Updated 7/22/15: The FAA launched an investigation into whether any Federal Aviation Regulations were broken by the handgun-wielding drone.
The Federal Aviation Administration just announced it plans to launch an investigation into Austin Haughwout’s handgun drone, saying it intends to determine if the craft breaks any air safety laws or violates Federal Aviation Regulations. Jim Peters, a spokesperson for the FAA, added it will also work with local law enforcement authorities in Connecticut to verify whether or not Haughwout broke any criminal laws.
Haughwout’s father Brett maintains his son — an engineering student at Central Connecticut State University — simply custom-built a drone armed with the capability of firing a gun mid-flight and broke no laws in the process. His father also confirmed the video was shot on his property in Clinton, Connecticut, and that Austin and himself did a sizable amount of research to assure they weren’t in violation of regulations. A city of Clinton police sergeant named Jeremiah Dunn commented on the story saying if the gun is “being discharged in an area where it could legally be discharged, right now there’s no legislation prohibiting it.”
We’ll update this post again as soon as the FAA’s investigation concludes.
Original post: A teenager from Connecticut just took America’s infatuation with drones to an entirely new level — but the thing is, it isn’t exactly legal. In a recently posted video on YouTube, 18-year-old Austin Haughwout displays what appears to be a quadcopter-like drone outfitted with a semiautomatic handgun. Unlike some drone videos posted to YouTube in the past, this doesn’t look to be the work of some fancy effects either. Talk about the best way to scare the absolute hell out of your neighbors.
During the 15-second video, Haughwout shows off the quadcopter’s ability to fire the handgun while hovering, setting off a round of ammunition every three seconds. Because of the handgun’s kickback, the quadcopter flies back a few feet after each shot before re-stabilizing itself and firing again. While this is certainly a unique way to tinker with a drone, Haughwout may find himself in hot water with the law should the Federal Aviation Authority deem him the actual perpetrator in the video. However, with little to no precedent setting the foundation for a quick ruling, the debate over the legality of Haughwout’s drone figures to be a convoluted — and incredibly lengthy — conversation.
The issue of weaponized personal aircrafts came up during a 2013 industry meeting, with federal drone regulator Jim Williams saying the FAA prohibits people from attaching weapons on civil aircrafts. However, standing between Williams and his assertion serving as federal law is none other than the Second Amendment which grants people the right to bear arms. Though the Supreme Court never ruled directly on a case involving citizens arming drones, its interpretation of the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller comes incredibly close.
In the case, the Supreme Court ruled against Washington D.C.’s handgun ban saying the Second Amendment allows people to “possess a firearm unconnected with service in the militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” The Court also goes on to note the Second Amendment’s protection only extends to weapons which are “in common use.”
In 2013, U.S. District Court clerk Dan Terzian interpreted those quotes as potentially including drones in the near future considering advancements in technology regarding the devices. Terzian also notes that the Supreme Court may simply ban drones altogether before becoming entirely common, though with the recent influx in drone popularity the last several years, this seems a highly implausible outcome.
It seems the only thing holding the authorities back from slapping cuffs on Haughwout might be a 2008 interpretation of the Second Amendment, regardless of how much weight breaking an FAA law carries. One thing is absolutely certain however, no matter how much fun it is to mess around with drones, strapping a semiautomatic handgun to these crafts is a bit terrifying. Why can’t people just stick to making Star Wars-themed drones?
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