual image, sound recording, or other such physical impression.”


Article written by Jon Davis, CSG Midwest assistant editor and policy analyst. Question of the Month highlights a research inquiry received by CSG Midwest.