Drone owners in Oklahoma may soon be forced to keep their unmanned aerial vehicles on a short lease or risk losing them to rifle-wielding homeowners. A new bill, sponsored by Oklahoma state Senator Ralph Shortey, makes it easier for a homeowner to shoot down or otherwise immobilize a drone that is flying over their private property.
As it is written, Oklahoma Senate Bill 660, removes any civil liability for a property owner who damages or destroys a drone that is flying in the airspace above their premises. The bill states, “Any person owning or controlling real estate or other premises who voluntarily damages or destroys a drone located on the real estate or premises or within the airspace of the real estate or premises not otherwise regulated by the Federal Aviation shall, together with any successors in interest, if any, not be civilly liable for causing the damage or destruction to the property of such person.”
The bill was a response to skirmishes between homeowners and drones. In particular, Bill sponsor Senator Shortey points to a 2015 incident in which a drone that was being flown by an animal protection group was shot down over a pigeon shoot fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma. When defending his bill, Shortey points to the thorny issue of privacy in a statement provided to the Tulsa World newspaper. “As a private citizen, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your property where the public does not have access, and that is under 400 feet.”
The bill has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with an 11-0 vote but has not been debated on the floor of either the House or the Senate. The bill is expected to be taken up by the full Senate in the coming weeks. Even if it passes through the state legislature and becomes law, it may not stand for very long, argues Stephen McKeever, the chairman of Oklahoma’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Council, which opposes the measure.
According to McKeever , the bill may run afoul of FAA regulations that make it illegal to shoot down an aircraft. Though the term “aircraft” conjures up images of Cessna and Lear jets, the FAA considers a drone to be a form of aircraft and blankets these UAVs with the same protections provided to conventional aircraft. The Oklahoma bill also allows a homeowner to shoot down a drone flying at any altitude, which runs afoul of the FAA’s statement that any airspace from the ground up is regulated by the FAA and not under the control of individual states.
And on a more practical level, shooting a drone out of the sky is dangerous and will land someone in hot water as the discharge of any weapon within a residential area is legally restricted in Oklahoma and most other U.S. states.