No, Mounting A Gun To A Quadcopter (Probably) Isn’t Illegal

Earlier this month, [Austin Haghwout] posted a video on YouTube of a remote controlled quadcopter armed with a semiautomatic handgun. While there are no details of this build, it’s safe to say any reasonably sized quadcopter could be armed in such a manner; just strap a pistol to the frame, add a servo, and connect the servo to the RC receiver. We don’t think this is the first time it’s been done, but has garnered the most attention.

There is nothing novel about mounting a handgun to a quadcopter. Anyone with any experience with RC flying could replicate this build, and the only interesting part of watching a video of a quad firing a gun is seeing how the flight controller reacts to the recoil. However, in the pursuit of the exploitation of a fear of technology, this video has gone viral.

The Verge calls it, ‘totally illegal’, while The Christian Science Monitor asks how it is legal. Wired posits it is, ‘most likely illegal,’ while CNET suggests, ‘surely this isn’t legal.’ In a rare break from reality, YouTube commentors have demonstrated a larger vocabulary than normal, calling the build, ‘felonious.’

With so many calling this build illegal, there should be someone who could point out the laws or regulation [Austin Haghwout] is violating. This information is surprisingly absent. In a Newsweek post, a representative from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is quoted as saying:

“ATF has reviewed the video with local law enforcement and other federal agencies. It does not appear that the device violates any existing firearms regulations…”

The Associated Press reports no state laws were broken by [Austin]. With the BAFTE and Connecticut State Police both signing off on this build, the issue of jurisdiction becomes more pronounced. How, exactly, is a gun mounted on a quad illegal?

The answer, as with all things involving quadcopters, comes from the FAA. We could find no regulations explicitly banning handguns on remote controlled quadcopters, but of all stories and posts on [Austin]’s handiwork, this is the closest anyone has come to providing the framework for calling this build illegal:

No pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. However, this section does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.

-FAR Part 91 Sec. 91.15

That’s it. The closest anyone has come to providing a reason why a semiauto quadcopter is illegal: because the cartridge (and bullet), are ‘dropped’ from a quad. The Feds charging [Austin] with “dropping” a bullet from a quadcopter is like taking down [Al Capone] for Income Tax Evasion. The difference being that [Al] was a notorious criminal who had obviously harmed a large swath of people and [Austin] doesn’t seem to be harming anyone.

Although [Austin]’s video of a gun toting quad is only fourteen seconds long, a few reasonable assumptions can be made about his small experiment in flying firepower. The video shows the quad hovering a few feet above the ground. This is surely allowed by the recently published safety guidelines for sUAS users. The gun itself appears to be firing into an offscreen hillside – a sensible precaution. If the only justification for the FAA’s investigation of [Austin]’s video is FAR 91.15, he’s on easy street.

218 thoughts on “No, Mounting A Gun To A Quadcopter (Probably) Isn’t Illegal

  1. Well, this looks rather dangerous, probably is dangerous in the wrong hands, tho I don’t really see anything wrong with it.
    (Tho, quad copter speed shooting might not be the best sport, but might still be interesting)

    1. I hope he has the failsafe settings in the radio set correct! The danger in this rig is it’s outside in an uncontrolled area. What if the recoil of a shot knocks the gun loose and the gun falls while being held by the trigger mechanism? Or you drop your transmitter and the receiver failsafe kicks in now what? Outside of a bulletproof box this is not a good idea.
      But like the other commenter two of these fighting it out in a bullet proof box would be great!

    2. What the hell were you thinking, now every civilian drone operator is subject to getting shot by their neighbor for endangering their lives when flying over their homes taking video of privacy issues.

  2. My only problem/concern with it is….now that the video has surfaced someone, out there, now has the idea that they could replicate this for some nefarious purpose and if they had never seen the video…they might not have ever been inspired to do so.

    He could, legally, attach the gun to quad — in private — to see if it was possible and not have made a video showing everyone — just like a security expert would keep vulnerabilities/exploits private or only share them with the manufacturer.

    1. Yes, the true threat is terrorists with absolutely no imagination of their own.

      If the computer security industry has shown us anything, it’s that keeping vulnerabilities secret is the best way to protect everyone, especially the users of the vulnerable software.

        1. Why do they need such technology when they ‘daily’ have guided intellengt bombs that are far superior. ie, human smart bombs. Good grief, the world is full of idiots. Worrying about such things and think they should be ‘illegal’… Good grief any one who intends to harm someone(s) will already be contemplating something illegal… Another regulation doesn’t protect anyone…

          1. Another +10.000 from me.

            If people wanna kill, they will kill. Your so called terrorists have been using devices you could not imagine for so many years. Some people live and die to create new methods to kill. Any idiot could think of using a cell phone for a remotely controlled system, etc. And governments have been building various drones to kill innocents in the last decade. And terrorists? The ones you see on TV are supported by big governments to destroy those not so big governments. Or they’re the people whose countries were invaded by those big governments and are fighting back. And… if we’re hackers, I think I would use such gadgets to save my life when my house is surrounded by some crazy mob. We don’t trust the Police where I live. They usually arrive too late. Governments don’t want you to depend on yourself for security, they don’t want you to be smart either, they want you to depend on them. Or who would feed all those greasy politicians?

          2. I’ll add my +10,000. People are talking to me about this at work cause I’m a vocal RC Quad enthusiast. My reply is as such: “The people who are going to *want* to put a bullet in you generally wont be so patient as to build one of these. You should be far, far more worried about someone fiending for drugs pointing a gun at you with their bare hand” Don’t get me wrong, it is a bit unnerving to think that even carrying your own legally concealed firearm wouldn’t be quite as effective at protecting you from an attack with one of these, but this is not the only means, and surely not the most efficient means of RC murder. Bottom line is that life is fragile and relatively easy to extinguish. If someone want’s to kill someone else, they will find a way to do it. Even if it’s with their bare hands. The problem isn’t the tools which someone would use to perform such an egregious act, but the society which fosters, through lack of sufficient punishment for violence, such behavior,

    2. There might be a good side from this. Now that it has gone viral, maybe the FAA will update their laws to forbid this kind of imprudent stuff from happening elsewhere.

      At least it’s better than waiting until someone is injured/killed.

        1. Laws don’t stop criminals, but they lay out the consequences of violating the law and allow them to be prosecuted if caught. Then the potential criminal can weight whether it’s worth violating for the potential gain. See Wall Street for examples of criminals who violate laws but have figured out that it’s still profitable.

          1. But this person did NOTHING wrong! If this person attached a gun to a device and shot someone, that would require consequences. But just because people CAN do something wrong with a device does not mean that it’s okay to make that device illegal. We all drive 2-4 ton weapons to work every day. What’s wrong with you?

        2. +1. Criminals disobey laws. Because criminals.
          Gun laws will never stop gun violence. They only prevent peaceable citizens from defending themselves.
          But back on topic– I thought the video was cool. I thought the drone did well, absorbing the recoil.

          1. You’re American right? You’re correct that gun laws will never STOP gun violence, but it does a damn good job of reducing it. Look at the gun death rates in countries with strict firearms regulations, you’ll notice that “defending yourself” with a gun only leads to a lot of innocent people dieing.

          2. Your point is well made. Addressing Z00111111 point: US murder rates are comparable to Europe when looking at our more rural states (11 states had murder rates less the Europe). And these states have a very high per capita gun ownership rate. What they lack is organized crime, gang warfare and a vibrant narcotics trade. It is interesting, while lacking overt gun violence, Europe leads the world in human trafficking, which is a extreme form of violence against women.

          3. Pity it doesn’t work that way: for every “justifiable homicide” by gun there’s two gun deaths and 78 gun suicides. Firearms are more dangerous to their (law abiding) owners than they are to anyone out to get them.

          4. Okay, let me make it more explicit: For every time a gun is used to defend someone in a justifiable homicide, there are two accidental gun deaths. Therefore, guns are ineffective as a way to protect yourself, because they’re more dangerous to their owner than the “problem” they “solve”.

            If someone developed a seatbelt that killed twice as many people as it saved, you’d rightly demand it not be included.

          5. Is the idea that the UK is some magic ferry-land of peaceful people? Is that why we have 1/10th the murders of the US? :)
            Because I seem to remember plenty of riots,thugs,out of control football “fans” (sorry we export those) etc.

            I cant speak for the rest of europe, but II really dont think we are less violent then US people. Its merely our violence doesn’t so easily lead to deadly consequences.

            I often see the argument come up “oh, you could kill someone with a knife” as well. Yet Knife crime in the UK added up still doesn’t come close to the per-capita murders in the US.

            Imho, Guns make it *easier* to kill people *because thats what they are designed to do*. Its both physically and physiologically easier to pull a trigger. Its also easier to miss and hit someone else. Or kill a bunch in a row.

            Now that doesn’t mean theres any remote possibility of limited gun access in the states, regardless of the law. Any proposal of a ban is nuts on a few levels.
            But the idea that its got nothing to do with the availability of guns, or that other ways to kill people makes it “all the same” or…best of all…..”that laws don’t mater because criminals break the law”…all those things rub me the wrong way because its otherwise intelligent people repeating phrase’s they have heard without really thinking how little sense they make.

        3. Nothing is going to stop criminals but a law in this regard may stop idiots that think it would be cool to put a gun on a quadcopter and take it to the local children’s playground.

          1. 1) I meant to reply, not to report, sorry :/
            2) The laws in question should stop that kind of idiot from getting access to guns in the first place. Say we put a drone-gun-law in effect, ok no gun-drones, but by your logic, what’s to stop the idiot from mounting the gun to a RC car, kite, football or piece of cheese and using it irresponsibly?

          1. Sure. Because if human trafficking isn’t illegal, then I’m not a criminal,right?
            Laws can be there to protect the innocent, or at least punish the belligerents- if the penalty for not returning a book to the library on time was death, there wouldn’t be very many late books. By the same token, if the penalty for killing someone is your own death, then the amount of needless killings decreases, but doesn’t go to zero, because there are always people who hate a person or group enough to kill.

            While laws create criminals, we shouldn’t get rid of laws that do so- if you were raped, wouldn’t you want to at least know that the person who raped you was in jail? If someone kills 25 people, what should happen to them? As has been proven over and over again, strictly enforced laws make the world a better place to be.

            Examples- anti-trust law, capital punishment for lethal criminals, etc.

    3. How is that any more dangerous than strapping homemade explosive to any of the shell quadrocopter?
      and you had that shown in television already (like in one episode of the Mentalist)

      Also, I also like to think people with intention of murdering someone are imbeciles, but I would guess few of them were capable of thinking of such “brilliant” idea as strapping gun to a RC toy (/drone)…

    4. How is attaching a handgun to a quad controlled by a murderer any more dangerous than allowing a murderer to have a handgun in the first place? The problem isn’t the quad — if anything, he’s a lot more likely to miss than if he just shot someone the “normal” way.

      1. You’re right. The problem isnt the quad, the problem isnt the firearm. Its the current state of education and ethics in this country, which is often agreeably going down hill. Its really a shame that everyone is quick to blame the machinery (in this case, both the quads and the firearms) for an act carried out by the user. And the “well if we make it harder to get $Object, then $IllegalThing wont happen” argument is ridiculous. For example, the war on drugs, and the fact that murder is already illegal, but still happens, but I digress. I know its an rebuttal that is being mocked these days, but “If you ban firearms, the only ones who will have firearms are the criminals, because they already break the law.”

        1. You have to he licensed to own a firearm for a reason. Exactly the same as being licensed to use a car. It’s a dangerous piece of machinery with the capability of killing.

          1. All (modern) handguns require licensing in the US. Black powder muzzle loaders and BB / pellet guns excluded. Although some states (like Michigan) require registration of BB / pellet handguns.

          2. “Long” guns don’t require Federal licensing. Most states don’t even require long guns to be registered, as long as they comply with the GCA and NFA.
            Most states require at least registration of hand guns. Some states require registration and licensing for hand guns.

        2. @mark in nc you dont need to be licensed to own a handgun only to purchase it. they take that permit when you buy it, its not registered, its not licenced its not anything.

          1. Here in WI you don’t need to get a permit to buy anything. Walk into a gun store, pass a background check, and walk out with your new pistol, revolver, shotgun, or rifle. Buy from a person, and you don’t need the background check. The only thing you need to have a permit for is concealed carry, and that is a permit for you – not your gun. Gun violence here is incredibly low…

            In NC you only need the permit to buy it from a dealer – you can buy private party with no permit and you can buy out of state and bring it home. Source: I lived in NC for 4 years and bought my first J-Frame there and now live in WI.

        3. ” The problem ”

          What makes you think theres just one?

          ” that everyone is quick to blame the machinery”

          No ones blaming the machinery, we are blaming people having ACCESS to the machinery. The machine isn’t the problem, nor (probably) the engineers. Its who it ultimately might fall into the hands of.

          “. And the “well if we make it harder to get $Object, then $IllegalThing wont happen” argument is ridiculous.””

          Plenty of horrible things are pretty rare due to limited access, either of knowledge of materials. Nukes being the easy “extreme” example. But also various chemical/biological attacks. Guns are piss easy to both use and get hold of, so they are what most crime is done with.
          The principle of limiting access is not the issue. Almost all criminals do crime because its easy, and a lot of the worst crime isn’t even premeditated but “in the heat of the moment”. Availability factors in massively to “whats easy”.

          So, no, limiting access does work *where its possible* but often – with Americas big borders – it simply is not possible for many things.

          As for the war on drugs – it is, of course, a massive failure and a waste of US money on multiple levels. But its not about the principle of limited access – as its essentially drugs were never really that limited. It also could be argued that economic motivations worked against it too – those for-profit American prisons dont get filled up with 2% of the population without serious effort ;)

          “and the fact that murder is already illegal, but still happens,”

          By that logic everything should be legal.

          Nothing wrong with thinking you should have X/Y or Z. Or that personal responsibility should trump the risks.
          But theres a lot of logic flaws in these arguments as they tend to view things in extreams.
          Its not about preventing all crimes or all murders.
          Its about making it harder.

          The question is this; Does civilian access to weaponised drones make killing people *easier*?
          Or, perhaps more specifically; Killing people and getting away with it.

    5. As if this is such a unique idea that nobody ever would have come up with…

      Let’s face it. The military already came up with this idea years and years ago. If you do want to blame someone of coining this dangerous idea, start with blaming the military.

      But if you look far back enough, you might find out that it was Archimedes himself who came up with the basic idea.

    6. First off, sharing vulnerabilities and exploits with only the manufacturer is not proper disclosure. Sharing them with the manufacturer FIRST, and them requesting a reasonable time frame to fix it before you disclose it, is. However any way a company can save a buck, they often will, including not spending time fixing bugs if the risk is worth the reward. So the thought of it being released to the public is actually motivation for them to their job.
      Second, this is not the first video of someone strapping a firearm to a remote controlled vehicle, even by hobbyists. How about a fully automatic AA12 shotgun strapped to the front of a gas powered RC helicopter? This video was posted 9 years ago, and appears even older than that. So the argument “Well now the video is out there so someone else is going to do it” doesnt hold much water, considering the idea has been out there for years.
      I will say, however, the only intentional recorded killings of people with unmanned aerial aircraft, has been the US Government and its MQ-9 and similar modified UAS air frames which were never meant to carry weapons when they were conceived.

    7. If someone didn’t already have this idea, they probably don’t have the skills to build it. (I mean, it’s normal to think about how everything could be weaponized… right?)

    8. Except this isn’t really a new idea. Granted, I haven’t seen a video demonstrating proof of concept before, but the basic idea has been floating around for years and years. Most likely even before quads existed.

    9. If you want to do actual terrorism/assassination, you strap a bomb to it, not a handgun…heck, even a hand grenade would be orders of magnitude more effective, also makes it harder to recover evidence…

    1. IF he did this “test” in a populated area without an adequate backstop. I’d be with you on the reckless endangerment. As is it was in an isolated area with proper precautions. The only one at risk was himself.
      And a coupe of years ago on of the “reality TV” shows on the history channel mounted a gun to a quad. It was mounted in such a way that it fired down from above, instead of forward as in this video but the Premise is the same Armed Quad. Why no out cry then?

      1. “reality TV” you say…..probably no one said anything because it was staged and was a part of a TV show and was not some regular person doing it for fun or with unknown intentions.
        In other words it’s the difference between TV/Movies/Games and Real Life.

    2. Crap, unless you live on a island by yourself, you trust your life to you strangers good will on a daily basis. Grow up people. Bad things happen and there is nothing anyone can do to keep you completely safe. The folks that tell you they are keeping you safe are simply taking away all our rights to give themselves power and using your naivety to accomplish their goals.

  3. Clearly this is something that should not be legal – there are simply way more ways to use this maliciously than there are to use it for anything useful. (It’s still awesome that it has been done.)

    This is an obvious case of a law simply nobody thought of, and if you think back a couple of years – why would they?

    Anyways why is all that drone stuff popping up just now when we have quadcopters? Why no autonomous (or armed, or both [yep, definitely insanely dangerous]) RC-Planes?

    1. it is already iollegal to endanger others as mentioned in the article, so it is covered by laws.
      why should something be illegal simply for the potential to do harm?

    2. Having a kitchen knife is legal. Stabbing someone with a kitchen knife is already illegal.
      Having a car is legal. Running someone over with a car is already illegal.
      Having gasoline is legal. Using that gasoline to burn down someone’s house is already illegal.
      This should absolutely be legal (assuming you obtained the gun legally). Shooting (at) people is already illegal.

      Do you honestly think having a law enumerating specific objects to which it is illegal to affix a firearm is a better approach than just outlawing the unwanted behavior that could be perpetrated with that firearm?

    3. Anything malicious you can do with a ball point pen or base ball bat are illegal too. It makes no difference what is used.
      And this thing is already illegal by TWO laws- both FAA- A civilian aircraft cannot discharge anything (on purpose). And a civilian aircraft cannot be armed.

      1. I agree. I do all kinds of stupid shit on my own property, which is outside of city limits and a large parcel of land.
        But- If he is a dumb-ass and films it, and puts it on Youtube- then most likely he will raise some eyebrows and get the media attention that causes people to bitch about it and then the feds show up at his door.

      2. The problem here is – “huh” and that will be the end of our investigation”. – The average person does not have that kind of sense or knowledge of the law- That’s why they are called average. The average person will throw a fit and start emailing the ATF and FAA until this kids life is ruined.

    1. why? its an impulse and the system is always fighting to hold it self stable.
      As you can see in the video, the copter handles the shots pretty well.
      I think you can say thats like what its build for ;)

  4. I want to see the builder remove that 22lr practice pistol and put a 45ACP pistol on there and watch it react to the recoil.

    That is a plastic light pistol that fires 22lr rounds, and probably light load at that to keep recoil down. The quad in that video is far too weak to carry a heavy pistol that has any real recoil. I bet even a 9mm will throw it around like a ragdoll.

    1. Drone (3kg?) vs. 22LR pistol (141 – 277 Joule) … I think the movie is fake / CGI.

      The drone reacts in the same way as if one gives it a nudge with the hand… or a stick… or a tug on string.

      An adult man with strong hands can not hold a .22LR pistol completely still. There is always a little recoil.

      It can be any kind of toy gun or a gun for starting shot. Perhaps for that very unusual cartridge “.22 Short” (60 Joules)? It could also be that he pulls on a string and then add effects to your computer. Clearly the easiest.

        1. “I can hold a .22 completely still and empty the magazine.”

          Clearly you don’t understand the basic physics. You may not be able to detect your own motion, but it most certainly exists. And that is given that you weigh far more then this little quad copter… Shame you never paid attention in school.

          1. Based on what I am seeing the quad copter doing, this is not fake. If you have ever fired a .22lr delayed blowback pistol you would realize very little recoil get transferred to the user. Yeah sure if you measure the movement of the pistol in my hand while firing it, there is some, but to the naked eye during firing, there is no movement when I fire a .22 handgun.

          2. John,

            I wasn’t talking about the quad copter, I was addressing your patently false claim that you can hold a ‘.22 completely still and empty the magazine’. It just isn’t possible, which you now seem to realize with the claim that there is ‘very little recoil”… Of course the effect of recoil will be largely dependent upon the MASS of the shooter. A 3 lb quadcopter will experience far more movement from a given amount of recoil then a 150lb man… Again go back to school if you doubt the basic physics…

  5. What’s key is interpretation and context. I think with something like this, FAA’s “reasonable precaution” might include something like a requirement of redundant flight controllers. A glitch can cause someone a very bad day.

  6. I guess my question – and I’m being serious when asking it – is what is the difference in “mounting a gun to a quad” versus a mounting a bomb/gun on a “military drone” with respect to any laws being violated? Is it the person/country that “owns the quad/drone?”

  7. Since the ATF has a restriction on fully automatic firing I wonder if having a robot of any sort pulling the trigger multiple times without user input violates this regulation.

    1. We can’t speculate on whether or not it was “automatic firing”.
      If it was automatic then why did the gun need to be connected to a remote-controlled RC servo?
      It seems to me that they were using a control on the remote to fire which would be “remote fire” vs “automatic fire”

    2. I asked the ATF that sort of question in regards to the tracking point rifle. Their response was as long as only one round is released per trigger press or activation your ok but if the system pulls the trigger twice or more when you press the fire button, on button or anything else then it’s considered automatic and band.

    3. I’m stunned that the ATF said it is not illegal. They likely did not do a complete examination of it.

      Electronic actuation of a trigger is DEFINITELY illegal, and the BATFE already has rulings saying this. The controller could be programmed to pull the trigger repeatedly with a single input from the user, making this a “machine gun” under the National Firearms Act.

      1. They didn’t do a complete examination of it. The Firearms Technology Branch doesn’t do house calls. You write them a letter telling them you need a ruling on a device, they respond 2 to 3 months latter with an address to send the device to, and 2 to 3 months latter, if the device breaks no laws, they give a ruling and send it back.
        They don’t answer legal questions through email. They tell you to mail them a written letter.
        I have gone through this.

  8. I think everyone is over reacting. This guy put a gun on an aircraft. There are millions of people with more effective killing machines ‘such as just guns on there own’ walking around the US. Putting it on a quad probably makes it more liable for accidents to happen but that’s taken care by his isolated location

    1. In this example, absolutely.
      I think most people, myself included, our worried about where it will lead.
      Engineers and tinkers are (normally) experienced and sane enough to keep things safe.
      But tech is getting better and more universally accessible all the time (which is a great thing).

      The side effect though is stuff like this might also become quite accessible.
      How long because its possible to order a quad from Amazon, print of a few parts on your 3d printer, then connect a gun bought at wallmart?
      Picturing that now might seen unreliable results at best, but can we be sure that will always be the case?

      And when you can fly something remotely to fire a gun, keeping their distance and anonymity, haven’t we got a right to be fearful that it creates much more opportunity for nutjobs? (or, for that matter, drunks or kids “having a laugh”)

      I think society should be asking these questions now, rather then relaying on the technology to stay either inaccessible or not good enough to be useful – because those will change.

  9. Many states require that any loaded firearm be under your “direct control”, and if it’s not, it needs to be locked in a secure container. A remote quad is unlikely to be considered under “direct control”, since anyone can easily throw something at it and recover the firearm. This would certainly violate this law, and police would have no trouble citing you for it.

      1. ATF doesn’t address how you store a firearm. State law does. While a specific representative may have said they didn’t know of any broken laws, you can certainly bet that another policeman may think differently, and charge them under improper storage. How it shakes out in court is another matter.

    1. Exactly the case here in Taxachusetts. And the video was shot IN FRONT of the firing line, too. These idiots are going to ruin radio controlled aircraft and firearms for everyone. Quadcopters are like the R/C aircraft cheat mode for guys who can’t fly a real rotary wing.

  10. If I were law enforcement and if I wanted to prosecute this under current law, I would charge him with illegal possession of a machine gun. The electronic trigger makes it trivial for the owner to convert the gun to selective fire (no further mechanical change is required and the owner has implicitly demonstrated the capability to create code that fires the weapon.) It is irrelevant to the law if the owner has already done this, or not. It is like owning a regular machine gun but claiming you’ve never moved the switch to full-auto. Or, at least, that is what I would attempt.

    Really this gets so close to so many firearms laws that if someone were to be aggressive in going after him (her?) there would be little problem in building a case. Other sets of laws regarding remotely operated guns (hunting) sentry guns (un-manned) and lethal booby traps could come in to play.

    1. “no further mechanical change is required and the owner has implicitly demonstrated the capability to create code that fires the weapon.” – actually, he hasn’t. All he had to do was plug a hobby servo into a receiver, which is controlled directly by a channel from the RC transmitter, which still requires manual activation.

          1. Yep. The thing is, what I was saying is what I would attempt were I aggressive law enforcement. It could become incumbent on the accused to show that it was not an “easy” conversion. Regardless it is going to cost the accused a lot of money and inconvenience.

            All that said, I am surprised there aren’t more explicit laws regarding weaponizing civilian aircraft. I went looking and found many counter-examples. Almost every law that might come to play, here, requires the dude to actually use it in some way or other. So far, I see only machine-gun laws (when the assessment of what constitutes a machine-gun is taken liberally) seem to play.

          2. In many cases simple possession is a crime. You don’t have to do anything with a machine gun to be in violation of the law (assuming no tax stamps, etc.) except have it in your possession. That is the distinction I am making.

      1. “It could become incumbent on the accused to show that it was not an “easy” conversion”

        Actually, no it wouldn’t There is this pesky thing about ‘innocent until proven guilty’. Officials (police, prosecutors, etc.) that abuse their position and authority not-withstanding. The FACTS is that there is no evidence this gentlemen did anything to turn this hand gun into a machine gun, nor is it so clear as you seem to believe.

        Oh, and machine guns are not illegal for private possesion, they just require paying the government a bribe (er I mean fee) annually for the priveledge.

        1. Ahem,
          in our jurisdiction an action is considered fully automatic if it is not cycled by a human.

          Therefore it is a prohibited firearm owned by someone without the correct permit, and therefore illegal.

          The kid will most likely go to jail if his state has the same laws.

          Rule #1: never assume you know anything about the law, and ask local lawyers first.
          note even the government will ask a dozen firms to clarify ambiguities in the law.

          1. Your rule #1 is idiotic. A lawyer can only provide you an opinion. The only actual way to tell if something is legal (given the hundreds of thousands of pages of laws in the US) is to actually get a jury of your peers to say you aren’t guilty. Anything else is just someone’s opinion (including Judge’s and the idiots writing the laws)…

            If this kid were in California I wouldn’t be surprised if he were convicted. But in the more rational states they (a jury of his peers) would most likely recognize that he did not in fact, nor intend to, create a machine gun…

        2. There’s also a thing called ‘constructive intent’, and in the past, ATF has held that servomechanical systems operating a firearms trigger, whether software or manually interrupted, constitutes the ‘constructive intent’ to manufacture an illegal machine gun under the NFA.

          A firearm only needs to be ‘easily convertible’, to be defined as a machine gun by the ATF – for example, open bolt, semi-automatic firearms are banned by fiat by ATF, because they made a technical adjudication that an open bolt firearm is easily convertible to a machine gun through modification of the trigger mechanism, and therefore constitutes ‘constructive intent’.

          Otherwise, you’d see benchrest guys at the range with servo triggers, to isolate the gun from their own body movement.

          1. Despite their belief the ATF, nor any policing agency doesn’t actually get to say whether something is legal or not… AT least not yet, and hopefully never. In fact we routinely have such ‘determinations’ by over reaching beuracrats toosed out by the courts, and/or juries.

            Oh, and by the way I routinely see folks at ranges using servo controlled rests to test their ammo, scope, etc.. Removing the human element is really needed to accurate determine performance of ammo and other items. In other words a perfectly legitimate use that would likely get a jury to laugh a ATF case based upon solely being servo controlled out the door.

    2. IANAL, but I believe the definition of an automatic weapon includes words to the effect, “multiple rounds fired with a SINGLE trigger pull”. In the video, I presume the trigger is pulled (remotely) for every round fired. With software, the developer could fire rounds quickly, but unless the pistol is modified, it’s one round per trigger pull.

    3. Although it does make it trivial to make fully automatic or selective fire, the fact that the trigger is electrically operated does not make it illegal by current NFA laws.

  11. You can’t hunt from a plane or chopper (without special animal control permits) but it never occurred to me that it might be legal to shoot at targets from a private plane. Somehow, I think this is illegal. I’ll have to research, but I recall something about this from reading over the years. I think you need a waiver to do “bomb drops” with flower bags in a competition.

    1. The first law that comes to mind is the possession of an armed vehicle. Those are considered military goods and are explicitly banned from civilian ownership without special permit.

      “Arming” a civilian vehicle is prosecutable as such.

      Duct-taping a 9mm to your car is technically illegal, too, on the same grounds. But nobody seemed to prosecute the Mythbusters for it.

    1. This guy was only saved because he was able to record his assault. She initially reported to the police that the guy had physically assaulted her.

      She was only given probation for this unprovoked attack and for knowingly providing false information to the police with the intent of incriminating another person:

  12. No doubt that sooner or later that would happen. The aircraft went down the same path in the 1910’s. Both civilian and military usage are a fertile ground for drones. What we see today it’s just the beginning, but don’t be afraid, they’re just another tool for mankind, like the fire or the wheel. In the future the drones will be so integrated in our way of life that you’ll stop paying attention to them. They’ll be as natural in your home as a car or internet connection.

  13. It’s amazing to me, that in a country where bearing firearms has been a guaranteed right for over 200 years, that some people get so uptight at the very sight of someone carrying/using/thinking about using a gun.


  14. Actually I’d worry about running foul of brandishing laws. Around here I could easily see this being classed as ‘rude or threatening’, and the next state over has a statute that amounts to ‘somebody was worried’. In my opinion this also is against good firearms safety: eg. “never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.”

    Legal? Questionable. Responsible? No.

  15. It couldn’t be considered an automatic weapon. The handgun itself is semi auto and requires the trigger be pulled each time it would discharge. Had he modded the gun to be autofiring then he would be in a world of hurt and probably getting a visit from the party van.

    1. It has a motorized trigger. You can make “bump fire” devices where your finger is moved by recoil. Note the need for “finger”. A switch that turns on a motor that can operate the trigger continuously is big trouble.

  16. I love that nearly everyone is armchair lawyering on how to get this poor dude locked up for a little bit of fun. When did hackaday turn into a bunch of statist bootlickers? If they were trying to punish you for your not up to code home automation or your fcc unaproved, IP questionable, homebrew boards you’d be singing a different tune.

  17. If you take the blanket version of “all aircraft are aircraft” then it would follow that only those with special permits are allowed to carry firearms onto a civilian aircraft, or in this case “load onto” an aircraft. Relating to the permits in particular, they are military personal and law enforcement for the purpose of carrying out their duty (escorting prisoners or as security of high profile passengers. FAR Section 108.11-a-l-i and 108.11-a-l-ii
    Without one of those two permits, and assuming the FAA is applying blanket application that a drone is a civilian aircraft under their jurisdiction, then yes, the law was broken.

    Furthermore, this news article from 2011 indicates that at least 25 states have laws expressly forbidding remote/telepresence operated firearms.

    The FAA is still a bit vague as to exactly what civil aviation rules apply to drones, and it is possible the video was shot (hah!) in a state without any rules against remote triggers.. But I would say with certainty that this is not legal in several parts of the USA.

      1. You just linked to a document with a date in 1981. Might there have been any changes since then? Also, I’ve had private pilots tell me there are no prohibitions against them carrying guns in their own personal aircraft. I think that document you linked only applies to “…a person holding an FAA operating certificate when that person engages in scheduled passenger or public charter operations or both.” as stated in the document you linked.

        1. I realize it’s from 81. But we have laws still on books unchanged since 1881. Sure, changes are possible. But have you tried finding laws online at the FAA or ATF.. It’s a study in suicidal rage. Please. PLEASE find the updated version or the exact law that covers the topic. At least I linked SOMETHING rather than opinionating.

          Your second point isxway more valid. Yep. Private pilots are allowed to carry guns. Loaded no less. But holding the gun in one hand and flying with the other?!

          Again.. I *did* point out that the FAAs current interpretation of in what category a Drone applies is wishywashy and vague ATM. They very well could say it falls under the same rules. Until they make a ruling on that, there is no correct answer.

  18. The act of mounting a gun on a drone is probably legal in and of itself, but flying the drone and/or firing the gun while the drone is in flight can go under a legal microscope for things like reckless endangerment.

    A person carrying or firing a gun, like a person driving a car, has what’s called a ‘strong duty to avoid doing harm’.

    A loose definition of ‘strong duty’ is that saying, “I didn’t intend to hurt anyone” isn’t good enough in court. You have to be able to list positive actions you took to avoid doing harm. Any time you act in a way that increases the potential risk (taking a gun out of its holster, chambering a round, taking the safety off, putting a finger on the trigger), you have to be able to state the measures you took to keep that additional risk under control. A judge will also decide whether you had a good reason for creating an increased risk to those around you.

    A court will probably be okay with flying and firing a drone-mounted gun if you do it out in the desert where you can see there’s nobody to hurt within the bullet’s range of travel. You’ll probably be okay if you can show that the mechanism which pulls the trigger defaults to “making it impossible to fire the gun unless several things go right at the same time”.. having a block behind the trigger that prevents it from being pulled until it slides out of the way, having two or more signals which have to match before the firing mechanism pulls the trigger, having a spring-loaded mechanism holding the safety on and a servo that can turn it off momentarily, etc. The more of those you have, the better you can argue you were showing respect for the strong duty to avoid doing harm. The flip side is that the strong duty makes you liable for any reasonable safety measure you could have taken but didn’t, and “just not doing it” is the first reasonable measure you have to answer for.

    Think of it as a design review with teeth.

    1. Yeah. Regardless of any SPECIFIC law forbidding it, one can always be found. Like driving around with one hand on the wheel and one pointing a gun out the window.
      Illegal even if no law expressly defines the situation.

  19. I hope he was using blanks.
    “ATF has reviewed the video with local law enforcement and other federal agencies. It does not appear that the device violates any existing firearms regulations…”
    And isn’t that fucked up?

    1. Its the ATF, so its expected. They will defend all guns pretty much.

      Guns arnt hurting America nearly so much as the fear they will be taken away from them – a move thats both political suicide, illegal on many levels, and geographically impossible given the US’s size.

      Yet its that fear that constantly stops pretty much any changes to gun laws, or attempts to keep them out of some peoples hands.

  20. Many states have “Unlawful Discharge” laws, which prohibit discharging weapons under certain circumstances. A common prohibition is prohibiting discharging a weapon from a moving vehicle. These laws vary quite a bit from one jurisdiction to another. Depending on the exact wording of the law, particularly the definition of “vehicle”, firing a pistol from a quadcopter might already be illegal in many jurisdictions.

    1. A vehicle, here in sweden for example, is everything on Wheels basically, with some exceptions. A 747 is both a aircraft and a vehicle since the landing gear allows it to be operated on ground, but a helicopter is ONLY a Aircraft since it does not have Wheels making it possible to operate on ground.
      Even a wheelchair for handicapped is a vehicle. (A handicapped man on a electrically driven wheelchar, was actually convicted for drunk driving here in sweden, because a Electric wheelchar is no different from a EV car in the laws – he tried to defend with “The wheelchair is my legs”, but the Court were very strict with that if you need a motor driven vehicle to move around due to a disability, then its no alcohol for you, period, and that alcohol is not a human right, thus is not discriminating to reject persons having certain disabilitys from using alcohol)
      (However, a analog wheelchair without motor may be driven drunk, but its still a vehicle when it comes to traffic signs disallowing all vehicles including bicycles)
      Rollerblades and rollerskis are a vehicle too.

      If hoverboards become common, those will be classified as Aircrafts and not vehicles. Even if they only Lift like 1-2 cm from ground, its still a Aircraft.

      The exception is that things on Wheels that are not designed to be ridden (eg carry a human), is not a vehicle either, so a RC car is not a vehicle. A “push-lawnmower” (not the one you sit on, but push in front of you) with motor-driven Wheels to reduce the force you have to push it in front of you with, is not a vehicle either. But a lawnmover with a seat is a vehicle.
      So a quad would not quality for a vehicle here in sweden even if it would have landing gear with wheels.

      Thus any vehicle limitation would not apply. I Think the definition of vehicle is similiar in USA.

    2. Very true! How about the laws regarding firearms being in immediate control of the owner? letting a Child or second person fire your Gun at a range is generally ok, because you are directly present and able to exercise ultimate control of the fire arm. That may not be true of a firearm operated at distances preventing you from having real control of it, and what of radio interference that COULD cause unintended discharge! Not against the law on some levels but local and state rules do exist that this may be crossing, that said WHAT A MORON! He must want to loose his rights to firearms and FLY model aircraft! Technical ability to do don’t mean something SHOULD be done!!

  21. Clever, industrious, sure..

    Safe, Probably not, Video does not show enough and If Austin has a good lawyer he’s not talking to anyone about it.

    Smart, hard to say, The idea has been used in 100 movies, The terrorists have learned all they need from Hollywood and our military..

    Posting something so contention-laden on YouTube.. Extremely Dumb.

    Sadly I believe the anti-gun political/civilian groups will scream for somebody in the government to dream up some psychotic mixture of violations so that they can arrest the kid and parade him all over media as a violator and potential evil created by arms manufacturers…whatever…

    The kid deserves a good talking to from the local sheriff about gun safety and appearance…

    Actually dragging him into court would just be a political battleground, expensive and no actual benefit.

    Just my $0.02

    1. The law doesn’t say you can’t drop something from an aircraft. It says you cannot create a hazard by dropping something. If you take precautions not to create a hazard, you can drop pretty much whatever you want.

    2. “The law is unclear.”

      You are banned from the computer for a week!

      You must now take skydiving lessons.
      You must also visit either a front propeller pilot who offers drop dusting services.
      You must ride along with a helicopter pilot that sprays mist for mosquito control.

      Do this and you’ll get your internet card back. XD

      Extra credit if you spit over the side of a hot air balloon.

      1. FAR §135.120 Prohibition against carriage of weapons- In this instance the operator is remotely operating the weapon and not on the aircraft.

        Also applicable- FAR §91.13 Careless or reckless operation. And FAR §91.15 Dropping objects.

        He’s being charged with two of those by the FAA.

        1. It’s all over the news. And it is not a military aircraft, therefore it is civilian. It makes no difference if it is radio controlled or not.
          The FAA covers all things that fly. It makes no difference how small or large it is. If it can interfere with aircraft that carry people, they’re on top of it.

        2. “They are not criminal laws. It’s like speeding.”

          What? Are you retarded or something? Speeding is breaking State law (by definition).

          FAA laws are federal laws. They are not just “aviation recommendations”. If you break them you get fined and / or prison time, because you broke the law, and are therefore (if convicted) – a criminal.

        3. Perhaps joey is referring to the difference between “Felony” and “Misdemeanor” crimes. But either way they are still crimes, and the FAA rules ARE actual law- Not just a guideline.

        4. Hell yes. I am in Boston in 2 weeks for a fed case. I could be there for a couple of weeks depending on how things turn out. I won that case you mentioned. Litigation drug on forever, but my client got off without even probation.
          What is with the kids on this site thinking they know all about the world. It’s like they are getting dumber by the year.

        5. Hey Brian and Mark- I would love to get together for some drunken fun. I don’t think these kids are any worse than we were when we were young. They just get away with saying anything they want without repercussion. There is no point in trying to teach them anything, as it is not worth our time. Let them do dumb shit so they end up paying us our fees when they get in trouble.

  22. This is only legal if you intend to use it to shoot up a school full of nothing but brown people.. Then you have the full support of the American people, Congress, and the Military.

  23. Ok hype the issue to further a cause, What? You heard me, further the cause, which is a agenda by some groups to regulate a hobby heavier than any in history ignore facts lump all quad rotor aircraft into a threating sounding category the dreaded “DRONE” almost as sensational as “Zombie Apocalypse” and probably nearly equal in how far from reality and fact each of these are!
    First any quad rotor is a Model Aircraft Second Not all or even most Quad’s are true “Drone Aircraft” A true Drone is Autonomous in regard to its minute to minute operation drones are flying robots following preprogramed responses or actions and the operator may or may not intervene at different parts of a flight.
    Not that awful in reality, as long as the programing is done such the aircraft preforms within the rules and ethics any Model Aircraft flown by a full time pilot (remote but under human control at all times). Most Quad rotors sold to the public (anything priced under say $500 ) is not a drone! the autopilot hardware alone costs at least 250 to 350 depending on features.
    So a Drone would have selected the target and fired as pre-set in a program with no operator intervention, the Aircraft in Question is certainly a Remote controlled Aircraft being flown by the operator at all times, A Quad rotor does interpret the control inputs to allow them to fly at all, like an F117 Stealth, the work load to keep an unstable craft flying is not possible without electronics, however that is not the Drone Every news caster and politician is calling it. Why? because we must regulate drones! RC Aircraft is a decades old hobby and as such has existed without causing major criminal or dangerous events to occur, a gun could have been flown decades ago this is not new! It isn’t a good Idea, and if it isn’t against any laws it is not a good thing to do to promote the hobby, it just gives cause to those trying to over regulate the hobby.
    Personally I think it was a dumb idea, it limits the range, altitude, and flight times of a Aircraft type that struggles to get respectable performance And duration! When you add the usefulness of flying armed, it is not a good use of the platform. Then the negative image it cast on the already embattled hobby (Guns BAD, Shooting is a activity just tolerated when done in the normal way) and Quads are in the news as DRONES so lets combine these things! Only thing it lacked was a banner sporting a rebel flag and some Bigoted racist rant from a on board speaker!! The guy may be an engineering student, BUT HE IS NOT VERY BRIGHT!!!

    1. We are not discussing here electronic triggers. We are discussing remote, radio operated triggers. In such a case, even a safe operator could have radio interference.
      Mythbusters use remote triggers all the time.
      Mostly they use wired, which are unlikely to have interference events. Occasionally they do use radio triggers.
      But they always do this on a range, with several safety experts, and permits written case by case.

      1. actually yes we are. notice many arguments by people saying the electronic trigger can be “easily modified into firing full automatic” and therefore want to charge this kid with possession of a prohibited weapon. Just check up the page a few steps. the installation of a radio link (or a cable pull or a pneumatic cylinder and hose) changes nothing legally.

        Every single bit of worry has been addressed legally. Only thing left are the objections of people who *want* this kid to be punished. Fortunately American law as written doesn’t work that way, and incidents where ignorance and fear have created such situations are the exception rather than the norm.

        (we can list a lot of things fearful and ignorant people *want* to be illegal, but the Supreme Court has decided otherwise thankfully. Rights and laws are the same regardless of the fear one puts behind one or the other)

        1. Clearly- The gun itself would need to be modified to fire full automatic or selective fire. At that point you have an NFA weapon. Pulling the trigger as fast as you want (even with a radio controlled servo), as long as one round per trigger pull is fired, is NOT automatic fire per the NFA.

  24. “We currently have rules in the books already that deal with releasing anything from an aircraft, period,” Williams said Wednesday. “Those rules are in place and are there that would prohibit weapons from being installed on a civil aircraft. We don’t have any plans on changing them for unmanned aircraft.”

    1. This isn’t technically an aircraft any more than a paper airplane, or a dart. The person who made the video was indeed recently arrested, but not in connection with the video. If it makes you feel any safer, he probably won’t be able to legally own a firearm anymore.

      1. The FAA can regulate paper airplanes if they wish. They have a set of rules they set up for model aircraft and included in those rules is the provision that they can apply any regulation of real aircraft on model aircraft they see applicable

        “Other rules in part 91, or other parts of the regulations, may apply to modelaircraft operations, depending on the particular circumstances of the operation. The regulations cited above are not intended to be an exhaustive list of rules that could apply to model aircraft operations. The FAA anticipates that the cited regulations are the ones that would most commonly apply to model aircraft operations.”

    1. For safety, it should have at least two step safety system. First intentionally setting an ARMED/DISARMED state (perhaps that autoreturns) and the second for the trigger. For the armed/disarmed, it could physically manipulate the safety on the gun which would be ideal.

  25. Hell, this idea has been out there for a while. It made me think of Daniel Suarez’s book Kill Decision where there are swarms of autonamou drones armed with what are basically zip-guns. Then there are the ones with magnetic “feet” and plasma cutters which attack ships at sea… good book (as are all of his, IMHO).

  26. Pringles can w 1000mW High Power Wireless G 802.11g or Clipper B/G/N 25dBi + aircrack-ng +

    Or Edimax EW-7811Un 150Mbps 11n Wi-Fi USB Adapter + 1000mW High Power Wireless G 802.11g with 5dBi antenna and your own Parrot.AR 2.0

    My drone now and I’m calling the cops about the gun so they can pull the prints from it.

        1. My private property, my rules.

          “So your actions when presented with someone doing something that both isn’t illegal and has no impact on you what-so-ever would be to STEAL his property…”

          Let’s analyze what you just said, suppose you wanted to make out with you boyfriend so you pull off onto a secluded dirt road, Turns out it’s actually private property. Now a wacko would probably rape the both of you… a sane person would tap on your windshield and say “you are trespassing I’m taking your license or I will shoot out your tires”.

          So, [Planofuji] will your try and validate how you got “violated”? or attempt to excuse yourself and behavior and ask for your drivers license back.

          Hmm… I imagine you have the right to enjoy yourself anywhere presented HOWEVER you don’t pay the bills here, nor do you volunteer to manage brush, bramble, wildlife or associate with any type of preservation project. ERGO.

          I will further play public defender and stipulate, you might have some minor spark of critical reasoning associated with respecting others and not being a jackass to public safety.

          Again, My private property, my rules.

        2. P.S. For Mouthing off like that, I wouldn’t even recognize there was a drone or gun. Nor you had any involvement. I could actually just RETURN the drone to you and fire the weapon at your face. With no consequences.

        3. “[Planofuji] Omgerd, I lost the controle… Oh wait it’s coming back. why is it hovering like that *bang*”
          drone then crashes into your phone and person.

          Sheriff and task force appear, study the area.
          Abby shows up,
          Studies the drone data.
          “They weren’t sure how to kill themselves properly, it’s so sad…”
          Gibbs nods in silence. “Magee, Dinozo you got this.”
          Both look at the property, then The dead jackass, the drone and gun.
          “Did you know that royalty in china would commit suicide by eating bulk salt?”
          “Yeah, it’s weird how people with money and lack of common sense want to kill themselves nowadays.”

  27. so what was the original charge he had? no mention of the “outstanding warrant”. If this guy were peddling dope in violation of clear Fed rules, or copying grade info from a connection in a closet he “found” unlocked, everyone would demand transparency and claim of “conspiracy”.

  28. So this guy is breaking two Federal laws- Both of them are FAA laws- Nothing may be released from a civilian aircraft (on purpose). And a civilian aircraft may not be armed.

  29. I love how the author just slathers this with judgementalism, sarcasm and name calling.

    Which is, as we all know, the best way to make a well reasoned point.

    “in the pursuit of the exploitation of a fear of technology” More likely, it’s a fear of randomly having high speed chunks of metal drilled into ones body without warning… not any particular fear of drones or even guns (although that’s pretty much the only thing the latter piece of technology does…)

    “In a rare break from reality, YouTube commentors have demonstrated a larger vocabulary than normal, calling the build, ‘felonious.’” Some people who post on YouTube are intelligent. If you honestly find this surprising – you’re probably watching a lot of cat or Food Babe videos.

    As a drone owner, I happen to think this is a rather scary concept. None of my drones are so reliable that I would risk anything this foolhardy with them. They can, without any warning, decide to leap up or go off course or just decide to emergency drop.

    Is it illegal? I suspect not solely because no one ever thought of this before and it’s fallen through a gap in the literal wording of the law. The better question is: *should* it be illegal? To me, anytime a device whose primary use is to injure people is made automatic without any regulation, it should be illegal – but at the very least, there should be one hell of an insurance requirement for doing this.

  30. The ATF employee who provided the comment isn’t entirely correct. The drone engineer in this case is walking a tight line along the ATF’s interpretation of a “machine gun”, which includes unapproved electronic trigger actuators.

    1. The actuator makes no difference in this case. The weapon itself is not fully automatic, or selective fire, and can only fire one round per trigger pull, and is therefore not a machine gun per the National Firearms Act.

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