TIME Law

Colorado Town Won’t Issue Drone-Hunting Licenses

Residents of Deer Trail voted Tuesday against issuing licenses for drone hunting Brennan Linsley—AP

Residents in the Colorado town have voted down a unique proposal that highlighted displeasure with government surveillance and would have allowed townspeople to get licenses to shoot down drones in local airspace

The tiny town of Deer Trail, Colo., (pop. 561) became famous last year when a resident named Phil Steel made a proposal: Deer Trail should offer hunting licenses for shooting down drones that might fly into the hamlet’s airspace. When local officials split on whether to approve the ordinance, the issue went to the voters — who finally decided against the idea on Tuesday.

After becoming famous for the suggestion, Deer Trail will not be issuing drone-hunting licenses. The town has roughly 350 registered voters, but a final vote count was not available late Tuesday night.

Even if the ordinance had been approved, the Federal Aviation Administration has made it clear that the legality of drone hunting remains murky at best. “The FAA is responsible for all civil airspace, including that above cities and towns,” an FAA spokesperson told TIME in a statement. “The agency is working to ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft. 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. Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane.”

In December, the FAA announced six sites that would be used to test drones, in pursuit of learning “operational requirements necessary to safely integrate UAS [Unmanned Aircraft Systems] into the national airspace over the next several years.”

(MAGAZINE: What Happens When Drones Return Home?)

The town’s clerk Kim Oldfield described the proposal as “more of a tongue-in-cheek measure” about residents’ “right to privacy,” a playful way to express displeasure about surveillance in society. That sentiment was clear in the full 2,800-word, now dead ordinance, which starts with a clause about “advanced technological developments” that have affected “the rights of Americans to be safe and secure in their persons and properties from covert gathering of information and use of such data.

“Whereas, many Western communities in rural America provide monetary incentives (bounties) for the killing of predators that are injurious to man and his interests, the town of Deer Trail likewise establishes hunting licenses and bounties for the killing of unmanned aerial vehicles,” the key passage reads, “in keeping with the Western traditions of sovereignty and freedom.”

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