We all know the drill: Go to an airport, a large arena or a government building, and expect a security check. Step through the metal detector, submit to the body scan or be patted down. Oh, and don’t forget to leave the pocket knife at home.
Now, in the wake of another movie theater shooting, some are calling for theaters to have government-mandated, airport-like security. Although the safety concerns are understandable, we’re not sure that’s the best response.
Yes, fatal shootings have occurred in movie theaters. But they also have occurred in churches, schools, shopping malls and gas station parking lots. Rather than turn every public place into a security fortress, the focus should be on this nation’s all-too-easy access to firearms. In several recent killing sprees, the shooter never should have been able to legally acquire a gun.
Case in point: Last week, John Russell Houser, 59, opened fire at the Grand Theatre in Lafayette, La., killing two people and injuring nine before killing himself. He bought the handgun he used at an Alabama pawnshop in 2014, even though he had a long history of mental illness in Alabama and Georgia. In 2008, his own family sought court protection from him, alleging that he had been violent.
Despite that background, Houser had not been placed in a state or federal database of people prohibited from buying guns because he had not been involuntarily committed. Under Georgia statutes, there is no requirement to report hospitalizations to state or federal officials.
That’s the part of the problem that merits attention. American law enforcement authorities, mental health providers and gun dealer databases should be better integrated. Officials must do a better job of reporting and keeping track of those who shouldn’t be allowed to buy guns. The shooting isn’t likely to stop until there’s a nationwide commitment to enforcing existing laws and strengthening others to keep firearms away from dangerous people. A good place to start would be background checks on gun purchases.
Some, including a few Republican presidential hopefuls, suggest that the answer lies in eliminating gun-free zones. They believe that if more people carry guns, they can better defend themselves and others during attacks. But just try to imagine how having more guns and cross-firing in a darkened theater would improve safety.
Just hours before the Louisiana theater shooting, President Obama told the BBC that he is “frustrated” that the U.S. does not have “common-sense gun safety laws, even in the face of repeated mass killings.” We share his frustration.
Most Americans don’t want to feel that they’re in a police state everywhere they go. Required airport-type security at movie theaters seems excessive. But at the same time, government and law enforcement must also focus on sensible ways to restrict access to firearms to those who pose a risk to public safety.