For someone intent on committing violence, movie theaters can be attractive venues. “It's a public place where an assailant is assured of finding lots of victims who are relatively trapped,” criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University tells the Columbus Dispatch. Eric Hickey, dean of the California School of Forensic Studies at Alliant International University, said the allure for a would-be killer is clear: “You're a sitting duck.” Still, the likelihood of being attacked in a theater is extremely low. Experts caution against overreaction to recent incidents in Tennessee and Louisiana, all the more chilling because they coincided with the death-penalty trial of James Holmes, who fatally shot 12 people three years ago during a theater rampage in Aurora, Co. “As far as the copycat element, obviously there is one,” Fox said. “Whether it be food, fashion or murder, people take cues from others.” Publicity doesn't inspire people to kill, he said. For those already inclined, “it just may modify their M.O., the where, when and how.”
He and Hickey say the public isn't likely to embrace obtrusive, airport-style security measures at movie theaters. Requiring metal detectors, as a Louisiana legislator suggested, would cost owners tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and additional staff. “Theaters don't make a lot of money right now,” said Howard Levinson of Expert Security Consulting in Norton, Ma. “They have to think of all kinds of things to get people in the door.” There are less-expensive ways to improve safety, said Levinson. Better training for staff, many of who learn more about making popcorn than they do about safety, is simple but important, he said. Detection of assailants and evacuations for patrons also are areas that theaters could better address. “They should interface the security system with the fire system,” Levinson said. That way, a security alarm also would shut off the film, turn the lights on and trigger the ventilation system.