In the wake of the latest shooting-spree massacre, we've heard from Ted Nugent and the other usual suspects that just one armed person at Aurora might have saved a few lives. Notorious survey faker and cross-dressing Internet sockpuppeteer John Lott has been joined by countless other bloggers and commentators in criticizing Cinemark for exercising its private-property rights by barring anyone carrying guns from attending.
But in these comments and the responses to them, I have yet found no one who seems willing to confront a disturbing truth: James Holmes clearly anticipated that there might be armed individuals in attendance.
And his preparations for that possibility may have well made the massacre worse.
If you have decided, for whatever reason, that you just hate life so much that you're going to get a gun, go somewhere public and open fire with the intent of killing as many random people as possible, it would be hard to beat a movie theater. It's dark and crowded, with a high target density. You could be reasonably certain of taking out a few people right away with even the simplest pistol, and with a more sophisticated weapon you'll easily get into a double-digit death toll. If the movie has a shootout scene, so much the better as cover for starting your spree.
James Holmes planned his massacre with a meticulous that would have impressed Osama bin Laden. He clearly figured this out.
One thing I do not think factored into his calculations is Cinemark's firearms prohibition, whatever gun enthusiasts may be saying about "gun-free zones." (And those people have to explain then, why just three years ago a U.S. soldier was able to kill even more people than Holmes did in a shooting spree at a military base, where as we all know no one has ever been allowed to carry any guns, or how just a few months ago another U.S. soldier killed even more people than that 2009 soldier did on a spree in Afghanistan, where there is no guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms and the populace has thus lived forever in some Swedish socialist utopian dreamland where no one ever, ever does anything like that.
Sarcasm notwithstanding, I honestly wonder whether any of those commentators has ever experienced actual "security" (even the quotes are pushing it) at a contemporary American movie theater. Because I have, as have many of you.
And frankly, it makes the Mexican customs service look like paragons of competence and integrity. Like many other people, I don't particularly want to pay $15 (on top of the ticket price) for a 16-ounce drink and some stale candy, but I don't want to forego seeing the movie without something to eat and drink either. So, I and anyone I'm with routinely stop at a convenience store near the theater and purchase the same comestibles at a more reasonable price.
Of course, there's a big sign at the box office window saying "NO OUTSIDE FOOD OR DRINK". So, we usually just put the food in pockets or other places not easily seen. I have hidden Sweet Tart rolls in my waistband under loose shirts. Women usually put soda bottles in their purses, knowing they won't be searched anymore than I will. Sometimes I've even carried the plastic bag rather blatantly past the ticket taker. They. Just. Do. Not. Care.
If this is what they
do to prevent outside food sales from cutting into their concession revenue, I can just imagine how hard they work to keep guns out of the theater. And can you blame them? I know if I was some minimum-wage part-time teenager in a dorky-looking bowtie, tuxedo shirt and ill-fitting vest and polyester pants, it would so make my night at work to go out of my way to go up and politely tell that guy with the Glock in his holster who looks like he ate several Hells' Angels for breakfast that he can't come in here with his gun. Uh-huh. When I'm not packing myself. Sir, you don't want to take it off? Oh, OK, we'll just call the police then, and they'll ask you to leave. If you don't, then we'll have you arrested for ... trespassing! And you'll be punished with ... a fine of several hundred dollars! That'll show you! Um, maybe yeah, your idea makes sense. Enjoy the film, sir. Yes. You too.
Now imagine that scenario playing out, or, rather, not playing out at a crowded midnight-madness showing of the most eagerly anticipated big-budget action comic-book franchise movie of the summer, with some patrons in costume, to boot. I'm sure the staff (or would that more accurately be described as understaff? Gotta allow them the right to make money, after all) had their hands full just keeping their hands full, much less enforcing Cinemark's rules (rules that, to be fair, are probably required by their insurance policies).
This commentator on a blog post on the subject understands what John Lott and all the other pro-gun pundits do not: that Cinemark's gun prohibition, or any movie theater's for that matter, is a joke and likely would not have deterred anyone from carrying a weapon into the theater (after all, they're supposed to be concealed to begin with). Hell, Holmes had one of his pistols on his body before he sneaked out to the side door to get the rest of his weapons. He knew this (and let's leave aside the fact that the prohibition statutorily would not apply to off-duty police officers, and there might be a good possibility of one of them being in the audience as well).
And he had to know other people knew this. Why else, given the inherent advantages of the situation to the spree shooter, would his equipment have included body armor? That's rather heavy and cumbersome to wear and would stand out in a crowd of escapees. It only makes sense if you have not ruled out the possibility that someone in the crowd you are shooting into might return fire. Correction: Apparently the "urban assault vest", name notwithstanding, isn't bulletproof.
And, in that vein, why go to the trouble of releasing tear gas canisters in the theater? Transporting them there would increase your risk of ruining the whole plot if they went off accidentally. And there's really no need for them if you're shooting into a dark room full of people who are already going to have trouble seeing you, who will likely run around screaming once they realize someone, somewhere, is shooting at them. But they would make it a lot harder for any of them to aim a weapon at you.
James Holmes had lived in Colorado for a while. He had to be aware that it was a concealed-carry state. He took that into account when he planned his massacre. As a result, he carried deadlier weapons, and took defensive measures to incapacitate the crowd that he might not have otherwise felt necessary to take, measures that certainly increased his casualty count. I really wonder if there isn't someone out there who did pack into the theater that night, and is somewhere maintaining a shamed silence, having sensibly realized when the shit hit the fan that returning fire would only have made things worse (Or did they? Some of the early witness accounts, I seem to recall, suggested that there was more than one gunman in the theater. But that may have been mere confusion).
Concealed-carry laws have been sold to the public as a preventive measure for this sort of situation. In some incidents they have doubtless been so. But as anyone familiar with the ongoing process of providing security against a continuing threat knows, eventually those who would perpetrate them get wise and, like all living things, adapt the change. Some threats stop being threats, given the right type of countermeasure.
But others get better at being threats, in the process becoming more dangerous. After being a problem in the '70s and '80s, airplane hijackings by either terrorists or deranged individuals were eventually rendered rare by the consistent application of security measures like X-raying carryons and making everyone walk through metal detectors. So, more determined terrorists switched to bombing planes instead, and eventually the coup de grace of hijacking them and then flying them into targets—which as we know killed a lot more people than the hijackings ever had.
There will, unfortunately, be more shootings like this one. Some will be planned and (ahem) executed by deranged indviduals who don't plan them well, and will be foiled before too many people get hit because of the poor planning. But others will have people like Holmes behind them, who will plan and prepare for their targets' likelihood of shooting back, and when they set macabre records that aspect will be harder to deny or ignore.
And I don't want to be the NRA having to explain then how CC laws still save lives.