Why Outlawing Guns on Drones May Be Bad for Science

Sorta transcript:

Thanks to the current quick pace of technological advancement, our society is constantly trying to keep our laws relevant to the weird new things humans are constantly trying. One area that I find particularly interesting is with regards to drones. Yes, there are a lot of thorny ethical considerations about using drones in warfare, which is one of the few times that I ever agree with people who are heavily critical of Obama, but there are even more tricky nuances to how we use personal drones. They’re getting cheaper and cheaper, and at the same time they’re getting more and more fun, which means they’re also getting more and more dangerous. Should we regulate them, and if so, how? And most importantly, should the FAA be able to stop us from strapping flame throwers to our drones and using them to cook turkeys in our backyards?

That’s not a hypothetical situation, by the way: that’s an actual case that is playing out right now. A teenager in Connecticut scored two viral videos last year by strapping weaponry to a drone and filming it. In one case, it was a flame thrower. In another case, it was a legitimately terrifying handgun. I mean, the flamethrower is scary in terms of pure visual appeal, but a drone holding a handgun and firing it is some next level Terminator shit.

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, is generally in charge of anything that flies, and so they’ve subpoenaed the teen and his family to gather any and all evidence related to the drone, the weapons, and the videos they’ve made in advance of pursuing a possible court case against them. The family have hired counsel and are resisting the subpoena. Drone enthusiasts who previously hated this teen for making them look like psychopaths are now supporting him because they feel the FAA is overstepping.

For the record, I agree with them. I’m very anti-gun–I don’t think most people should even be allowed to own one, let alone strap one to a poorly controlled flying robot. But the FAA has absolutely no right to tell anyone what they can and cannot “fly” in their own backyard at about head height. If they do have that ability, it could drastically affect the way private citizens use drones, and it could also affect the way scientists use drones.

Drones can play an incredible role in helping scientists, whether they’re tracking herds of endangered animals, spotting unique plant life in hard-to-access mountain nooks, or diving deep underwater where humans have difficulty going for long periods of time. If drones as a whole are suddenly considered to be subjected to the whims of the FAA, that adds a lot of pointless red tape and restrictions that will negatively affect scientific progress.

It’s a ridiculous stance for the FAA to take, especially considering that they don’t even categorize ultralight planes, which actually can fly around with humans in them, as “aircrafts,” as they want to categorize personal drones.

If the FAA wants to take drones’ guns, they’ll have to pry them out of their cold, robotic hands. Or talk to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, since that’s their job. Or the cops. Or just about any other government agency that already covers weapons.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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