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Quijano, Benson, Chiaravalloti Bill to Create New Crime for Operating a Drone Equipped with a Weapon Clears Assembly Panel

Legislation Would Create Fourth Degree Crime

(TRENTON) -Armed drones can now be successfully built by civilians. In an effort to deter the construction and flying of weapon-equipped drones, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Daniel Benson and Nicholas Chiaravalloti that would create a fourth degree crime was approved today by the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.

In 2015, several news outlets reported that an 18-year-old college sophomore built what was thought to be among the first armed civilian drones, and filmed the device flying on his family’s property in Connecticut.

“The armed drone was a wake-up call for law enforcement,” said Quijano (D-Union), the committee’s chairperson. “Despite serious concerns for public safety, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told ‘CBS This Morning’ there appeared to be nothing illegal about it. That statement was a wake-up call for the legislature.”

The bill (A-1739) would make it a fourth degree crime to operate a drone that is equipped with a weapon. Specifically, under the provisions of the bill, a person who operates a civilian unmanned aerial vehicle, commonly referred to as a drone, that is equipped with an anti-personnel device is guilty of a fourth degree crime.

“We cannot allow civilians to fly drones with weapons attached,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Public safety is paramount and this bill is commonsense legislation to address that.”

The bill defines “civilian unmanned aerial vehicle” as an aerial vehicle owned or operated by a private individual or business entity that uses aerodynamic forces to propel the vehicle and does not carry a human operator, and, which is capable of flying autonomously or being piloted remotely and conducting surveillance. “Anti-personnel device” means a firearm, a prohibited weapon or device, or any other projectile designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being.

“We must give law enforcement the tools they need to keep us all safe,” explained Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “Creating this fourth degree crime will send a message to those who might be thinking of building a drone and attaching a weapon. They will know they could face real time behind bars.”

A fourth degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.