Friday’s movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado has reignited an ongoing U.S conversation on gun control and public safety. As law enforcement officials piece together the details of Friday’s attack, some are wondering if metal detectors will become more common in suburban movie theaters in the way that they have been present in some inner-city theaters for years.
During a December 1990 showing of The Godfather Part III at Sunrise Cinemas in Valley Stream, NY a 15-year-old patron was shot in the head and killed, while three others were wounded. The following year, the theater installed metal detectors and revamped its security procedures. Experts caution that metal detectors are not a panacea; it is unlikely that they would have been effective in stopping the Aurora shooting.
“Using metal detectors effectively requires very tight perimeter security,” said Michael Dorn, Executive Director of Safe Havens International Inc, a non-profit based in Georgia that specializes in school safety and crisis preparedness. “Attackers have beaten checkpoints by simply using a propped-open fire exit door if the doorway is not properly secured.”
Authorities believe the accused gunman in the Colorado shooting, James Holmes, utilized a tactic that involved propping open a fire exit inside a screening of the latest Batman movie. Police say that Holmes, 24, purchased a ticket to The Dark Knight Rises and entered the theater with other moviegoers. Officials say he later propped open an emergency door and returned to the theater with body armor, tear gas and four guns.
Michael Dorn, who has served as a school safety specialist to the Governor of Georgia, says that in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, movie theater patrons are more likely to feel comforted by the presence of armed police personnel rather than metal detectors. According to Dorn, an effective security plan that involves metal detectors is not conducive to movie theaters because they are too costly and time consuming. “I see a lot of situations where the approaches used are not very reliable because the many logistical details that should be covered are not properly addressed due to cost, inadequate training of security personnel and the fear of inconveniencing people.”