Now playing at a cinema near you: paranoia that some psycho is going to shoot the place up


Suddenly, going to the movies has become a very scary thing.

In the last few months the safety and security of movie theaters has been at the forefront of news coverage. Just about every day there has been court case coverage of the 2012 Aurora, Colo. theater shooting involving James Holmes. In the midst of this there was the tragic movie theater shooting in Lafayette, La.

Days later there was the scary incident in Nashville, Tenn. that involved a guy armed with a hatchet, pepper spray and an air soft handgun. It created havoc that resulted in a major police response and an officer-involved shooting.

And as if all this weren’t enough, in Newport Beach there were the four kids who thought it would be funny to pretend to have a chainsaw and rile up the audience. They fired up a leaf blower and created a stampede as the crowd fled the theater.

It’s scary stuff to think that a place many of us frequent and spend our free time in could be a death trap. By and large most people would say they feel safe in a movie theater.

But how do you feel these days?

There is overwhelming evidence that you are perfectly safe in a movie theater. In fact, the estimated odds of being shot in a movie theater are 1 in 2.460695655146581×10-10. Luckily I didn’t have to do the math.

The reality is you are more likely to be killed by a friend, acquaintance or a loved one. Yet there are very few of us that feel any unease going home at night or hanging out with our buddies.

There have been three mass shootings at movie theaters since 2012. Every one of them makes the front page of the newspaper and is the lead story for days afterward. You can’t help but be saturated with the imagery and emotion being conveyed across the television screens and on the pages of the newspaper.

The huge amount of coverage gives people the uncomfortable feeling this is happening all the time. And it feels like it’s right next door.

The knee-jerk reaction is to have more security at theaters. In fact, some cinemas have already started bag checks. Next will be metal detectors, wanding and armed security personnel.

According to a recent article in Variety, the costs to provide security at theaters across the country is significant. Experts believe it would cost us around $3 more per ticket. I still remember when movie night was a cheap night out.

I am the first to admit even I have been affected by all the media coverage. As an honorably retired police officer, I have a concealed weapons permit.

After more than 30 years of carrying a firearm every day, it’s a hard habit to break. But when you’re now dressing in shorts and T-shirts it does seem a bit more cumbersome. I may not carry a firearm often, but when I do it’s at a movie theater.

I find myself scanning the crowd before the lights go out just to check out the people around me. Forget the loud teenagers throwing popcorn at each other. I’m looking for the lone white male sitting by himself. Call it profiling if you will, but so far the profile holds true. In fact, according to the FBI, that is the profile of most active shooters in the United States.

So now I find myself doing something every police officer does and that is playing out the possible scenarios in your head before they happen. Where are the exits? What’s my field of fire? Where’s the weirdo in the crowd?

A friend of mind says I have fallen victim to “probability neglect.” That’s the mindset of ignoring all the evidence that something is unlikely to happen and operating as if it is very likely to happen.

Then again what if something were to happen and I could have done something to stop it? The old guardian mindset is a tough one to beat. It becomes part of every police officer’s DNA.

Despite these irrational feelings I have not been completely overcome with illogical reasoning. I still choose to take the center seat in the middle of the theater — probably the worst spot to sit in if there were to be a shooting, but after all I’m there to enjoy the movie.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at