Arming a Hobbyist Drone

Interesting article over at Volokh on a man who put a paintball gun on a drone, and wondered how long it would be before someone mounted a real gun. He also ponders the legal implications. It’s hard to say. Generally speaking, you’re probably going to jail if you actually would use such a thing on a person. I could also imagine there could be problem with many state laws which ban spring-guns and traps.

22 thoughts on “Arming a Hobbyist Drone”

  1. Is there anyplace that prohibits firing a gun “remotely?” Without such a law, I don’t know what would be prohibited about it.

    Except, is there federal language that might make such a thing an NFA weapon, by definition?

    If I were equipping a “hobbyist drone,” it wouldn’t be with a gun.

  2. I wondered that too Andy. A spring gun or other booby-trap is illegal because the use of force may be applied wrongfully. If I fire a gun remotely at a target I can identify, that is a legitimate threat to me, that wouldn’t apply.

    I can’t think of an NFA rule that would apply to a drone-mounted gun that wouldn’t apply to the same gun held in the hand.

    1. Since I’m not an NFA weapon hobbyist, I’m not too familiar with the language, but I’m thinking of how “firearms that look like other things,” like pen-pistols, cane guns, etc., are so defined. (Right?)

      1. Ah, that makes sense. That regulation refers mostly to disguising the nature of the weapon.

        I was picturing a normal handgun or rifle/shotgun with a remote firing adapter. Something like the drop-in bull-pup stocks but with a mechanical actuator instead of another manual trigger. With all the rails and such on modern guns making a mount would be the easy part.

        A shotgun hanging under a drone still looks like a shotgun, it isn’t disguised as anything else. This is a video of a shotgun on an RC copter. In this case the shotgun is actually banned, I think, but any semi-auto shotgun would work.

  3. I was thinking more of an autonomous drone as being similar to a spring-gun or a trap, depending on how it would be used. I would agree a piloted drone is a different beast.

    1. Ok, so like the automated paintball sentry guns, but with actual firearms. And flying.

      This tech is -so- already out of the bag, software and hardware both.

  4. There might be easily converted issues. If you have a computer controlled electric motor that fires a gun every time you hit the spacebar that would seem okay. One press of the trigger (or spacebar) one bullet fired. However it is all to easy to write a simple script that repeatedly transmits spacebar hits and suddenly you have a machine gun. I seem to recall that a crank operated gatling gun is okay, but if you hook up an electric motor it becomes NFA. I think similar reasoning would apply here.

  5. It would seem to me that the current laws are meaningless when the time comes to actually arm model aircraft.

  6. Weren’t there outfits where you could “hunt” exotic and other game online, where you controlled, aimed and fired a rifle from anywhere on earth, over the internet? I mean for real — not a computer game. You were actually directing and triggering a real rifle at real animals remotely.

    If so, weren’t their moves to prohibit that?

    The thin relevancy being, the subject of “remotely aimed and fired firearms.”

    1. I believe most of those were dealt with via state game regulations (fair chase and all that being the justification), not firearms regulations at the Federal level.

      1. They already do. The regulation is that they must be operated in line of sight, and at a ceiling of 500 feet. Hobby drones are actually a legal grey area if you operate them out of your immediate sight.

      2. The law that creates the FAA lets them regulate any human contraption that flys.

    1. I’d be surprised if they did, myself.

      Because it’s never come up as a problem, and there are already tons of laws against misusing firearms … and of course pretty much every gun that would be useful on a traditional aircraft is NFA already.

    2. Did some googling, can’t find any.

      Might be issues with a public airport.

  7. It is my understanding, as the paintball gun on a helicopter has come up in the past (my previous passion being paintball) and the discussion naturally moves to “firearms on a XYZ”, that using a solenoid or other electronic means to pull a trigger would be constructive intent to make a machinegun, because of the ease of software tweaking to make a pulse repeat itself.

    I liken it to you could make a stepper motor fire a Gatling gun in semi-auto fashion, but attaching the motor alone would be making a machinegun. And we know the ATF has made bigger and more technical leaps in the past.

  8. Possibly weirdly, what this article and comment thread makes me want to do is strap a tiny security-type camera to the back of a Ruger Mk. II and see if I can shoot it accurately using a video monitor. For that matter, just finding out if the camera can be mounted to the gun well enough that recoil doesn’t knock it out of line with the sights would be interesting.

    On a flying R/C platform, the temptation would be to mount the gun upside down. This is a really bad idea. Even right side up, I wonder how much shooting off-level will affect point of aim? If you’re aiming up or down, a component of the nominal “forward” vector subtracts or adds to bullet drop, doesn’t it? Or does it?

      1. Too right.

        …I should have added above that upside-down mounting is a bad idea if you intend to use the sights. Light travels in straight lines, bullets arc down.

        1. I’d assume you’d use a coaxial camera so using the iron sights would be clunky. Just give it a reticle and sight it in on the ground like any optic.

          You could figure out your leads and holdovers in flight the old-fashioned way, though if the drone could lift something like those paintball sentry guns the computer could handle the tracking, you’d just need to press “fire” to start it off.

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