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What Happens If You Shoot Down a Drone?

9 mins
Drone Blog
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Here on Droneblog, we’re obviously big fans of drones. Yet we recognize that drone laws exist for a reason and that not everyone shares the same enthusiasm for drones. Perhaps you’re annoyed at a drone lingering on your private property.

If you shot it down, what would happen?

Shooting at a drone is a federal crime, even if it’s on your own property, per Title 18 US Code 32 of the 1984 Aircraft Sabotage Act. The punishment is several years in prison. You also shouldn’t jam a drone’s signal, as that’s a violation of the Communications Act of 1934.

In this in-depth guide, we’ll explain the punishment for shooting down a drone (as well as jamming one) and explain how you should handle the situation of an unwanted UAV on your property.

You won’t want to miss it!

This is what happens when you shoot down a drone #

Perhaps you have a shotgun handy or something less threatening like a BB gun. You’re a pretty good aim, and you know that if you got one shot, you could take down the drone that’s lingering on your property.

Although it’s tempting, especially if an invasion of your privacy has been an ongoing issue for a while, you should not shoot down a drone.

As we touched on in the intro, drones are protected under Title 18 US Code 32 of the 1984 Aircraft Sabotage Act.

In the section entitled Destruction of Aircraft, the law explicitly states that a person cannot willfully “perform an act of violence against” an aircraft “if such act of violence or incapacitation is likely to endanger the safety of such aircraft.”

Okay, but when you think of aircraft, your mind goes to planes, not to drones.

Well, drones are aircraft too, specifically unmanned aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles. Under the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA, drones do indeed classify as aircraft and are protected under Title 18 US Code 32.

Thus, by shooting down a drone, you would be in express violation of the Aircraft Sabotage Act.

Violating this law carries with it stiff and heavy penalties. You could be jailed for as little as five years and, in some cases, up to 20 years.

The only people who can legally shoot down a drone are your local law enforcement per 2018’s Re-Authorization Act for the Federal Aviation Authority.

Even still, that’s only supposed to happen if law enforcement believes the drone is a threat.

Can you jam a drone’s signal instead? #

Yikes, that’s quite a lot of jail time. Although the drone that keeps flying on your property is annoying you to no end, you don’t want to put your own future at risk by shooting it down.

Perhaps you can jam the drone’s signal.

That would require the use of a jamming device, which would send electromagnetic noise at various radio frequencies to the drone.

The drone won’t be able to effectively operate, so it will either go back to its starting location (the home location), or it will land on the spot.

Jamming a drone doesn’t necessarily send it careening out of the sky like shooting it does, but it will solve your drone problem.

Before you start shopping for a jamming device, however, know that jamming drones in the US, as well as in other countries, is also illegal.

This is per the Federal Communications Commission or FCC’s Communications Act of 1934. Multiple sections of the act seek to prevent signal jams. Your jamming of a drone would be a federal crime, just as shooting it down would be.

Violating the Communications Act can lead to a prison sentence of at least a year or a fine of $10,000 max. You could have to go to jail and pay the fine as well.

Once again, it’s simply not worth it.

What to do if someone continually flies a drone on your personal property #

Maybe if the drone flying over your home was a one-time thing, you would have been able to live with it. Unfortunately, the drone keeps coming back.

Perhaps it’s not every single day, but it’s often enough that you’re aggravated. The drone is noisy, and its presence stresses you out in your own home.

You know that rash action is not the way to go about it. Instead, here’s how to handle the situation properly.

Know your rights #

First, we recommend looking up the drone laws in your state as well as your city, town, or neighborhood so you can determine if the drone pilot is breaking any laws.

On our blog, we’ve covered the drone laws for many states across the country, so be sure to check out those posts!

Since drone laws do vary so much from state to state, we can’t tell you what the laws are in your neck of the woods.

Most states prohibit drones from being used to invade someone’s privacy, such as taking photos or videos as a peeping tom.

Other state laws require drone pilots to obtain permission before flying over private property that they themselves do not own.

If it’s illegal for the drone pilot to do what they’re doing, then you already have a case. We would recommend saving the requisite law in full and even printing it out and keeping it handy in case you have to go to the police.

Even if the drone pilot isn’t technically doing anything illegal, that doesn’t mean you have to stand by and accept the behavior, especially if it persists.

Find out who the drone belongs to #

Now that you know your rights, the next step is to track down the drone owner.

Drone users are categorized in one of three ways. An agency drone pilot is a government employee such as a police officer or an employee of the fire department.

A commercial drone pilot uses their drone to make money. They could be real estate agents, surveyors, search and rescue team members, news photographers or videographers, and the like.

Recreational drone pilots are hobbyists who use their drones for fun.

If the drone belongs to law enforcement, then that’s going to be harder to stop the activity. There’s surely a reason why the drone keeps surveilling your property, and you can assume its presence will be temporary.

That’s not always the case for commercial or recreational drone pilots, especially if your next-door neighbor owns the drone.

Have a conversation with the drone user #

Next, it’s time to talk to the drone operator. We recommend allowing a cooler head to prevail here. Take a few deep breaths if you’re feeling annoyed.

Explain to the drone operator that they’ve been flying the drone over your property for quite a while now. Perhaps your neighbor had no idea that the property line split where it did and that they’ve been on your property all this time.

Hopefully, the conversation will go positively, and your neighbor will be apologetic. Then it’s just a matter of monitoring their behavior to see if they stick to their word of keeping the drone off your property.

Keep in mind that your neighbor is perfectly entitled to fly the drone on their own personal property as they wish as long as they’re following FAA rules. If you were hoping the drone activity would end altogether, that won’t happen.

What if the drone operator is a commercial drone pilot that you don’t know personally? They should have a Remote Pilot Certificate, which is an FAA-issued certificate, and possibly a permit as well.

If they have this documentation, then they are allowed to be where they are. There’s little you can do.

Gather evidence #

While you hope that a dispute with your neighbor over drone use would end harmoniously, that might not always happen. Your neighbor could become defensive about their drone usage, and the conversation goes nowhere.

In that case, here’s what we recommend you do. Begin filming your neighbor using their drone on your property. Make sure you get clear footage that shows the drone breaching property lines.

It’s best if you can collect footage from multiple instances of drone misuse, as this will help you build a stronger case against your neighbor.

Once you’ve collected evidence, sit on it for at least a moment.

By now, at least a few days or a few weeks have transpired since that initial conversation with your neighbor about their drone use.

Perhaps if you two talk again, you can civilly work things out.

Remember that even if you’re feeling heated at any point during the conversation, you don’t want to stoop to your neighbor’s level. Don’t start shouting, ranting, raving, and name-calling. The conversation won’t progress.

Even if you do stay as cool as a cucumber during the conversation, if your neighbor doesn’t, then you two could still be at an impasse.

They still fail to see what’s wrong with their drone usage even though you’ve clearly explained that you feel like your privacy is being violated.

If you two just can’t see eye-to-eye, then don’t keep trying to push the matter. All you’re going to do is make things worse between you and your neighbor and get even further away from a fruitful outcome.  

Contact the police #

Instead, it’s time to go to the local authorities.

You can either call the non-emergency police line or visit the police station and file a report. Be clear about how you’ve tried to settle the dispute with your neighbor several times, but you couldn’t come to a resolution.

Present your evidence as well, which shows a clear-cut timeline of your neighbor egregiously using their drone on your property on multiple occasions.

Law enforcement will look into the issue. If it turns out that your neighbor is violating any state or local drone laws, then they could face fines and even jail time.

Even if your neighbor isn’t breaking any laws, the police will likely still warn them to keep off your property with their drone.

You can even contact the FAA with your issue, but we’d recommend one or the other agency rather than both.

Conclusion #

It can feel like a huge violation of your privacy when a drone flies over your home. The drone doesn’t belong to you, and you don’t want it there.

Remember that acting irrationally, such as shooting down the drone or jamming the signal, will only come back to bite you. You could be fined thousands and thousands of dollars and possibly be put in jail for upwards of 20 years.

The best way to handle this upsetting situation is to talk to the drone owner and ask them to stop. If that doesn’t work, then you can always get the FAA or police involved. Good luck!

References:Title 18 US Code 32 (link)Re-Authorization Act for the Federal Aviation Authority (link)Jammer Enforcement | Federal Communications Commission (link)


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