GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Colorado, Louisiana and Tennessee.
Since 2012, there have been attacks on the public at movie theaters in each of those states. After the most recent attack on Wednesday at a suburban Nashville theater, some 24 Hour News 8 viewers have posted on Facebook saying they’re giving up on going to the movies.
But is that really the answer?
“Any place that there’s a large congregation of people really has the same amount of jeopardy. The mall or the theater or the shopping center,” Kent County Undersheriff Michelle Young said.
She knows a thing or two about the real risk factors in those places.
“It’s not really feasible to avoid all risk,” Young said. “But reasonably speaking, it’s a very small risk for somebody to be out in the public and to go to places like movie theaters.”
But incidents like the one on Wednesday, in which a man wielding pepper spray, a pellet gun and a hatchet was shot and killed by police, hit close to home for many.
So what can you do to be safe, short of never leaving home?
“What you can do is to use some general self awareness and safety precautions,” Young said. “Place yourself near an exit. That’s always best. Someplace that’s lit enough where you can get out. Pay attention to your surroundings. If there’s somebody who’s acting suspicious, report it. Report it right away. Get yourself away from that person.”
You also need to know where the exits are.
“We had the one a couple of weeks ago where somebody pulled the fire alarm and notified everyone in the theater to get out,” Young said.
In Nashville, police were already in the area and were able to get to the suspect before he could seriously injury anyone.
But what about the times when police are not close? Could a legally armed citizen help?
“They can be effective. It can also be very dangerous,” said Young, who added that only someone with advanced firearm training beyond what most basic concealed carry classes offer would be equipped to handle those situations.
“If somebody’s not paying attention to where they’re shooting, they’re not in a position where they can secure their shots and where their shots are going to land, there are very dangerous scenarios… and now you have a gun fight with many people around,” Young explained.
She said she likes the idea of theaters and similar venues hiring armed security.
“It can act as a visual deterrent for people. It can make people feel safer,” Young said.
While metal detectors have become one common defense in some places, Young says they may not be practical in theaters because there are so many doors someone could slip in and out of.