The teen who created last year’s viral video “Flying Gun” as well as a sequel entitled “Roasting the Holiday Turkey” (which features a flamethrower strapped to a drone) is the subject of a Federal Aviation Administration investigation that will likely be taken to court.
Austin Haughwout and his father, Bret Haughwout, created the weaponized drones in July and December of last year and published their exploits online. The combined viewership of the two videos is well over 4 million, and their popularity has attracted the attention of the FAA.
According to a detailed piece from Vice’s Motherboard, the FAA subpoenaed the Haughwout’s for “photographs and video, receipts for the flamethrower, YouTube audience, advertising, and monetization information, and other evidence that could be used against the family in court should the FAA decide that a crime was committed.”
The Haughwout’s have thus far refused to comply with the subpoena, and Bret Haughwout has stated he will use the “maximum extent of the law” to protect his son.
The FAA has filed a motion to compel the Haughwouts to comply with the subpoena, which is currently making its way through US District Court in Connecticut.
Essentially, the case revolves around two issues: the definition of “aircraft” and the Second Amendment.
The Second Amendment issue is a tricky one, as it isn’t clear whether the individual right to keep and bear arms applies to robotic arms as well. Some say it might, but not even all Second Amendment advocates are willing to die on that hill.
“It’s nothing I’ve ever heard of anyone wanting to do,” Dave Workman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms told US News and World Report. “It certainly is an interesting idea, but if you’re launching an armed, remote controlled aircraft, I’d imagine you’d run into some serious safety issues. What if it crashes and you have a loaded gun on it?”
The Haughwout’s lawyer, Mario Cerame, also isn’t convinced appealing to the Second Amendment is his client’s best strategy. Cerame told Motherboard that “he’s not sure if gun drones would be protected by the Second Amendment, and he said invoking the Second Amendment in this legal brief would be ‘too cute.’”
The amendment has a basis and a legal precedent in protecting the right to self-defense, he explained. And since “the gun is not very accurate,” it would be tough to argue the Haughwout’s weaponized drone could be used for self-defense.
The stronger case, according to Cerame, attacks the FAA’s too-broad definition of “aircraft.” Under its current definition, anything that flies through the air—including bullets and plastic bags—is under FAA jurisdiction. Cerame argues that this definition is ridiculously broad, and that his client’s drones should not fall into the same category as manned airplanes, blimps, and helicopters.
“The statutory definition of aircraft is ambiguous, and the FAA’s construction is patently absurd,” he wrote in his legal brief. “Sure, [the regulations] look simple enough. A thing, any thing, that flies.
“The verb fly, as in ‘fly in the air,’ is not so plain, though. There is fly in the sense of airborne locomotion, like how birds fly from one place to another. But . . . flags also fly, when attached to a pole, don’t they? We also say that plastic bags or bits of paper carried on the air fly about—isn’t that a motif in American Beauty? And don’t we say that bullets or knives or any airborn dangerous object—don’t they fly through the air too, especially when there are lots of them? Baseballs can go pretty high—we call it a ‘fly ball.’ Okay.”
The case is ongoing, but Judge Jeffrey Meyer heard oral arguments from both sides earlier this week..