Can We Have Non-Lethal Drones?
During it’s legislative session in 2015, North Dakota may have authorized UAS’ to be armed with Non-Lethal munitions and systems.
A question that many have asked–and we have recently seen on the front lines in Iraq–is whether Unmanned Aerial Systems (“UAS”) or drones can be armed with some sort of lethal or non-lethal weapon system. Arguably during its legislative session in 2015, the State of North Dakota may have opened the door to the idea.
I ran across an article claiming that North Dakota had authorized the use of non-lethal weapons on UAS. The article seemed to imply that the new statute explicitly authorized such a use. After looking up the bill myself, that’s really not the full story.
So what’s the deal?
The initial introduction of the bill in January 2015 explicitly prohibited the arming of Law Enforcement UAS with lethal or non-lethal weapon systems (among other things limiting a UAS’ use and requiring warrants for certain searches). However, during a committee markup in mid-February 2015 the committee dropped the language prohibiting non-lethal weapon systems. Sparing too much of legalese, one of the things courts may look at when attempting to understand a statute is the legislative history. I see where the article jumped straight to the conclusion that “non-lethal weapon systems have been authorized!” They never really authorized them; however, they never really prohibited them either.
So what does this mean for emergency managers? Simply, before your Law Enforcement side talks about adding “UAS as platforms for non-lethal weapons” into the jurisdiction’s Emergency Operations Plans; you might want to consult with your jurisdiction’s legal counsel for advice on how to exactly handle it.
 House Bill 1328, 64th North Dakota Legislative Assembly, An Act to provide for limitations on the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle for surveillance.