In a statement on Thursday, one of the nation’s largest movie theater chains, Regal Entertainment Group, announced new security measures at its movie theaters in the wake of recent shootings at other movie theaters in the United States.
In the last month, two shootings at movie theaters in Tennessee and Louisiana highlight the continuing dilemma for American businesses to strike a balance between providing security and protecting civil liberties. Earlier in August, Nashville police shot and killed a man armed with a hatchet and wearing a backpack filled with pepper spray on his chest inside the Carmike Hickory 8 movie theater in Antioch, Tennessee. The bizarre incident was the second shooting in a two week period inside a American movie theater. On July 24, a gunman killed two people and wounded nine others at a showing of Trainwreck at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. The two attacks coincided with the trial of James Holmes, the gunman responsible for the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre — the largest mass shooting in United States history. The attack killed 12 people and injured 58 others. Psychiatrists believe the subsequent attacks were “copy cats” of the Aurora theater attack.
Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, the 9/11 commission estimated that more than eighty-five percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure is privately owned and privately patrolled–everything from nuclear power plants to malls and movie theaters. There is evidence that both Al-Qaeda and ISIS have plotted attacks on privately owned public space in the United States, including documents retrieved from a laptop discovered in January, 2015, indicating that members of ISIS were considering attacks on closed areas, often referred to as “soft targets” such as stadiums or shopping malls.
In recent years, mass shootings inside “soft targets” including schools, churches, shopping malls and movie theaters have illustrated the need for increased security and public safety awareness. In diaries belonging to James Holmes, law enforcement officials said Holmes said he chose the movie theater over a nearby airport because of the lack of security. However, the role of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s in protecting privately owned public space is limited to suggestions and incentives, except in special events like the NFL’s annual Super Bowl.
The move by Regal Cinema to enhance security as a policy is unprecedented, and therefore significant, and provides a temporary sense of security to moviegoers, but ultimately, the security measure does little to protect the public. The security searches are limited to personal items, and not the audience members themselves — and how thorough those searches are remains unclear.