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The inanity of drone-hunting licenses
A tiny Colorado town is considering letting residents hunt federal drones, with shotguns, for a $25 fee
 
Ian McColl hunts grouse in Scotland in 2008. Next up, drones in Colorado?
Ian McColl hunts grouse in Scotland in 2008. Next up, drones in Colorado? Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Maybe you hate drones. Really, really hate the idea that unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles might be flying over your town, watching you. You're not alone, and you probably have some reason to be concerned: Last year, Congress ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to open up more domestic airspace for drone use by 2015, and drone manufactures are predicting flush days ahead.

There are a few things you can do about this. First, you could (and probably should) write your congressional representatives to voice your concerns. You can write the president and the FAA, too. Or give money to the ACLU, or Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Another option is to invest in some anti-drone clothing to make you invisible to thermal aerial cameras. You could learn from al Qaeda's hard-won knowledge about how to avoid drones.

You could also, as Phillip Steel has, propose that your town approve a drone-hunting license, sweetened with a $100 bounty if you can produce "identifiable parts of an unmanned aerial vehicle whose markings and configuration are consistent with those used on any similar craft known to be owned or operated by the United States federal government." Steel's town, Deer Trail, Colo. (pop. 600), may approve that proposal in August.

The Deer Trail trustees like the idea because it could be a financial windfall: The annual $25 license is expected to sell well, and since there are no drones flying over the town, it's free money. Then there's the publicity. Deer Trail could use its "novelty" ordinance to draw in libertarian-leaning tourists, "possibly hunting drones in a skeet, fun-filled festival," says town clerk Kim Oldfield. "We're the home of the world's first rodeo, so we could home of the world's first drone hunt."

But Steel, a 48-year-old Army vet with a master's in business administration, is serious. "We do not want drones in town," he tells Denver's ABC 7 News. The ordinance is "very symbolic," he adds, since he hasn't seen any drones yet, but "basically, I do not believe in the idea of a surveillance society, and I believe we are heading that way." Here's ABC 7's report:

This is a terrible idea. The first problem, as Mashable's Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai notes, is that "destroying or damaging government property is a felony, according to federal law," punishable by a fine and up to 10 years in federal lockup. "So residents of Deer Trail might want to think twice before shooting down a drone," he adds.

The drones are actually pretty safe from would-be drone hunters. Deer Trail's drone-hunting license only allows people to use "any shotgun, 12 gauge or smaller, having a barrel length of 18 inches or greater." As town officials readily admit, you aren't downing any drones with a 12-gauge shotgun.

A shotgun could potentially damage a crop-duster plane or other low-flying piloted aircraft, however. Steel's draft proposal tries to address that problem — "In no case shall a citizen engage an obviously manned aerial vehicle" — but that "obviously" wouldn't make me feel very safe.

Even if you think the privacy concerns outweigh the safety risks, you'd be better off offering your hunting licenses and bounty for license-plate readers, which are reportedly being used to track thousands of people, right now. (That is not an actual suggestion.) And the Deer Trail ordinance's focus on federally owned drones might make for a nice anti-Washington talking point, but it renders the already symbolic law absolutely toothless.

As Denver's Fox 31 reported last November, drones are actually quite popular in Colorado, but it isn't the federal government using them. It's local police forces, university researchers, and a growing number of other state and local organizations.

The rise of drones is a serious privacy and civil aviation issue. Shooting them out of the sky isn't a good solution, or even a compelling debate point, unless you think the symbolism alone is worth it.

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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