The second shooting at a movie theater in three weeks — during an afternoon screening of “Mad Max: Fury Road” in a multiplex near Nashville on Wednesday — once again puts the spotlight on exhibitors and whether they should increase security, or whether concerns about gun violence are better directed toward stricter gun laws and expanded mental health services.
On Wednesday, a 29-year-old man opened fire in a theater at Carmike Hickory 8 in Antioch, Tenn., police said, before a SWAT team responded and shot and killed the suspect. Authorities said that he sprayed two women with pepper spray, and he struck a man with an ax, resulting in a superficial injury to his shoulder.
The suspect has not yet been identified. Police also said that a bag attached to the man’s chest was a “hoax device” configured to look like an explosive. Police originally identified the suspect as a 51-year-old man, but Steve Anderson, chief of Metropolitan Police in Nashville, said that the original identification was based on a misidentification of the suspect. He did buy a ticket to the screening.
In a statement, the National Assn. of Theater Owners said that they were “grateful to the theater staff and first responders who acted so quickly and efficiently to end today’s incident without serious injury. Whether it is churches, schools, malls, theaters or other public places, people have the right to go about their lives in peace and safety. The safety of our guests and employees is, and always will be, our industry’s highest priority.”
Last month, three people were killed, including the suspect, at movie theater shooting in Lafayette, La., an incident that drew calls for stricter gun background check laws as well as for heightened security at movie theaters. The incident took place during a screening of the comedy “Trainwreck.”
After that tragedy, New York State Sen. Tony Avella, who represents the Queens area, said that he was working on legislation to require that theaters, indoor malls and stadiums use metal detectors or security wands to detect concealed weapons.
“We now live in a different world. I think we have to realize that,” Avella told Time Warner Cable’s “Capital Tonight” last week. He said that he planned to include provisions so that costs could be shared by the public and private sectors.
A survey conducted by research firm C4 after the Lafayette shootings showed that three quarters of moviegoers say they feel extremely or very safe in a theater. Nearly a third of moviegoers believed that bags and purses should be checked for weapons before people go into a theater, and 34% believed that lobbies should have armed security personnel and a metal detector. But they were not so supportive of paying a ticket surcharge to fund armed personnel or metal detection equipment.
Few movie theaters use metal detectors, and security experts say that exhibitors have been resistant not just of the cost, but of the message it may send to patrons seeking a comfortable, entertaining experience.
John Devino, director of operations at Global Security Services, which provides security to movie theaters, said he has “a feeling that insurance is going to start to mandate that theaters have security there. Something has to be done.”
But he said that he thinks theaters would lean toward employing armed security guards who are a visible lobby presence and perhaps a deterrent, as opposed to installing metal detectors.
Others say that the conversation about theater security threatens to divert attention away from efforts to expand background checks for potential gun owners.
“First of all, how is it that we are now talking about putting metal detectors in movie theaters,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said on Variety’s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM last week.
“When we talk about arming teachers after Sandy Hook, that is not the conversation the American public has,” he said, referring to the massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in 2012.
“Most Americans appreciate how much we can do just by keeping guns out of the hands of the people we agree shouldn’t have them,” he said.
Earlier this week, “Trainwreck” star Amy Schumer appeared with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to call for legislation to improve the background check system as well as to increase funding for mental health services.
“I’m not sure why this man chose my movie to end those two lives and injure nine others, but it was very personal for me,” Amy Schumer said at a press conference on Monday. “We always find out how the shooter got their gun, and it’s always something that never should have happened in the first place.”