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Can you shoot at drones flying over your land?

Can you shoot at drones flying over your land?
PHOTO COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK

Drones, guns and privacy. Talk about hot-button issues.

Drones, of course, are suddenly everywhere. At least 700,000 drones were sold in just the United States in 2015, according to Consumer Technology Association estimates. And many more are coming, likely including Amazon, Wal-Mart and other retailers delivering products with drones, or unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

Yet, the rules regulating who flies drones, and where they can fly, are quite murky. The Federal Aviation Administration, which Congress gave authority over drones in 2012, is expected to clarify some of this with new regulations this summer.

However, the FAA has said it won't address privacy. In other words, if someone flies a drone over your house, it's unclear now what your privacy rights are, or aren't.

In fact, a recent incident in Kentucky, where William Merideth shot down his neighbor's drone when it flew over his land, is again raising questions about drones and your privacy. So, can you shoot down a drone flying over your property?

The short answer is, you probably shouldn't. The long answer is, ask your local police or courts. The federal government, at the moment, isn't going to provide much help.

The FAA's drone rules are unclear. On its website, it says: "FAA guidance also says that model aircraft should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas and full scale aircraft, should be kept within visual line of sight of the operator, should weigh under 55 pounds."

The issue, as Merideth is finding out, is how much of the air above your land is your property? According to the FAA, anything above your physical property, down to a blade of grass, is owned by the government.

However, in the 1940s, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that any air above a person's land, which they could conceivably occupy, is theirs. That's why you sometimes hear about property owners in cities like New York selling their air rights.

So, can you shoot down a drone that's flying overhead? The federal government suggests that you consult with the government leaders in your city or state. That's a good place to start for you; more than 30 states have their own rules regarding drones.

Note: Do you know you have to register your drones with the federal government? As of January 1, 2016, you need to register drones that weigh between 8.8 ounces and 55 pounds on the Federal Aviation Administration's website.

You just input your name, street address, and pay a $5 fee. (If you register before January 20, 2016, your $5 will be refunded.) Register here on the FAA site here.

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