Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Safety of Public Places

Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears--"Livin' In The Jungle" (mp3)

I'm not a movie theater owner.  Nor do I play one on TV.  But the recent mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado is tangible enough that I can easily imagine the fear that a movie theater owner must feel. 

No, it's not that there might be a similar event at my movie theater.  The odds are very much against that, though I'd guess in the near future there may be an attempt at a copycat situation or two or three or five.  My fear is what they will want to do "my" movie theater.

Already, there is talk of installing metal detectors and doing other kinds of screenings.  There is talk of security guards and controlling the movements of people.  The shooter came in through a side door, maybe an exit door, something I've never much worried about.  Sure, kids have been able to sneak friends in through those doors from time to time, but that wasn't anything I worried much about.  I don't make money from ticket sales anyway.  People sneak food and popcorn into movies, too.  That's what costs me money.  But now, that talk of searching purses and backpacks and using scanners and who knows what else.

And, depending on which state my movie house sits in there, there is talk by people who will never come unarmed to a movie again.  And by those who say they won't come at all.

I can only imagine the additional costs, especially in terms of employees.  Up until now, I've had a dream situation.  My whole operation is simple enough that I can run it with very few employees, whom I'm paying minimum wage, or a bit more if they stay on long enough and move up to assistant manager or manager.  The whole thing works like a dream--the movies practically show themselves, the counting system of bags and cups in the concession area makes it practically impossible for the kids who work for me to give free food away to their friends. 

During slow times, I only need two employees in the theaters, one to sell tickets and concessions, one to make sure the movies are running properly and to check the bathrooms and that kind of thing.  On a Tuesday night, say, I don't need anybody else.

My movie theater depends on the best from people, and most of the time, that's what I get.  That may seem amazing to you; that's a standard expectation for me.  Most people know how to manage their cell phones, know to clean up their area at the end of the movie, know to be quiet in movies where that is appropriate.  But let's face, one of the pleasures of coming out to a movie is seeing it with other people, people who can amp up the laughter when it's funny, who will scream when it's scary.  And when people can't quite behave in a way that makes the movie enjoyable for everyone, all it ever took was an appearance by one of my (usually young) men or women in an usher's uniform to take care of the problem, even to lead someone out if need be.  Trouble did not come to the movies very often.

So is it possible, is it just at all possible, that there is nothing wrong with my movie theater the way it is currently run?  Shouldn't it be allowed to continue to run as a kind of mindless, sleepy establishment that only exists to provide fun for people?  When there is a shooting in a Target on the day after Thanksgiving or a community swimming pool or a free outdoor concert or an Easter church service or any where else that gathers a large group of people in close proximity, will our first response be to look at the logistics of the event and to focus on how it could have or should have been made safer?

Is it possible that this is where we draw the line and say, "We will continue to be a free and open society and will not react to violence by becoming an increasingly protected and closed society?"  Is it time to take a hard look at those aspects of our society that are causing us to need protection, to say that an incessant desire for self-protection is the problem and not the solution?  Is it really so few of us who can create the simple mind simulation of what it would have been like in that theater if every family, ever person of a certain age in that audience, offered an armed response to the gunman once he opened fire?  Does a dad need to dress his kids in body armor in order to take them Madagascar 3?

Those are not questions for the gunman.  For him, four legally-procured weapons and over 6,000 rounds of ammunition purchased on places like the Internet provided the means to the end he wanted.  Those are questions for the rest of us, both those who obsessively seek the right to bear arms and those who think they can't do anything about that obsession. 

See you at the movies.


Sara C said...

Love this: "Is it possible that this is where we draw the line and say, 'We will continue to be a free and open society and will not react to violence by becoming an increasingly protected and closed society?' Such strong questions, Bob. Unfortunately, not nearly enough of us are willing to take that hard look you are so wisely calling for.

Bob said...

Apparently, the voices for gun control are in a minority now, despite all of these shootings. Which is why we don't hear either presidential candidate talking about the NRA.

Anonymous said...

What about the parking lot, the MacDonad's across the street, the traffic lined up as you exit, etc etc. If a crazy person wants to make a point you can't really stop them although banning assault weapons would seems o minimize the damage but this makes too much sense I guess.

troutking said...

We've spent, according to a recent estimate I read, one trillion dollars since 9/11 to make us safer from terrorists. Some of it was well spent, but most not. 10000 Americans get killed by gunfire every year (not including the soldiers keeping us safe from terrorists in Iraq). That's one per hour and we've done nothing to stop this ridiculous violence. This is not the "well-regulated militia" mentioned in the 2nd amendment.