Metal Detectors At Movie Theaters

There have been two notable mass shootings at movie theaters since 2012, leading some to call for more protective measures at the multiplex. A new study apparently shows that 34% of filmgoers want metal detectors at the multiplex…. really?!

The new study from research firm C4 shows (via: Variety):

  • Three quarters of moviegoers say they feel extremely or very safe in a theater.
  • A third of the filmgoers surveyed believe that bags and purses should be checked for weapons before people go into a theater.
  • 34% of filmgoers surveyed believe that lobbies should have armed security personnel and a metal detector.
  • Fourteen percent want armed security in each theater (and by that I mean each individual screen, not in the multiplex lobby).

I don’t believe this study has a large enough survey sample to be taken too seriously. C4 surveyed only 250 moviegoers to get these results. That said, its an interesting question and I’m surprised so many of the filmgoers polled actually said they want metal detectors and armed guards at a movie theater. Would those people who reported in the survey really trust the teenager getting paid minimum wage to check bags and purses for weapons?

After the recent shooting, Louisiana state representative Barbara Norton called for metal detectors in theaters, but that plan, according to Howard Levinson of Expert Security Consulting, is not plausible:

“They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to install, staff, and supervise, and patrons don’t feel safer when they walk into a movie theater lobby and see them. The cost will be felt by the customer in higher ticket prices. Ask someone today if they’ll pay three dollars more per ticket to go a theater with metal detectors versus the theater across the street without them. They might say, ‘Yes, I will pay the extra money,’ but will their answer will be the same in six months?”

And he is right; this C4 research study found that only 13% of respondents said they would pay $3 more per ticket in order to get additional security features like armed security personnel and a metal detector at their local multiplex. Metal detector equipment doesn’t cost that much, around $5,000, but the proper personnel to run a a security checkpoint can cost $250,000 a year in smaller markets and $1 million in big cities.

Currently there are fewer than 50 metal detectors in movie theaters nationwide, most of which can be found in urban areas such as Detroit. And Levinson even pointed out that “James Holmes entered the Aurora theater through the back exit door” and “it wouldn’t have mattered if that theater had metal detectors.” Some larger multiplexs in big cities (like the AMC Empire 25 in New York and the AMC Universal CityWalk 19 in Los Angeles) hire off-duty police officers to provide security.

As a film journalist I attend a lot of advance screenings that have security officers with metal detector wands as you enter the door. And I know the intention is very different: movie studios are paying for these officers to protect their films from being pirated. But it isn’t a good feeling having to go through a security screening to enter a movie theater to watch some images be projected on a big screen.

Gun violence happens everywhere, including the multiplex, but there have been two notable mass shootings at movie theaters:

  • On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes dressed in tactical clothing, set off tear gas grenades and shot at an audience inside of a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises: 12 people were killed and 70 others were injured.
  • On July 23, 2015, 59-year-old John Russell Houser opened fire at the Grand 16 movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana during a showing of the film Trainwreck He killed two people and injuring nine others before committing suicide.

Not to get too political on a film blog but mass shootings at movie theaters are not the problem. Letting disturbed individuals have access to firearms is the problem. As my colleague Devin Faraci pointed out on twitter:

I don’t think living in fear is the right solution. And these mass shootings don’t seem to have a huge effect on who is going to the movie theater. While the box office of The Dark Knight Rises took an immediate hit, it doesn’t seem like the events of the Aurora shooting are causing people to stay home. A follow-up study of 124 moviegoers by C4 showed that 85% of people said the shooting in Louisiana will have no impact on their theater habits.

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