As she sat down with her 8-year-old daughter recently in an Oakland, California, theater for a matinee of “The Peanuts Movie,” Denise Simard, 44, was surprised by her own paranoia.
She examined the other patrons for suspicious behavior, for instance if anyone was there without a child. She scanned the theater for the closest door and the fastest escape route. She planned what she would do if someone started shooting.
Mental escape is part of the appeal of the movie theater. But it can also make people check out of their surroundings, an increasingly uncomfortable feeling for those who fear becoming the next victim in a mass shooting.
Dozens of Times readers, when asked how often they think about the possibility of a shooting in their daily lives, pointed to movie theater visits as a time of particular vulnerability.
Movie theaters pose an acute source of worry for Americans who have grown used to walking through metal detectors or bag checkpoints at campuses and schools, sports arenas, concert venues and office towers. And the movie theater industry has been reluctant to impose additional security, citing cost and added hassle for patrons, despite increasing public anxiety.
Elizabeth Manasek, of Carmel, Indiana, said she could not relax during a sold-out showing of the latest James Bond film, “Spectre” last month, and her husband sensed her tension.
There has been little indication that these fears have had a huge impact on box office results, but there is evidence that more people may be staying home.
According to a survey of about 500 moviegoers conducted in August by C4 Consumer Insights, which does market research for the entertainment industry, 9 percent said they planned to limit their trips to the movies. The survey was conducted shortly after two violent incidents at theaters: A gunman killed two people and himself at a showing of “Trainwreck” in Lafayette, Louisiana, and a man armed with a hatchet and a pellet gun was killed by a SWAT team in August after he unleashed pepper spray at a showing of “Mad Max: Fury Road” in Nashville, Tennessee.
Critics of metal detectors in theaters say they would be costly to set up and ineffective at preventing a determined attacker from getting inside. Holmes, for one, propped open an emergency exit at the Aurora theater before returning with his guns.
Michael Dorn, a security consultant and the executive director of Safe Havens International, said detectors at theaters would likely serve as “more of a feel-good measure than something actually designed to really stop anybody.”
While your local theater may not get metal detectors soon, at least one showing added increased security: The premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in Los Angeles on Monday night had security and line control on par with the Academy Awards.