Deer Trail, a small Colorado town, is considering a measure that would allow its residents to hunt for federal drones and shoot them down.
“Is it illegal? Of course it is. But it’s also illegal to spy on American citizens,” resident Phillip Steel told CNN in a phone interview. “If they fly in town, we will shoot them down.”
Steel said he wrote the ordinance after he learned the Federal Aviation Administration “loosened regulations that would allow the flight of drones in domestic airspace.”
The FAA recently announced plans to create six drone test sites around the country, none of which has been publicly listed. It plans to allow widespread use of domestic drones in 2015. “The overall purpose of this test site program is to develop a body of data and operational experiences to inform integration and the safe operation of these aircraft in the National Airspace System,” the agency said.
Drones are cheaper to operate than helicopters. They can be used for multiple tasks, such as monitoring crops and livestock and assessing building damage.
Deer Trail, which bills itself as the “Home of the World’s First Rodeo,” has 584 residents and is 50 miles outside Aurora. The entire town takes up less than one square mile. Any resident can petition for a citizens’ initiative and then draft an ordinance.
Bounties and shotguns
The Town Board of Trustees will vote on the drone ordinance on August 6. If passed, it would legalize the sale of drone hunting licenses for $25 and offer bounties for captured drones. Six trustees and the mayor make up the board. It would take a simple majority vote to pass the ordinance.
“It is very symbolic … it’s asserting our right and drawing a line in the sand,” Steel said. “It declares sovereignty of the airspace.”
The ordinance doesn’t aim to stop airliner flights, he said. It outlines the rules of engagement for drone hunters and the types of ammunition allowed. Bounty amounts from $25 to $100, and weapons are limited to 12-gauge shotguns.
It states that “no background investigation shall be performed” on those seeking a drone hunting license. Additionally, the licenses would be “issued on an anonymous basis.”
“Unmanned aerial vehicles may be engaged at a vertical distance of one thousand feet or less,” and the “licenses shall only remain valid within the geographic boundaries of the Town of Deer Trail, Colorado,” according to the ordinance.
Federal legislation (18 USC 1361) prohibits stealing or damaging federal government property and establishes provisions for fines and imprisonment.
The illegality of the actions within the ordinance doesn’t scare Steel.
“I took an oath when I joined the military to protect the U.S. Constitution. That oath did not end when I left,” he said.
When asked if he had ever seen a drone in Deer Trail, Steel said, “In real life, no. I hope I never see a drone in Deer Trail. … This ordinance is a statement against the coming surveillance society. It’s a very clear statement against that.”
“In all practicality, nobody is going to shoot down any drones any time soon,” he added.
‘Our mark on the map’
Town Clerk Kim Oldfield says she believes the ordinance could benefit the town.
“This could actually be something to help fund a community center or build us some roads. We need to find our mark on the map,” Oldfield said. “The novelty of being allowed to buy a drone-hunting license could turn into a fun thing.”
Board of Trustees member David Boyd said the ordinance has a good chance of passing.
“I think it’s important. I know Phil Steel also wants to make a statement about drones. … Mostly for us, the outcome we want will be to have some fun and make some money,” Boyd said.
Deer Trail Mayor Frank Fields says he agrees with Boyd. He said the purpose of the ordinance would be “to have fun and bring in business, tourism and activities for people in town.”
Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers said state residents have a sense of humor. He responded to the idea of the ordinance by saying, “A resolution by the town of Deer Trail to allow the hunting of drones is made in the same spirit as the proposal of some rural Coloradans to create a separate state. And both ideas have the same chance to legally succeed: none.”