North Dakota is the first state in the US to legalize police use of drones with tasers and pepper spray

Now in North Dakota.
Now in North Dakota.
Image: AP Photo/Noah Berger
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North Dakota, known for its vast frackable oil reserves and being in a Coen brothers film once, is the first state in the US that will allow its police to fly drones equipped with tasers and other “non-lethal weapons,” The Daily Beast reported.

According to The Daily Beast, the bill, originally proposed by Republican state representative Rick Becker, was actually meant to outlaw the potential for police in the state to add weapons to drones. Amendments to the bill were then suggested by a lobbyist for the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association (NDPOA), Bruce Burkett, which allowed for weapons like tasers and bean-bag guns to be included in drones used for policing.

Mike Reitan, the president of the NDPOA, told Quartz that, originally, the bill would’ve required police to get a search warrant to fly a drone in a police operation, whereas that’s not required for something like a helicopter. ”If you’re walking down the street and you see a handgun in someone’s yard, you’re not prohibited from looking at it,” Reitan said, regarding privacy concerns. He added that the discussion to add non-lethal weaponry into the bill was based around “future developments” in drone technology. He outlined a future scenario where a SWAT team could call for a drone to be sent in that can deploy pepper spray.

As the Daily Beast points out, seemingly non-lethal weapons still have the potential to kill. According to Mic, over 500 people were killed in the US between 2001 and 2013 by stun guns. At a hearing in March, Becker said the depersonalization of someone flying a drone with any sort of weapon on board is something to be wary of. While the bill is not quite suggesting the sorts of drone missions that the US regularly carries out on targets overseas, it leaves open some ethical questions as to when someone should be able to remotely deploy something like a taser on a person. At the hearing, Becker said: “In my opinion there should be a nice, red line: Drones should not be weaponized. Period.”

The legislation also comes at a time when the commercial drone industry is at a crossroads in the US. Earlier this week, California lawmakers passed a bill to potentially outlaw the flying of drones lower than 350 feet over private property, due to privacy concerns, which runs counter to the arguments of Reitan and the North Dakotan bill. Recently, there has been a spate of apparent “near-misses” between commercial jets and drones at US airports. All the while, the industry and consumers are still waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to figure out regulations for personal drones in the public airspace. As the think-tank the Brookings Institute recently put it, it’s the “Wild West” for drones in the US right now.