A knucklehead in Connecticut has caused quite the media firestorm over his video of a semi-automatic handgun being fired from a small drone. I have received some media inquiries about whether it is legal or not. The answer is that it depends.
Based on the video, it appears that this occurred on private property, away from any buildings or people. The FAA does not seem to have a regulation that would prohibit discharging a firearm from a drone under those circumstances.
The closest thing you will find is FAR § 91.13, which prohibits the reckless operation of an aircraft (the FAA relied on this section in the Rafael Pirker case), and § 91.15, which prohibits dropping objects from an aircraft. But both regulations apply only where the activity poses a danger to life or property. That does not appear to be the case, here.
The more likely resource for determining the legality of this particular drone would be state law governing the handling and discharge of firearms. These regulations vary by state, but in general one would look to whether a firearm was discharged in a reckless manner that posed a danger to others, or in a built-up area or an area zoned for housing. You can review Florida’s law, here.
Does this presage the weaponization of private drones? I doubt it. The video seems to vindicate something I wrote back in October:
[A] small drone is unlikely to be a useful weapons platform. As anyone who has fired a gun can attest, the kickback from discharging a firearm would be just as likely to send a small drone tumbling out of the sky as it would be for the drone to hit its intended target.
The video proves the point. The operator does not have any reasonable semblance of control over the weapon, and at one point he clearly seems to be downrange of the weapon. That’s a big no-no among gun owners.
Having said that, I could foresee someone developing an “FPV drone paint-ball” war game (patent pending). Where that would fit with FAA regulations and state firearms law might be a topic for another post.