Lafayette Shootings Again Raise Issues of Security at Movie Theaters

Lafayette Shootings Again Raise Issues of
Courtesy of NBC

After a gunman shot and killed two women and injured nine others in a Lafayette, La., movie theater on Thursday, security at the multiplex is once again an issue.

Authorities in other Louisiana cities announced plans to increase patrols of local theaters over the weekend, and one lawmaker told Buzzfeed News that she is working on a bill to install metal detectors in movie venues.

But some exhibitors see adding armed guards inside theaters, or examining theater patrons for weapons, as prohibitively expensive, while sending a message of potential danger to moviegoers expecting an evening of entertainment.

Industry trade group the National Assn. of Theater Owners had no comment.

John Russell Houser, 59, the gunman, took his own life after the shootings at the Grand Theater during a screening of “Trainwreck.” Authorities described him as a drifter who had a history of mental illness. They said he fired at least 13 rounds from a semiautomatic handgun.

“Exhibitors should always be concerned about the safety of their patrons, but going forward, perhaps the issue is how vulnerable we all are in any venue,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “It speaks to the bigger issue of public safety.”

“It is more of a societal issue than a movie theater issue,” he added. “That is the crux of the whole situation.”

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence noted that the tragedy occurred at “one of our country’s favorite pastimes — a night at the movies,” but focused on the issue of access to firearms. Dan Gross, its president, said that “it will be important to learn whether [Houser] legally had any business owning a firearm and, if not, finding out how he got one.”

Investigators continue to examine the events that led to Houser’s shooting rampage.

Matt Bogaard, whose Bogaard Group Intl. advises companies on security and risk management, said that there aren’t “any pending threats or unusual concerns surrounding the safety of movie theaters today. They are and continue to be safe places for entertainment.”

But he said that the shooter’s selection of a movie theater could have been a product of many factors: “It’s so dark, the shooter’s final act behaviors can occur largely undetected, the surprise factor makes intervention by others slower and less effective, the noise and dialogue associated with some films could confuse people into thinking the shooting wasn’t real, and the public access means the shooter could conduct pre-incident boundary probing, rehearsals and security surveillance in advance.”

Some security experts said they still find security wanting at many theaters.

“They have a long way to go if they really want to make their theaters secure,” said Howard Levinson, president of Expert Security Consulting in Massachusetts, who has advised multiple chains on security procedures and also worked on the aftermath of the July 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colo. Last week, James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, was convicted on all 165 charges in the first-degree murder deaths of 12 people and the attempted murder of 40 others.

Levinson said that what typically happens after a tragic event is “you have short-term corrective measures, then things start to fall back to what they were.”

He knows of few theaters that have brought in metal detectors, an added expense not just for the equipment but for the cost of employees to monitor them.

A basic problem for theaters, he said, is training. Many theaters have a high turnover of employees, with a large part of their workforce under the age of 20, he said. That makes training more difficult.

Levinson said one chain “had more pages in their training manual for how to make popcorn than they do for security. There’s a lot of different issues, a lot of different challenges, and these chains have got to take a look at it.”

On one level, movie theaters are no different from other public places; on another, they face their own set of security challenges.

That has come up in the case of Cinemark Theaters, which is facing civil litigation from victims and family members of the Aurora shooting, who contend that the multiplex failed to take reasonable security precautions.

Cinemark’s attorneys have argued that the danger was unforeseeable. “The very reason why mass murderous assaults obtain their notoriety is because they are random, aberrant, rare, unexpected, unanticipated and shocking,” they wrote in a court brief last year; nothing like the motiveless, mass-murderous assault by Holmes had occurred before.

But last year, U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson refused to grant Cinemark’s motion for summary judgment, writing that “the setting of modern life is simply the changed landscape in which any school or base or business where large numbers of people congregate operated in July 2012. Although theaters had theretofore been spared a mass shooting incident, the patrons of a movie theater are, perhaps even more than students in a school or shoppers in a mall, ‘sitting ducks.’ One might reasonably believe that a mass shooting incident in a theater was likely enough (that is, not just a possibility) to be a foreseeable next step in the history of such acts by deranged individuals.”

Jackson’s ruling was merely that enough issues of fact exist for the case to go to trial. If the case proceeds to that stage, some of the issues expected to be raised are why off-duty policemen and other security personnel were hired to patrol midnight screenings of “The Dark Knight Rises” at some Cinemark theaters, but not in Aurora. Plaintiffs also have argued that the exit door that Holmes propped open to gain exit and entrance to the theater lacked a functioning alarm, something that could have alerted employees.

Attorney Bryan Sullivan, partner at Early Sullivan in Los Angeles, said that what is “foreseeable” still has to be measured against what is possible in other public places.

He said via email that “if it is foreseeable at a movie theater, then it should be foreseeable at other public venues, such as malls, restaurants, etc., which is not reasonable. And, the only way to protect against such incidents is to have armed security guards present at all such public venues and to have metal detectors at such places as well to prevent anyone from bringing a weapon in.”

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  1. Sean kenedy says:

    I’ve personally witness numerous arguments’ that could have easily escalated to physical confrontation’s regarding numerous individuals using their cell phones throughout the movie. A suggestion to the theater owners! Prior to the start of the movie, the patent friendly cartoon notice to the audience requesting to turn off their cell phones; INSTEAD; of a cartoon notice, there should be a strong warning that ANYONE using a cell phone will be asked to leave the theater including a refund for their ticket or tickets. Surprising, most of those using their disturbing cell phones are not young people, rather self- indulgent encroaching adults with no regard that they disturbing others in the audience. The cost of having one or two ushers overlooking the specific theaters are less than having arm security in every theater. PLEASE, PLEASE, theater owners! Do something about this serious on-going problem!

  2. Daniel O'Connor says:

    “Lafayette Shootings Again Raise Issues of Security at Movie Theaters” — is that the issue it raises? Is that the issue raised by the approximately 30,000 annual gun fatalities in this country? To put that number in perspective: 58,000 Americans died during nine years of the Vietnam War. After 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including the son of one of my colleagues, some of us hoped that Americans would finally admit that our annual massacre is intolerable. That’s not what has happened. The cowardice of our government is matched by the irrationality of our people. A Pew Research Center poll last December reported that “52% of those surveyed said it’s more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns, while 46% say it’s more important to control gun ownership. It’s the first time in more than two decades that the Pew survey has found more support for gun rights than gun control.” People who believe that gun ownership improves safety and security cannot be persuaded otherwise — if Sandy Hook couldn’t do it, nothing will. Nothing is more “foreseeable” than continued slaughter.

  3. Marty Gillis says:

    You can’t have it both ways. Either clamp down on guns, or install metal detectors and do pat downs and bag searches. Otherwise, we’ll all be playing “Movie Roulette” whether we want to or not. A very sad state of affairs, but none the less true and since our government is basically spineless and unable to affect change on this particular matter, security measures will have to do for now. Without them, I’ll never go to any theater again. I am sure I do not speak for just myself alone!

  4. stevensj64 says:

    100% agree with Steve. There’s a shooting in the Deep South so what gets banned? Flags! How many of the victims were killed by flags? Zero.
    Security at cinemas is a massive red herring. In the ‘Land of the Free’ NO-ONE should have to worry about being shot when they go to see a film. Get rid of private firearm ownership.

  5. Steve says:

    Sorry VARIETY, but your tag line is a little misleading. This horrible incident doesn’t raise issues around security in theatres, it raises (once again) the stupidity of private firearm ownership.

    Additional security in theatres isn’t required. What we need to do as a nation is re-examin our relationship with firearms and ask ourselves why we need them. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, not to mention the rest of Europe (or most of the world) seem to get on just fine without (or with limited) private firearm ownership.

  6. IT 2 IT says:

    ‘SICK–CURES’ for the ITTIES
    brought to you by the movies.

    JIM FETZER is the one to follow
    regarding these TAVISTOCK meets HOLLYWOOD
    ‘agenda on point’ designer violence events.

    And those seeking the next level in ‘SICK–CURES’
    will surely watch the 1992 Russian film –‘The CHEKIST’.

    Now FREE on youtube.

    Makes ‘Shindler’s List’ look like a theme park.

    ESSENTIAL VIEWING

    • Web Guru says:

      Each nation mentioned allow rifle ownership. If you do not wish to own a gun, do not buy one. This is a dangerous country not because of guns but because of the attitudes that allow criminals slaps on the wrist instead of punishment for violent crimes, while sending pot smokers to federal prison, The inability to disarm the mentally ill, along with a gun ownership background check system that is easily sidestepped through bribery, favoritism and gun show hallway, restroom and parking lot sales.
      Many people feel that the police force are and have always been a reactionary force. It is up to the individual citizen to protect ourselves , wife, children, significant other and the innocent when danger arrives and badges are en route.
      The time you have to react once a gun is drawn is very short. An educated armed law abiding citizen is your next best line of defense between you and the bullet that could put you in a coffin.

      • Ronny says:

        Yes, because the armed citizens in the Lafayette and Aurora theaters did so well to disarm the shooters before anyone was injured.

        I think we need to do better at identifying suicidal insane people and getting them help (with or without health insurance coverage) so that they can then play with their toy guns all they want without hurting others.

      • Daniel O'Connor says:

        You say that “This is a dangerous country not because of guns . . .” But aren’t guns the danger that you advise us to protect ourselves against? — “the bullet that could put you in a coffin” ? Your idea is that the law abiding gun owners will protect us against the not-so-law-abiding gun owners (they would not have stopped James Holmes or John Houser in dark theatres, for starters). But don’t you recognize that the number of guns in circulation makes shootings like these inevitable? Your suggestion is to get a gun to protect us from a gun. This is the “when guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns” argument. We’ve tried that. 300 million guns are in circulation. It’s a catastrophe. You are either saying that we don’t have the ability to disarm the country, which may be true — it’s clear that we don’t have the will — or that the right to own a gun is more important than the lives of thousands of murdered people. That’s the fundamental disagreement. You want the right to own a gun to protect yourself against a gun – but it’s not working.

  7. Teresa says:

    maybe instead of this measure – and since we can’t seem to institute rational gun law reform – the media should be forced to declare a moratorium on profiling these MOFOs. Let their ratings suffer, as the families do – but STOP the incessant coverage of these maniacs. If such insane critters didn’t think they’d get their names emblazoned everywhere they might not act as they do. Ya think? Worth a try.

    • MB says:

      So this guy in LA who went into this knowing he was going to kill himself after killing others — he was looking for publicity? I’m sure he’s reveling in the fame now that he’s dead. It’s not the headlines. Not reporting that it happened isn’t going to stop it from happening again. Most of these gun nut psychos don’t seem to be in it for publicity. They seem to be insane and or at least miserable. They feel pain and suffering, and they want others to feel pain and suffering too. Add in easy access to guns and…voila! Of course if you ask the gun nuts, the psychos would use a car or a knife or a hammer to kill people if they couldn’t get guns.

    • Lisa says:

      So ignore it away?

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