- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2013

For the people of Deer Trail, Colo., November elections usually are reserved for electing town board members and state and federal lawmakers.

But in November, residents of the small town will decide whether to license the nation’s first official “drone hunters.”

On Tuesday night, the town board split evenly, with three members voting “yes” and three voting “no,” on an ordinance that would have made it legal for residents to apply for licenses and then shoot unmanned aerial vehicles out of the sky in exchange for a $100 cash reward.

The controversial measure now will appear on the November ballot, leaving the decision up to voters in the town of about 550 people.

Some Deer Trail officials and residents — along with many others across the nation — fear that the rapid rise of domestic drones poses grave new threats to personal privacy. Echoing the concerns of privacy groups, civil liberties activists and many state and federal lawmakers, those pushing the Deer Trail ordinance argue that citizens must resist the unprecedented surveillance capabilities brought by drones.

But some in the small Colorado town have another, secondary motivation.

Deer Trail Town Clerk Kim Oldfield told Denver’s KMGH-TV that the drone-hunting ordinance would be a novelty and could bring notoriety to the town. If enacted, she said, the measure could lead to the townspeople “possibly hunting drones in a skeet, fun-filled festival.”

“We could be home of the world’s first drone hunt,” she said. “It sounds scary, and it sounds super vigilante and frightening. … The real idea behind it is it’s a potential fun moneymaker, and it could be really cool for our community and we’ve needed something to bring us together, and this could be it.”

While Ms. Oldfield sees a “fun moneymaker,” the federal government isn’t laughing.

Last month, as news of the proposed ordinance swept the nation, the Federal Aviation Administration told Deer Trail to abandon its plan or face retribution.

A drone “hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air,” the FAA statement said in part. “Shooting an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane.”

The Deer Trail ordinance, if passed, is unlikely to result in drones being shot out of the sky en masse.

Residents of the town, including ordinance drafter Phillip Steel, have conceded that they have yet to see drones hovering the town. Instead, he called the measure a “pre-emptive strike” against the devices ever using the airspace over a city.

“I don’t want to live in a surveillance society. I don’t feel like being in a virtual prison,” he said, explaining his motivation.

The drone industry’s leading trade group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, has had no comment on the Deer Trail ordinance.