The DJI Phantom 4 tracks a person.Ron Amadeo
The owner of a drone store outside Nashville told Ars on Friday that two of his customers have had their unmanned aerial vehicles shot at in recent weeks.
The incident is reminiscent of last year’s similar incident in California and another in Kentucky, which resulted in the shooter being cleared on local firearms charges.
As drones become more pervasive, it seems that drones, perceived privacy violations, and firearms are increasingly becoming a dangerous combination.
According to Byron Brock, the owner of Vivid Aerial in Whites Creek, a man named Gary Sammons was flying his new DJI Phantom 4 above his home in Rutherford County last Saturday.
“[Sammons] and his son were flying, and they were looking at their property, and they noticed an unfamiliar vehicle nearby, so he flew over the front of the property—he got lower than I would have gotten—he was at 85 feet and yet still off of his own property,” Brock told Ars.
“A gentlemen in an 18-wheeler pulled out a shotgun and shot it three times.
The drone was maimed a little, two propellers were damaged, but he was able to land it.”
Footage obtained by WKRN shows a damaged propeller.
Brock said that the shooter, who has not been publicly named, was not charged with a crime.
The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Brock also said that another customer in nearby Hendersonville had a drone shot down when it was over a neighbor’s property.
That pilot made no attempt to retrieve the drone, according to Brock.
Drones up, don’t shoot
As Ars has reported previously, legal scholars have wondered about this exact situation.
If a drone flies over private property, is it trespassing? The short answer is that American courts have not addressed the question adequately.
The best case law on the issue dates back to 1946, long before inexpensive consumer drones were technically feasible.
That year, the Supreme Court ruled in a case known as United States v.
Causby that a farmer in North Carolina could assert property rights up to 83 feet in the air.
At the time, the Supreme Court did not draw a firm limit.
As the justices concluded:
The airspace, apart from the immediate reaches above the land, is part of the public domain. We need not determine at this time what those precise limits are.
Flights over private land are not a taking, unless they are so low and so frequent as to be a direct and immediate interference with the enjoyment and use of the land. We need not speculate on that phase of the present case.
The Federal Aviation Administration reiterated to Ars that shooting at any aircraft, drone or otherwise, is unwise and illegal.
“An unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to people or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air,” Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman e-mailed Ars. “Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in a civil penalty from the FAA and/or criminal charges filed by federal, state, or local law enforcement.”
The FAA does not have any statistics concerning incidents of drone-related shootings.