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Law

‘Does the Second Amendment Cover My Right to Bear (Robotic) Arms?’

A new video showing a drone firing a handgun raises murky legal questions.

Hobbyists tinkering with their firearms is nothing out of the ordinary, but it’s not often that a drone enters the equation. A new video showing a Connecticut teen’s flying handgun has become a viral sensation online, garnering more than 1 million views — and raising questions about what some legal experts contend is the next frontier in Second Amendment law.

In the 14-second clip, uploaded by 18-year-old drone hobbyist Austin Haughwout, a small quadrotor helicopter hovers in the air while a handgun attached to its front fires four rounds, each shot causing the craft to visibly recoil. In a Reddit post, Haughwout wrote the drone was homemade using parts from 3D Robotics’s Iris quadcopter, while the gun was semiautomatic a Kel-Tec PMR-30.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations on unmanned civil aircraft don’t specifically prohibit the outfitting of drones with firearms, but Haughwout’s device likely runs afoul of the agency’s broader restrictions on civilian drone operation.

“We currently have rules in the books that deal with releasing anything from an aircraft, period,” said Jim Williams, director of the FAA’s Unmanned Air Systems Integration Office, at an industry event in 2013. “Those rules are in place and that would prohibit weapons from being installed on a civil aircraft.”

But some legal experts have questioned whether or not such prohibitions could withstand a challenge under the Second Amendment.

In 2012, former U.S. District Court clerk Dan Terzian argued in the Penn State Law Review that “there is no legal impediment — nor should there be — to [robotic weapons] becoming arms.”

“If they’re using a pistol attached to a mechanical device — you have a right to that pistol,” he later told U.S. News and World Report. “You can do whatever you want with it unless you are breaking the law with it. I think it’s at least possible that some of those laws could be challenged.” (In Connecticut, you must be 21 years old to purchase and possess a handgun. Though if Haughwout’s gun is borrowed or a family item and he was supervised during the filming, he would not be in violation of any state law.)

Haughwout’s brief video is only the latest to cause a stir by showing an unmanned aircraft wielding a firearm. In 2013, ClearPlex, a maker of smartphone screen-protectors, released a video showing a drone-mounted revolver firing at a phone protected by one of its products. Before the rise in popularity of multirotor craft in recent years, hobbyists also took to arming remote-controlled helicopters with handguns and shotguns.

“Does the Second Amendment cover my right to bear (robotic) arms?” asked the Brookings Institution’s Peter Singer in 2010. “It sounds like a joke, but where does the line stop, and why?”

[Photo: Youtube]