Imagine this scenario: A terror suspect is holding hostages in a public space. A police-operated drone with a camera swoops in to assess the situation and determines he is armed and dangerous.
The man is coaxed to surrender by a SWAT team, but his posturing suggests he is about to shoot. As a final resort, the drone — toting a firearm — hits the suspect. He is neutralized.
The way some lawmakers in Connecticut see it, weaponized drones represent a future for policing — and could be a necessary option in moments when lives are at stake. That’s why a bill making its way through the state legislature would be the first in the nation to explicitly allow police to add lethal weapons to drones.
The bill, H.B. 7260, moved overwhelmingly out of the Judiciary Committee last month and must pass the state’s House and Senate before the session ends in early June. It’s unclear whether this incarnation will go as far as the governor’s desk, lawmakers say, after previous legislation on the topic failed to gain traction in recent years. Civil liberties groups are urging caution on the measure, citing concerns over privacy and when force would be used.
Regardless, the growing prominence of drone technology means ground rules need to be in place sooner rather than later for whether they can be weaponized and to what extent, said state Sen. John Kissel, a Republican co-chair of the Judiciary Committee who supports weaponizing drones. Lawmakers are continuing to discuss the bill.
Kissel said he recognizes that civil liberties groups believe Connecticut could be setting a dangerous precedent, but if civilians are already outfitting their drones with weapons — as what happened in Connecticut in 2015 with a teen’s “flying gun” experiment that went viral — then law enforcement has to be given the same advantage.
“We have to be able to fight fire with fire,” Kissel said. “The use of weaponized drones isn’t going to go away because we don’t like it, so we have to do something now.”
Kissel said he can imagine a range of scenarios that would allow the high-tech gadgets to be weaponized. They include: dismantling a bomb placed in an area where people cannot reach; shooting down another armed drone; shooting out a tire in a high-speed car chase; or using a stun gun on a suspect.
Any law “would be extremely narrowly tailored,” Kissel said, “and we want there to be really rigorous training because of the potential for lethal force under certain circumstances.”
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