Security… at What Cost?

Yesterday’s nightmarish mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater shows us once again what damage a combination of a disturbed mind, the internet, lax gun law enforcement, and no accountability can do to society. The shooter was a 24-year-old with a death wish. I read yesterday that the kid’s apartment was protected by booby traps that should make Ft. Knox jealous. It may take bomb squads a day to enter his lair to investigate the shooter’s trail of madness. Why did he do this in the first place and, even more bizarre, why did he surrender to police without a fight? If he had a death wish, it wasn’t for himself. It was for everyone else. Disturbing, eh?

Whenever an incident like this happens (and it happens way too often) the pundits come out to argue both sides of the gun law debate, one side calling for stricter enforcement by law and the other for stricter enforcement by merchants. I don’t know how the Aurora shooting could have been prevented aside from making every super-hero fan take off his or her outer costume. No Batmans, no Iron Mans, no Hulks, just plain-clothed people. Maybe lights need to stay on instead of dimming for the movie. I don’t know.

I’m so saddened by these deaths. So many people were there just to watch a highly-anticipated movie and lost their lives. Many families are mourning right now and seeking answers. I hope they find some. The tragedy has also affected the entire nation because people go to movies fairly regularly but now there is added fear and trepidation. I used to enjoy going to movies. But now whenever I venture into a theater I’ll be looking for the exits and closely watching every single person who comes inside. I used to worry about people looking at their cell phones or talking in the seats behind me. I used to worry about crying babies. Now I’ll look at the back of the seat in front of me and wonder if it can stop a bullet. I’ll look down that entrance tunnel to see if I can handle the drop if I needed to jump. Yes, my movie-going experience is ruined. At least for awhile.

Here in America we have a paradox of liberty and law. The two don’t naturally go together, anyway, so expecting to have an ordered society in which people feel both free and safe is probably a misplaced hope. After all, you can’t be free and bound at the same time. So we strive in our society for some mix of the two. Either the state bans all guns (except its own) in the name of security or it allows them to be public and mass shootings become regular occurrences. Australia might have the most stringent gun laws of any democratic nation. The United Kingdom is also extremely strict and has one of the lowest murder rates by gun in the world. Honduras might have the worst (very little regulation). The U.S. keeps adding new gun laws but tragedies keep happening. So what can you do to prevent them from happening again without ending freedom? You can’t. Not in this society.

So, what can be done in the name of security? Maybe we install metal detectors at all movie theaters. But who will run them? Theaters will need to hire security guards, pay for regular equipment maintenance, and structure orderly lines. Customers will need to arrive 30 minutes before their movie so they can get through the check point. Which will be outside because lobbies aren’t big enough to handle long lines AND concessions. Not according to the fire marshal, I’m sure. Maybe we can hire one gun-wielding security guard for each screen, a guy (or gal) who stand at the entrance to each screen and watch everyone with an eagle eye. For a multiplex, that would be at least 24 new hires per shift. One or two in the lobby, makes it 25 or 26. Taking Columbine and Virginia Tech and Wedgwood Baptist Church into consideration, maybe metal detectors need to be placed at the entrances to every building — school, public and church — any place the public gathers in groups larger than, say, 20.

Sounds extreme but maybe these are the necessary steps to protect the public. Maybe they are stupid suggestions. I’m capable of both. What does it take to be safe and secure? I know some people who would say they feel safe because they have a handgun handy. I know others who feel less safe because those people have a handgun handy. I don’t own a gun that fires bullets. If I lived in Alaska, I’d buy one. In fact, the closest I’ve ever come to buying a gun was last summer when I bought a high powered pellet gun before a camping trip. Will it stop a bear? No. Will it wound and dissuade wildlife? It better. I fired it once at home and it blasted through two fences. Weak fences, mind you, but solid wood nonetheless. That shot was frightening.

My prayers go out to the families in deep mourning and deep pain after this senseless tragedy. How this young man reached such a depth in his life is a mystery but when he reached it the world felt the horror. And now we’re wondering why. Yesterday was a horrible day.