Law enforcement agencies will be able to deploy armed drones in North Dakota, thanks to a new state law.
House Bill (HB) 1328 gives police agencies the right to arm drones with less-than-lethal weapons such as Tasers, bean bags, pepper spray and tear gas. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, signed the bill into law.
The bill originally banned the use of armed drones in North Dakota, but Bruce Burkett, a lobbyist for the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association, was allowed to suggest an amendment to permit less-than-lethal weapons, Daily Beast writer Justin Glave reported. That upset the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Representative Rick Becker.
“This is one I’m not in full agreement with,” Becker said. “I wish it was any weapon [banned]. In my opinion there should be a nice, red line: Drones  should not be weaponized. Period.”
Even the less-lethal weapons allowed under HB 1328 can be deadly. The Guardian reported that 39 people have died after being hit by police Tasers (stun guns) in the United States this year.
Becker’s bill originally was designed to place limits on the use of drones. Now, the revised law makes North Dakota the first place in the United States to allow law enforcement to use armed drones. Becker agreed to the armed-drone provision in order to get a requirement that police obtain a search warrant to conduct criminal investigations.
“I submitted [the bill] with prohibition of any weapons,” Becker said in an ArsTechnica.com interview. “The law enforcement lobby offered an amendment and said that if the amendments were added, they would not oppose. The committee accepted amendments and I didn’t fight them because I wanted the bill to pass at least to require warrants. The law says that law enforcement can’t use drones weaponized with lethal weapons. But in 2017 when I get back, I will introduce a bill to also include non-lethal.”
Becker contends that the Peace Officer’s Association would only withdraw its opposition to his law if it were amended to allow non-lethal weaponized drones . The bill would not have passed without the association’s help, he says.
The bill also places restrictions on drone use and requires police to make extensive reports about their use of unmanned aircraft to the public.
“The gist of why I don’t want the non-lethals allowed is the decision to use force on another citizen, the normal morals and process of thinking goes out the window when it’s like you’re playing a video game,” Becker said of his reasons for sponsoring the bill. “It’s dehumanized, it’s depersonalized.”
The new law has many critics.
“I hear a lot of ideas about drones, and this is one of the worst,” University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo told ArsTechnica.com.
Police will be more likely to use force from drones if it is less than lethal, Calo said.
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