I worked in a Thornton, Colo. movie theater for one summer, during which we weren’t faced with anything close to the shooting at Aurora’s Century 16 complex. However, I think we were similarly prepared for one, which is to say not at all.
In terms of security, we had a box around the ticket sellers designed to prevent theft, rather than violence. We relied on peoples’ social graces when we told them they couldn’t enter without a ticket or told them to stop talking. And we never performed pat-downs or examined peoples’ costumes for potential threats.
I worked two midnight premieres. One left no impression whatsoever, prohibiting me from remembering what movie it was, and the other was the eighth Harry Potter movie. For the latter, our idea of security was to make sure no one was being drunkenly belligerent or otherwise disruptive. It never occurred to us to worry the costumed attendees might have an honest to god plan.
And on a premiere like Dark Knight Rises, you can expect costumed attendees. They’re not a possibility; they’re a sure thing. At Harry Potter, those who didn’t arrive in costumes left in one, namely 3D glasses shaped like the titular character’s eyewear.
Here’s the thing: I can think of two other instances where people might be dressed as characters that carry weapons, which are fan conventions and Halloween. Both of these tend to have rules regarding the weapons.
I remember in middle school, when everyone who was anyone dressed in the scariest costume they could, we weren’t allowed to have weapons at all. You could carry a banana and tell people it was a ray gun, but you better watch yourself.
On the webpage for Otakon, a particularly popular fan convention, they have a lengthy explanation of what kinds of weapons are and aren’t allowed. They also have security on hand, in case your fake scythe meets all regulations and is still too dangerous.
In both cases, as I said, this stuff is regulated, and very similar to the kind of things theaters face. I know they say hindsight is 20/20, but this actually seems like something we should have anticipated. You’ve got a room packed to bursting with hundreds of people, which is already a sign you should be on your guard. It’s dark, and supervision means nothing more than making sure no one’s texting. The only thing the movie-goers have to do to pass muster is present a slip of paper.
It’s a sad state of affairs when we need to anticipate violence in every walk of life. But even if we did expect this, what would we have done? A security guard’s taser is good for, what, two drunk guys brawling in the parking lot? It’s certainly not something you put in the job description for theater employees. “Flexible hours, experience working a cash register, equipped to forestall gun violence until the police arrive, starting at $8 an hour.”
Movie theaters won’t be closing down. They’ve been around for over a century, and according to my Facebook feed this hasn’t stopped many from going to see Dark Knight Rises for themselves. But there’ll be changes, not only to prevent the same thing from happening again or to make attendees feel safe, but because this has been a long time coming.
I like to think better of human nature than that. And speaking with fond memories of my time at Cinebarre in mind, it’s tough to admit that this was an oversight.
It’s terrible that we needed a shooting to open our eyes to the danger presented here. Theaters’ policies regarding fire safety makes it clear they knew there could be issues when you put that many people together in one room. After all, a man was dead for five days in a Fort Collins theater’s bathroom before anyone found him. If that doesn’t scream, “We’ve got to keep a better eye on our guests,” I don’t know what does.
But like I said, even then no one expects something as drastic as someone showing up with guns in hand. Personally, I’m not in favor of a nation always vigilant for the worst possible scenario. But people shouldn’t die just because heightened security can be annoying and inconvenient.
I’m sorry for the victims of the shooting and their families. I’m sorry for everyone who heard the news and panicked for their friends. I’m sorry this happened, and I hope we can at the very least learn from the experience, not just for theaters’ attendees’ sakes, but to resolve any other overlooked lapses in safety that might someday be brought to light in a similar manner.