Over the past year or so, many of my Slate colleagues and I have staked out a firm position on guns and drones: namely, that it is a bad idea to shoot your gun at someone else’s drone. Not only is this dangerous, it’s a tactic that’s likely to backfire. If you shoot at a drone that has strayed onto your property, more often than not you will be arrested and made to reimburse the drone’s owner. Every now and then, though, armed vigilantism pays off. For proof of this, I bring you the case of a Kentucky man named William Merideth—otherwise known as the Drone Slayer.
On July 26, 2015, after his daughter reported seeing a strange drone hovering nearby, Merideth grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun, stepped onto his porch, and fired at the object once it crossed over his property line. The drone went down, and, according to Merideth, its owner soon arrived to retrieve it. “Four guys came over to confront me about it, and I happened to be armed, so that changed their minds,” Merideth told WDRB back in July. “I told them, ‘If you cross my sidewalk, there's gonna be another shooting.’ ” The men retreated. Somewhere in America, “The Star-Spangled Banner” played. Then, as was inevitable, the cops showed up; Merideth was arrested and charged with criminal mischief. Sic transit gloria, I guess.
On Monday, however, the Drone Slayer was exonerated in a county court when Judge Rebecca Ward dismissed the charges against him. Judge Ward reasoned that Merideth was merely defending his right to privacy when he fired at the offending drone, which Merideth feared was being used to spy on him and his family. “I feel vindicated,” Merideth told WAVE3 News. “Police told me there was nothing they could do about it. Nobody would do anything about it, so I did something about it.” Can we somehow get this man into tonight’s GOP debate?
Merideth’s case notwithstanding, I stand behind everything that Slate has published about the folly of firing on other people’s drones. Doing so remains illegal in many jurisdictions. And it’s worth noting that the drone’s owner, David Boggs, plans to appeal the case to a grand jury; Boggs challenges Merideth’s claim that the drone was hovering at a low altitude. (The drone did have a camera on it, and actually filmed its own demise; Boggs has posted the relevant footage on YouTube.) Whatever the ultimate outcome here, the case serves as a good reminder that no matter how bullish technology pundits are on drones as the Future of Everything, a preponderance of regular people just find them creepy and invasive. “This is a victory for him today, I guess,” Boggs told WAVE3. “But it’s far from over.” That’s for sure.
This article is part of a Future Tense series on the future of drones and is part of a larger project, supported by a grant from Omidyar Network and Humanity United, that includes a drone primer from New America.