Shooting down drones in the US will cost you, rules court

Coming for you.
Coming for you.
Image: Reuters/Beawiharta
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Drones tend to trigger very visceral emotions in the US—as well as, apparently, a few shotgun blasts. Ars Technica reported that a man in Modesto, California shot a neighbor’s son’s drone out of the sky, because he thought it was a CIA surveillance drone.

Brett McBay, who Ars Technica reported was running for his town’s school board on a platform of “civic responsibility” and “moral character,” (his website has since been taken down, McBay tells Quartz, because he’s no longer running), shot down Eric Joe’s homemade drone with one shot from a shotgun. Joe, who says he was home visiting his family, told Ars Technica that his drone had been in the air for three minutes before it was shot down. Joe says he confronted McBay after the shooting, but waited to discuss damages over email, when there was no longer a shotgun in front of him. He shared his email correspondence with Ars Technica, and Quartz has pulled out some of the choicest parts of the discussion:

Joe told McBay about the costs of the parts he had damaged, totaling about $700, and adding:

It was nice to meet you and your son. I wish it could have been under different circumstances, but I have to give credit to the McBay school of marksmanship. Still, I’m pretty bummed that I just built this hexacopter only to have it shot down.

McBay answered, from his iPhone:

With all do [sic] respect $700 dollars seems excessive. Perhaps in SF it’s normal for folks to have drones hovering over their property but we live in the country for privacy. I will be willing to split the cost with you but next time let us know your testing surveillance equipment in our area. I’ll drop a check of [sic] this afternoon.

Joe responded, saying his drone’s GPS positioned the device on his parents’ property:

I also dispute your characterization that I was “testing surveillance equipment.” There was no camera on the hexacopter, and had a camera been mounted, the price for repairs would have been an extra $300.

Just as you asked me to give the courtesy of notifying you of my flying activities, I also ask you the courtesy of not shooting live ammunition in our direction.

Three minutes later, McBay answered:

Your facts are incorrect, I’m considering the matter now closed.

McBay was ordered last month by a small claims court in his county to pay the $700 Joe asked for, as well as an additional $150. McBay told Quartz via email that he has paid the fine, although he didn’t agree with the judge’s ruling. When asked if he shot down Joe’s drone, he said:

I did indeed shoot it down. I believed it was taking pictures of my three kids as it hovered over my backyard while they were playing. I have paid the judgment even though I disagreed with the judges ruling. What other purpose does a civilian drones have other than to be used by pedophiles and snoops.

This isn’t the first time a drone has been shot out of the sky. There are hundreds of videos of trigger-happy filmographers blasting drones on YouTube, and the tech site The Verge actually filmed DJ Deadmau5 shooting one out of the sky earlier this year, for some reason. A man in Colorado even drafted an ordinance to shoot down drones in his town (which did not pass).

Ill will toward drones in the US has to do with the security fears conjured by large lethal drones seen in movies and the news, which anonymously attacking targets overseas. It also stems from privacy concerns related to smaller consumer drones that give anyone with a few spare hundred dollars a remote-controlled camera. But in Joe’s case, he says his homemade drone was on his family’s property, and didn’t have a camera onboard, so shooting it out of the sky probably wasn’t a necessary course of action.