Teen Mom 2 Asks an Important Question: Is It OK to Shoot Down Drones?

Here at Future Tense, we pride ourselves on our ability to bring you important news about emerging technologies and their discontents. Whether we’re discussing the modern surveillance state or the threat of software vulnerabilities, we try to fill you in on the critical debates—while asking the most pressing questions—of this fraught historical moment.

As such, we would be remiss if we did not point you to a complex conversation that play out in this week’s episode of Teen Mom 2. Yes, Teen Mom 2. The MTV reality show about twentysomethings who became moms when they were in their teens.

The segment in question begins as (former) teen mom Jenelle prepares for her wedding to David, a very cool and normal dude who we will return to in a moment. David, stalking the property like an ornery bison, calls Jenelle, informing her that “some girls” were attempting to take pictures of the event before it began. “Now they’re, like, flying drones over the house, and driving by taking pictures. Trying to get video of the whole thing,” he continues.

Jenelle, indignant, almost immediately settles on a solution. “We will shoot it,” she tells her friend Allison. “It’s over my private property … You’re not allowed to be a peeping Tom.”

Though Allison wears a pink tank top emblazoned with the phrase “Well behaved bitches seldom make history,” she proves unexpectedly well behaved. “Google it,” she responds. “Google what happens. It’s illegal to shoot a drone.”

Allison, as it happens, is largely correct. As we have informed you here in Future Tense before, it is technically a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. 32 to shoot down a drone. According to the statute, it’s illegal to damage, destroy, disable, or wreck any aircraft. And because the Federal Aviation Administration treats drones as aircraft, even the most annoying quadcopters should fall under the law’s protections.

Jenelle, for her own part, seems to believe that her property falls under more regal jurisdiction. “What does the queen do about it?” she asks. “She shoots that [shit]. What do celebrities do? They shoot that [shit]. I’m pretty sure a cop will understand this is my day, and they’re trying to ruin it.”

It’s possible that she would get away with it. In 2015 a Kentucky judge absolved a man who had shot down a drone that was, he claimed, spying on his sunbathing daughters. In that case, the matter came down to a matter of jurisdiction, but as Jamie Nafziger notes, “a landowner who shoots down a drone [still] risks prosecution under that federal criminal law.” While the FAA has been, as drone expert Faine Greenwood told me, “decidedly reluctant” to enforce the statute, Jenelle would have been opening herself to real legal risk had she opened fire, especially with cameras rolling. (For what it’s worth, Margot E. Kaminski has argued in Future Tense that the “sunbathing daughter” argument has become a pernicious distraction from real privacy issues.)

More recently, the U.S. military received permission from the Pentagon to shoot down drones that stray into no-fly zones. Given, however, that Jenelle’s nuptials weren’t happening on a military base—and that shooting at drones is always dangerous and stupid—we’re going to say that Allison was in the right here. Even as she seethes with anger, Jenelle seems to recognize that, but she still stumbles across an improbable compromise: “I’ll [fucking] get my drone now, and I’ll [fucking] get theirs down.”

The clip ends with a shot of David sending a drone aloft. We don’t see the results of that flight, but as Jenelle would later confirm, he ultimately failed to play drone bumper cars with the invader. That’s not entirely surprising, especially because this is a dude who reportedly started slashing balloons with a pocket knife after bartenders cut him off during a Teen Mom 2 end-of-year party. One wonders what the queen would do about that.