In this hypothetical world which is very similar to our world, small drones carrying light firearms (think handgun) are made legal.

They were first mostly used as home security systems. They fly around your property and start shooting at any intruders.

They are programmed to not shoot lethally but to try to incapacitate the intruders (by aiming for the legs)

What would be the influence of this on crime levels & society. Would the police and amry also use those drones? Would criminals also use it? How efficient would such a drone be?

Would it be like opening the pandora box?

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    $\begingroup$ Too broad, methinks. :-) $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Oct 5 '17 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ This is already happening, but the details differ with locality. Where is this? Location, location, location. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Oct 5 '17 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ I think one difficulty in answering this is that a world in which such a drone was legal is so extraordinarily different from our own that those differences will dwarf those caused by the drone itself. The drones are just stacking one additional rock on top of the summit of Mt. Everest. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 5 '17 at 4:56
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    $\begingroup$ The line you must never cross is: a human must pull the trigger. Not even in war are you allowed to have systems targeted at humans that act on their own. Things as mundane as trip-wire activated anti-personnel mines are disallowed because of this. A human must be in the control loop and make the final judgement call if the trigger is to be pulled or not. Also — as has been mentioned — it is easy to disable and/or steal a drone. And with that your firearm is gone. Again: not even in the US are you allowed to let unauthorized people have that easy access to your weapons. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Oct 5 '17 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ Just allowing aiming at legs would open pandora's box. Now, in most countries where handguns are legal, private citizens are only allowed to use them in situations that require lethal force. If you don't aim to kill, you shouldn't pull the trigger at all, shouldn't even pull the gun from its holster. Because if you don't think lethal force is necessary, you do not use it. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 5 '17 at 8:44

Falconry Experiences A Resurgence In Popularity

You can train falcons to take down drones or simply use nets. Police and Army will almost certainly use such drones. Actually, the armed forces have already have used drones of varying sizes for a while now.

A drone here is no silver bullet, though. People will find ways around these, be it hacking the drones, tricking the AI through fashion, using their drones to take down drones, or otherwise disabling them. Such drones will be just another hurdle and deterrence for ne'er-do-wellers, but may be more trouble than they are worth. (What happens if the drones misidentify someone or something? Are drones allowed to, legally, protect property with almost lethal force? If you're shot by a drone, must the property owner provide immediate medical assistance? And so on...)

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    $\begingroup$ One county in CO offered a bounty for anyone who shot down a federal aerial drone, IIRC. I'm sure some people considered arming their own drones to do so. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Oct 5 '17 at 4:15
  • $\begingroup$ @can-ned_food Whoa! You're right: theverge.com/2013/7/18/4535746/… $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Oct 5 '17 at 22:48

A few possible social outcomes:

  • Skeet shooting will become a popular pass-time among the criminal classes.
  • Mail delivery carrier and electricity meter reader will become considerably less desirable occupations. (Also, the few surviving girl-guides will abandon the idea of selling cookies.)
  • Kevlar trousers will become fashionable among those people who prefer not to bleed out from a ruptured femoral artery.
  • The number of idiots accidentally killed by their own miss-programmed drone will greatly exceed the number of intrusions prevented.
  • There will be at least one youtube channel dedicated to videos of drones shooting things that they shouldn't and several others warning us the the government is commin' to take yer drones.
  • $\begingroup$ I was about to -1 for "idiots accidentally killed by their own miss-programmed drone will greatly exceed the number of intrusions prevented," but then I noticed you lead with "possible social outcomes," not "likely social outcomes" (or worse). That one word made all the difference, so I'll +1 instead. "idiots accidentally kill themselves more than intruders" is something anti-gun people already argue a lot, but there are a lot of people successfully preventing crimes with guns on a regular basis; they just do not get reported on as nearly as much as the negatives. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Oct 5 '17 at 13:54

I'm not a military expert, but I would assume that armed drones are a reality by now. The temptation to deliver a bullet (or bomb) to an enemy without endangering any of your own soldiers is just a little too tempting to a military mind. It has to be real.

That being said, if the engineers have worked out the "how" of armed drones, it is only a matter of time before criminals and criminal organizations start using them in their criminal endeavors. Criminals, by definition, do not obey laws, so your making something legal or illegal will have little effect on them.

One particular branch of Criminals will however have a field day with your flying guns. Con Men, working in pairs will arrange for wealthy citizen's drone defenses to attack them under conditions when no visible criminal activity is going on. One Con Man will be casually walking a dog along your home's sidewalk, while the other hacks into your drone's control system. When the drone kills the pooch and wounds its owner, all within clear view of your home's own security cameras; you will be heading to court for unprovoked assault and caninacide. Expect big legal fees and even bigger settlements to the Con Men's benefit.

  • $\begingroup$ They are certainly used in many places; if organized armies use them, you can be certain that many other classes of people are also using them. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Oct 5 '17 at 4:10

Being based in the UK I find this an unlikely and alarming scenario that would require significant changes in the way society was governed and laws implemented. But assuming your (presumably US based) starting point what would be the outcome? (Slightly tongue in cheek).

I think that without doubt the police and the army would use them and they would be allowed to have all sorts of advanced versions from the equivalent of a flying hand gun to the equivalent of an unmanned attack helicopter and everything in between.

Would criminals use them? Yes, even with elaborate measures to prevent this, criminals would eventually circumvent any controls as they have with other weapons.

In such a heavily armed society I suspect there would be calls for people to be able to own personal drones to defend themselves from attack by rouge security drones or criminal drones. In fact I’m sure there would be many people only too happy to claim (perhaps not unfairly) that their liberty was under attack. Given the level of gun saturation I can imagine the situation degenerating into a technological pigeon shoot where the appearance of any drone would be met with a hail of semi-automatic gun fire from all directions.

This might keep the number of drones down or make their use uneconomic. It might also lead to an arms race of sorts. The security drones would have to fly higher to keep out of range of small arms, but this could lead to high velocity automated anti drone weapons being located on rooftops and so on. A lot would depend on what the Government would be willing to accept, and given past history and leadership probably quite a lot. Surely though even The Donald might baulk at privately owned anti drone missile attack systems.

Drones would also be vulnerable to pot shots from the ground during take-off and landing so suitable tall buildings or big enclosures would be needed to operate them from even if they were flying high. But even then if personal drones were armed it wouldn’t be long before drone warfare broke out. Given a love of weaponry, a righteous motivation and lots of money even the security drone stations could be overrun by co-ordinated massed attacks from personal defence drones hit and run attacks.

I suspect that shooting drones out of the sky would be frowned upon by the authorities to say the least– think of the dangers of drone wreckage falling into the streets – but no doubt it would still be a very popular pastime. I suspect the security firms would soon be driven out of business by the excess drone damage and law suits from injured parties claiming they were “just delivering the post” or similar and should not have been shot in the legs. Perhaps drones would then become a hidden weapon rarely seen but still present in the background as a threat.

  • $\begingroup$ They are used very often by the NATO forces in the Middle East, or at least the American constituents. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Oct 5 '17 at 4:31
  • $\begingroup$ This answer is full of the common false ideas already applied by anti-gun folks. "If guns are everywhere, it will be like a wild-west shootout!" That is just false. And, similar to "In a world where everyone is armed, I'll be paranoid and justifiably shoot you for being armed near me," so too this answer suggests, and even promotes, criminal anti-drone activity; if the drone is just watching you and minding its own business and they have a history of safely working as expected, then anti-drone attack devices are simply property destruction and you should be fined for your crime. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Oct 5 '17 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ I will grant you, though, that if, and that's a big if, this was a world where the drones are all dangerous and having accidents all over the place, shooting mail carriers and meter readers, killing dog walkers, etc., then sure, maybe the situation you describe would be justifiable, and it would make an interesting (but far distant from reality) story. I would read such a book or watch such a movie intently. I neither +1 nor -1 your answer. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Oct 5 '17 at 14:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaron I have to admit that you are right here. As I said at the top it was slightly tongue in cheek (no offence meant). But the situation seemed so oppressive that I felt compelled to put the case for the people against the machines. Although perhaps over stated I do think such things might well occur from time to time. The biggest issue is that the drones are programmed not human controlled. The difficulties would be immense and the scope for accident massive. $\endgroup$ – Slarty Oct 5 '17 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Slarty I should probably have stated in my previous comments, so I was not misunderstood (not saying I was), that I too would be against armed drones of this sort. Please do not take my previous comment to mean that I support - at all - armed drones everywhere. That would indeed be scary. However, an arms race in which we are all having a wild shootout sounds much scarier yet, which from your answer I can tell you agree with. Sorry if I sounded entirely against you earlier. Though I did not vote either way earlier, I was on the edge, and I will +1. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk Oct 5 '17 at 21:26

As this is already happening, there are a few things you need to consider when differentiating your subworld from our own.

  • location, location, location
    (As clarification requested in my comment.)
  • weaponry available in private sector: ease of obtaining and variety thereof
  • opinion of the various government channels, of the masses, and of the magnates

So, as other answers have already said, these things are already in use in various parts of the world. I would link, but you can simply do a few searches for unmanned drones used to kill people in the Middle East.

What you are asking, therefore, is a bundle of questions.
One of the more answerable versions would be: What would be the result of property owners arming surveillance drones in urban or suburban settings?
Really, it depends on local ordinances, but you should expect that the larger tiers of government agencies would find numerous reasons to scrutinize those who decide to operate such weapons.

As yet, most municipalities in the continental USA do not operate aerial drones as weapons platforms. Most of them don't operate drones at all. I'm sure there are a few covert ops here and there, but those are outside the bounds of this question.

Now, keep in mind that a weaponized drone was used in Texas some time ago, albeit a non-aerial one and for a very specific purpose:

When you've narrowed your question and clarified it somewhat, I'll edit my answer.


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