People who fire guns at drones are endangering the public and property and could be prosecuted or fined, the Federal Aviation Administration warned Friday.
The FAA released a statement in response to questions about an ordinance under consideration in the tiny farming community of Deer Trail, Colo., that would encourage hunters to shoot down drones. The administration reminded the public that it regulates the nation's airspace, including the airspace over cities and towns.
A drone "hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air," the statement said. "Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane."
Under the proposed ordinance, Deer Trail would grant hunting permits to shoot drones. The permits would cost $25 each. The town would also encourage drone hunting by awarding $100 to anyone who presents a valid hunting license and identifiable pieces of a drone that has been shot down.
Deer Trail resident Phillip Steel, 48, author of the proposal, said in an interview that he has 28 signatures on a petition — roughly 10 percent of the town's registered voters. Under Colorado law, that requires local officials to formally consider the proposal at a meeting next month, he said. Town officials would then have the option of adopting the ordinance or putting it on the ballot in an election this fall, he said.
The proposed ordinance is mostly a symbolic protest against small, civilian drones that are coming into use in the United States, Steel said. He acknowledged that it's unlikely there are any drones in use near Deer Trail.
"I don't want to live in a surveillance society. I don't feel like being in a virtual prison," Steel said. "This is a pre-emptive strike."
He dismissed the FAA's warning. "The FAA doesn't have the power to make a law," he said.
The FAA is working on regulations to safely integrate drones into the skies over the U.S., where manned aircraft are prevalent. The Congress gave the FAA until 2015 to develop the regulations, but the agency is behind schedule. FAA officials have estimated that once regulations are in place, thousands of drones will be in use across the country for a wide variety of purposes, from helping farmers figure out which crops need watering to tracking sea lions in remote rocky outcroppings to aiding search and rescue missions.
But the Deer Trail proposal is the latest ripple in a spreading backlash against drones. Dozens of laws aimed at curbing the use of the unmanned aircraft have been introduced in states and cities. Privacy advocates have expressed fear that police will use drones to cheaply and effectively conduct widespread surveillance without warrants.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone industry trade group, was concerned enough last year about people threatening to shoot downdrones that it issued a statement warning that such comments were "irresponsible, dangerous and unlawful."
Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the group, expressed similar concerns Friday, saying drones "are being designed to serve the public good....The myriad of important uses will be imperiled if they become targets. ... The suggestion that Americans take up arms against unmanned aircraft also endangers citizens on the ground."
Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy