Last summer, Connecticut-area hobbyist Austin Haughwout made headlines after publishing footage of a handgun-toting drone to his public YouTube channel. Unsurprisingly, the video caused quite a stir, garnering the attention of the FAA, who’s since investigated the drone to see if it broke any air safety laws — an investigation that has not yet concluded. In what can only be described as a response to the inherent controversy, members of the Connecticut legislature recently introduced not one, but two bills geared towards not only making weaponized drones like Haughwout’s illegal, but worthy of a felony.
Raised Bills No. 148 and No. 5274 currently sit in front of two different committees, the Committee on Program Review and Investigations and the Committee on Public Safety and Security. Though each contains varied wording concerning the sheer use of drones, both possess one crucial paragraph:
“Except as otherwise provided by law, no person shall operate or use any computer software or other technology, including, but not limited to, an unmanned aerial vehicle… that allows a person, when not physically present, to release tear gas or any like or similar deleterious agent or to remotely control a deadly weapon… or an explosive or incendiary device.”
Each bill then goes on to state that “any person who violates subsection (a) of this section shall be guilty of a class C felony.” So essentially, anyone strapping tear gas, handguns, or a flamethrower (who could forget Haughwout’s turkey-roasting drone?) to a quadcopter with the tech necessary to release or fire it, is subject to a felony. However, even if the bills pass, the question of legality surrounding Haughwout’s tinkered drones remains.
To some (including Sgt. Jeremiah Dunn of Haughwout’s hometown police force), his actions don’t violate any existing law as he appeared to fire a legal gun at a legal location. As for the flamethrower? There actually aren’t any currently existing laws that regulate the sale or use of such devices, so Haughwout’s flamecopter is absolutely legal. How law enforcement in Connecticut plans on interpreting the new laws (should they pass) remains to be seen, though the exact text could lead many to believe the legislature wants felonies for anyone using their drone in an Haughwout-style way — even if it’s on private property.
It’s unknown when exactly the committees plan on ruling on the proposed laws, however, testimony has occurred all week both for, and against each bill.