The first gunshot didn’t faze Lenny Helbig too much. He was setting up an aerial photograph of his friend’s under-construction house, and he knew a nearby quarry was favored by local plinkers. It was the next three shots that got his attention. “I looked to my left and this woman is out on the balcony—she’s yelling ‘What the fuck are you doing, you pervert?’ I’m like: ‘Oh my god! You just fucking shot at my drone!’ ”
It was September 2014, and Lenny Helbig had become likely the first American to have his drone shot out of the air. It was brought down with a 12-gauge shotgun by Russell Percenti, who was Helbig’s friend’s next-door neighbor and the son of the woman who was shouting at him. Helbig says the drone never even flew over Percenti’s property.
The New Jersey incident would make national news, but it was only the first. Since then, drones have been very publicly shot out of the sky in Kentucky, Tennessee,Arkansas, Louisiana, and most recently in a (perhaps embellished) case in Virginia. These stories are often framed as tales of normal people getting revenge on snooping tech bros—an understandable and fundamentally American reaction to a creeping surveillance society. Some who might otherwise disapprove of solving problems with firearms cheer on drone shootings, as if the shooters are brave vanguards of an anti-surveillance revolution at best, or slightly naughty at worst. Ammo companies advertise shotgun shells designed to shoot down quadcopters, a slick “Johnny Dronehunter” ad pushes shotgun silencers, and a Colorado town has attempted to offer drone hunting licenses. The Kentucky drone shooter has even inspired T-shirts and a nickname—the Droneslayer.