Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Drone Hunters

"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, in keeping with the Western traditions of sovereignty and freedom." - Phil Steel, 'Ordinance to Defend the Sovereign Airspace of the Town of Deer Trail, Colorado.'

Deer Trail, Colorado has postponed voting on an ordinance that would award licenses and bounties to citizens who "kill" federal drones flying above their property, or anywhere in the town until spring of 2014. The ordinance was written and proposed by Phil Steel, a resident of the under-600-resident town who hopes to create a system that would grant drone hunting-licenses for citizens to shoot down unmanned aerial vehicles in the "sovereign airspace of the town of Deer Trail, Colorado." There are a number of legal violations involved in shooting down government aircraft, but the ordinance is more of an emotional stand against the invasion of privacy rather than a stand for establishing a viable drone-hunting protocols.

A prototype 'Drone Hunting License' posted online by the Professional Drone Hunters. Image via Droneshooters.com
The wording of the ordinance is highly emotionally charged, displaying a passionate yet logically flawed explanation for the imminent need for Deer Trail's citizens to "kill" drones. The introduction to the ordinance is a lenghty portrayal of the town of Deer Trail as the last holdout of liberty against tyrannical government forces, non-government organizations, and 'powerful corporate interests'. In the eyes of its author, these evil organizations used covert and aggressive forces to such a point that Deer Trail's residents must now fight for their very existence. Steel, the author, unabashedly claims the citizens of his town "have and maintain a distinctive way of life that emphasizes independence, freedom, and social/political/economic self-determination" that is currently under threat from surveillance and privacy invasion of unmanned aerial systems. He proposes that the motion to pass this ordinance rests on the historical abuse of government abuse of the residents of his town. Steel writes,
"State and federal governmental entities, non-governmental organizations and powerful corporate interests have previously encroached on the freedoms and liberties of the Town of Deer Trail and its citizens, even to the extent of conducting violent armed assaults against targeted members of our community while jeopardizing the lives and safety of members of the community."
It should be noted that there is no mention of any governmental maliciousness or violence toward the town on the Deer Field public websites, nor in any historical references located online. Still, the ordinance continues with even more hyperbolic statements, saying that world governments, and international interests are all threatened by Deer Trail's "traditional American ideas of Liberty and Freedom." Steel even equates the intentions of the government and of corporations to terrorist groups, referring to them all in the same statements that put Deer Trail on the opposite end of the "Tyranny - Liberty" spectrum.
"State and Federal entities, non-governmental organizations, international interests, state and non-state actors, terrorists and others are threatened by traditional American ideas of Liberty and Freedom, and heritage of such principles remains inherent in the common way of life by ranchers, farmers, cowboys and Indians, as well as contemporary citizens of the Town of Deer Trail." (Drone Ordinance)
The practicality of catching and taking down a drone over such a small tract of land seems unlikely, but if Deer Trail is successful, other towns that are equally afraid of unmanned air systems will likely raise their barrels to the sky. Image via City Data.
In an unexpected twist of levelheadedness, Phil Steele's counter-drone ordinance does take into account several safety precautions so that the 'drone hunters' and bystanders are as protected from harm as much as possible. The ordinance calls for public education of drone configuration and capabilities so that citizens may distinguish militarized drones from commercial 'toy' unmanned air vehicles; accidental engagement with toy aircraft will result in the shooter fully reimbursing the toy owner. To control for the spread of pellets and to protect bystanders, gun sizes and ammunition types are limited. Such regulations include:
  • Shotguns 12 gauge or smaller, having a barrel length of 18+ inches
  • Shot sizes between 2 and 7.5 may be used (90-350 pellets per ounce)
  • Shots may be lead, steel, depeleted uranium, or any other metal alloy commonly used in shotgun ammunition
  • Exploding ammunition may NOT be used

Interestingly, the ordinance stipulates that the drone education program's annual funding must not exceed $10,000 and that the majority of efforts must come from volunteer teachers. (DroneShooter ordinance, point f) The limited amount of funds and reliance on volunteer efforts might be effective for the town of Deer Trail, but other towns of larger populations will have to structure counter-drone programs differently in order to sustain their efforts. Considering Deer Trail is only a population of five-hundred, the cost per citizen will be roughly $20 in taxes per person per year, not including the cost of 'drone hunting accessories' such as drone-hunting licenses ($25), gun registration fees, range-finding devices, weapons, and munitions. These are not trivial costs and should be taken into account as each citizen decides how much finance he or she is willing to put into personal counter-drone technologies.

Occupational demographics show that virtually everyone in Deer Trail works in a blue collar industry. The majority of men are truck drivers and mechanics, while women are mostly in 'other management' besides farming. Information via City Data.
When compared with the state of Colorado, Deer Trail's average education level is significantly lower. Information via City Data.

Deer Trail's demographics reveal a side of the story left untold by most media reports on the town. This town has under 600 residents, with an estimated mean household income of $49,000; the town is so small that the number of non-white residents amount to less than 30 citizens. This means that Deer Trail is potentially small enough to raise serious concerns about elected officials being biased toward proposed legislative motions. Though a District Court judge in Colorado recently rejected a legal claim that the town clerk responsible for bringing the drone-shooting law to a vote was 'biased,' it is still entirely possible that this act was used as a political maneuver. The town government consists of a mayor and six trustees, and there are two full-time government employees. Other ordinances in the hands of the eight elected officials include three different medical marijuana prohibitory laws, three nuisance ordinance amendments, a curfew for minors, and fence regulations, to name a few. The town seems to be tackling a great deal of personal initiatives and is heavily concerned with morality- and privacy- centric social issues, while it is less concerned with its clear education gap. When it comes to marijuana or being a minor, the town government of Deer Trail has no problem being heavily involved in peoples' private lives, but when it comes to drones, Phil Steel and certain townspeople fear for their last shreds of privacy.
The town is almost split down the middle when it comes to national party politics, indicating there is a diversity of opinion among this small group. Info via City Data.
The fundamental question for DroneShooter supporters is: even without drone surveillance, how much privacy can you have in a town of less than 600 people?

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