• Drones

Let There Be Weaponized Drones

by Noel Bagwell
for Executive Legal Professionals, PLLC

December 28, 2015


There is a cowardly, wrong-headed, ill-conceived, and dangerous new bill before the Tennessee legislature, House Bill 1456 (“HB 1456”), which would make it a Class E felony “for any person, other than a state, federal, or local law enforcement agency, to knowingly attach or affix a weapon to an unmanned aircraft or to use an unmanned aircraft that the person knows has a weapon attached or affixed to it”. A Class E felony is punishable by one (1) to six (6) years in prison, plus a fine of up to $3,000. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-111.

Some of the other very serious consequences of a felony conviction are perhaps as bad as or even worse than than the potential jail time and the fine, which might be mitigated or even almost entirely eliminated by a good defense or a plea bargain. In addition to the jail time and the fine, a felony record can make it difficult to get and keep a job. Also, a felony conviction can make it more difficult to obtain a professional license, limiting your income potential, even if you’re self-employed! The list of occupations from which you will be excluded by your felony conviction is shockingly long.

Felony convictions can make it harder for you to defend yourself from armed criminals (who ignore gun control laws) or government entities abusing their authority by making it impossible for you to obtain a permit to carry a weapon, such as a handgun. Felony convictions can also be used to enhance the sentences for subsequent criminal convictions, should you ever again be convicted of committing a crime–even a crime different from the one for which you were first convicted. Because the penalties for felony convictions are so harsh, crimes should only be felonies when they are extraordinarily heinous or inherently injurious to the lives, liberties, or property of others.

Does it really make sense, therefore, to make merely affixing a weapon to a drone a Class E felony–conviction for which would prevent you from obtaining a license to become, among other professions, a massage therapist, nurse, attorney, bail bondsman, teacher, or even a barber?! Absolutely not! HB 1456 is a reactionary, fear-driven bill. The bill was introduced following the posting of a video online showing shots being fired from a gun-carrying drone. The simple truth is, people do not know what to make of weaponized Unmanned Aerial Systems (“drones”), and they fear what they do not understand. Laws should be based on more than fear of the unknown. Laws should be based on well-reasoned justifications for curtailing freedoms in specific ways to protect life, liberty, and property.


The potential threat posed by weaponized drones is clear. What is less clear, however, is how weaponized drones could be used to enhance the safety and security of the public, protect private property, and reduce criminal activity. Nevertheless, there are substantial advantages to putting weaponized drones in the hands of businesses and private citizens. All it takes to see these advantages is to pause, set your fear aside, and just think for a moment about how weaponized drones could be a good thing.

Weapons, whether they are guns or grenades or tasers, are neither good nor bad, neither harmful nor helpful, neither the bane of our existence or a boon to be treasured. Weapons are merely tools designed to inflict harm on a person. Some harms inflicted on some people are desirable, such as the harm an attempted rapist suffers when he is tasered by his intended victim. Likewise, if someone is threatening you with imminent serious bodily injury or death, it may be desirable for you to respond with lethal force and inflict harm on your attacker. To accomplish such purposes, guns are efficient, effective tools. To ban any weapon simply because it could be harmful makes as much sense as banning hammers because you could strike your thumb or banning pencils because using them might permit one to make spelling errors.

Tennessee lawmakers are working to integrate Unmanned Aerial Systems into the Tennessee Code by updating existing laws and regulations. That’s fine; that is what our legislators should be doing. What Tennessee does not need are more laws, making more activities illegal. Tennessee especially could do without reactionary, fear-driven laws, like HB 1456, which, at its best, is a solution in search of a problem!

Tennessee’s legislators should examine the current legal landscape, and expressly establish where drones fit in our existing regulatory structure. For example, we already have laws relating to how it is lawful to carry a handgun. We should expressly include references to drones in the handgun carry statute, and set forth reasonable, common-sense regulations relating to how a person may legally use a drone to carry a handgun. We should not simply ban affixing weapons to drones. That is, at best, a lazy, stupid way to address the issue of weaponizing drones. We don’t need to outright ban armed drones; rather, we should accept that armed drones, like any weapons, have a place in our society, and craft common-sense laws and regulations governing their use.

We should allow private security companies to use drones to police, patrol, and protect private property. Tennessee should allow those private security companies to arm the drones, just as they arm security guards–either with tasers or with ballistic weapons capable of inflicting lethal harm upon a criminal person. Laws permitting this kind of activity could create potentially thousands of new jobs in Tennessee.

As for the danger involved, it should go without saying that our state would hold the operators of armed drones involved in private security accountable to the same standards and laws to which a private security guard armed with a handgun or other firearm would be held accountable under the current law. There is no substantial difference between a private armed security guard and a privately operated armed drone–except that the latter type of armed private security likely entails less risk to the operator. In either the case of an armed private security guard or a private armed drone operator, if a wrongful death were to occur as the result of their willful misconduct or negligence, the result would still be a civil suit and criminal charges brought against the responsible party. So, why ban the armed drone? Do you value the security guard’s life less than the cost of the drone?

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Consider, for example, that mindlessly banning weaponized drones in a reactionary way would also preclude the possibility of a quadriplegic person using a drone to legally carry a handgun for self defense, even though such a disabled person might be able to carry and operate a drone (now or in the future), using sophisticated software, to pilot the aircraft and fire the attached weapon. Do we want that? Do we want disabled, vulnerable people to be even more vulnerable by being legally forbidden to use technology which could help them protect themselves or exercise their legal rights, including their right to bear arms, as protected by the Second Amendment? That seems awful.


Our society should not be governed by two sets of laws: one for law enforcement agencies and one for private citizens, one for government and one for everyone else; banning weaponized drones, as HB 1456 does, creates exactly this kind of legal double standard. HB 1456 permits state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies to use weaponized drones against citizens, but does not permit citizens to use them to defend themselves against potential abuses of power by such government agencies.

The very reason the founding fathers incorporated into the Constitution the Right to Bear Arms (an inalienable natural right, which is part of the inalienable natural right to self defense) was to ensure that people would always be able to defend themselves from out-of-control government. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, responded to fears of (federal) governmental oppression, “in part because the new federal government was to be structured differently from European governments. But he also pointed out another decisive difference between Europe’s situation and ours: The American people were armed and would therefore be almost impossible to subdue through military force, even if one assumed that the federal government would try to use an army to do so.

In Federalist No. 46, he wrote:

Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes.

Implicit in the debate between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists were two shared assumptions: first, that the proposed new constitution gave the federal government almost total legal authority over the army and the militia and, second, that the federal government should not have any authority at all to disarm the citizenry.” (Lund 2014)

Any weapons to which the government has access should be made available to the People. If law enforcement personnel are permitted to have and use body armor, private citizens should be permitted to have and use body armor. If law enforcement personnel are permitted to have and use armor-piercing ammunition, private citizens should be permitted to have and use armor-piercing ammunition. If law enforcement personnel are permitted to have and use weaponized drones, private citizens should be permitted to have and use weaponized drones. Even partial disarmament of the People violates the intention of the framers of the Constitution, who recognized the need for the People to be able to defend themselves from an out-of-control government.

When the government can pilot a fleet of weaponized drones, how are private citizens to be expected to have any expectation of personal security or safety from the threat of such weapons? How can private citizens be expected to be able to defend themselves from the abuses of power which could be committed by a government with such weapons? Only when private citizens can engage their government on equal footing, with weapons of equal strength to those used by government personnel–law enforcement or military–can they be secure in their liberties.


HB 1456 would make Tennesseans less safe from governmental abuse of power, more vulnerable to criminals, and less secure in their Second Amendment-protected natural right to self-defense and the right to bear arms for self-defense. HB 1456, therefore, is a terrible law, which should be voted down or, in the alternative, vetoed by the governor. Tennesseean businesses and private citizens should have the right to use weaponized drones for their own protection, whether that protection be against criminals or against an ever-growing, ever-more-dangerous government. In any case, Tennessee does not need to ban weaponized drones while excepting the government from such a ban.


  • Lund, N. (2014, April 17). The Second Amendment and the Inalienable Right to Self-Defense. Retrieved December 28, 2015, from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/04/the-second-amendment-and-the-inalienable-right-to-self-defense

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