The much-anticipated release of The Dark Knight Rises on Friday was dampened immensely by the news of James Holmes shooting and killing 12, and injuring over 70 others in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre.
Due to the unfortunate nature of mainstream American news coverage, tragedies of this nature tend to quickly become politicized and the Friday event was no different. By the morning after the crime, Holmes was accused of being a Tea Party member, debates over gun control were re-ignited, and President Obama released a statement.
Witnesses said Holmes was standing there like target practice, indiscriminately firing at the already tear-gassed crowd. How could this have been prevented? Is security at movie theatres, where crowds of people are funnelled in and out, not tight enough? Should movie theatres resemble airports or many professional sports stadiums with searches?
There are so many factors that go into decisions over what is the proper amount of security. Is it placing a security guard or two in every theatre? Frisking and searching everyone who buys a ticket? Allowing private, concealed firearms or banning all weapons from the location?
And while I don't know exactly what the best solution should be, the responsibility ultimately lies with the owners of a theater. In my experience, the mega-theatres I have been to in San Francisco tend to have light, but adequate, security. Private security guards roam throughout the building and look prepared to handle any possible conflict or disaster scenarios. And keep in mind that just a few months ago, a possible massacre in Aurora was prevented by a brave and armed citizen.
This is how security should be run, by private property owners who are liable both for the benefits and costs associated with their property and can and should be held liable for damages that may occur. In the same way that prices of consumer goods give economic signals, this cost-benefit factor in property ownership help find a proper balance on how much, or little, security is needed.
Undoubtedly, there will be calls to have government play a larger role as it has in airports. But what is interesting to note is that the police arrived after the carnage had already been inflicted. This is not a direct shot at police, but simply a reality of the incentive structures of government services, in this case security. Government police lack the feedback that market prices give, tend to escalate rather than diffuse situations, and according to multiple Supreme Court rulings, have absolutely no legal obligation to protect you.
Aside from questions of security and how something like this can be prevented in the future, there are two things that immediately came to mind upon hearing about the tragedy in Aurora that the news media will likely not discuss.
First is the issue of heavily-prescribed psychiatric drugs and the terrible anti-social and violent side effects that they can have. When one researches any of the mass shootings that have occurred in recent history, in nearly every single one, psychiatric drugs (or symptoms of withdrawal) were involved. There is no word yet on whether Holmes was on them as well, but given the political interests that are involved with the pharmaceutical industry and the frequency at which they are prescribed, the chances are high that he was and that it would be under-reported or ignored.
Secondly, Eric Harris, who along with Dylan Klebold committed the Columbine massacre, was inspired by President Clinton's bombing of Serbia. "I hope we do go to war...[I want to] shoot every one," he told a friend. He even tried to join the Marines, but the recruiter was hesitant because Harris was taking anti-depressants.
Was Holmes inspired, directly or indirectly, by the incredible amount of violence and carnage that President Obama inflicts around the world? This is not hyperbole, it's an honest question. If a president is supposed to be the leader of a people, what example is set when that president brags and gloats about his "kill lists," drone strikes, and extrajudicial assassinations?
Because of Holmes' heinous crimes, security may well be upgraded in theaters and other places with large crowds of people. No amount of additional government powers or enhanced security, however, can mask the institutionalized factors that have led to public shooting sprees in the past and that were likely behind Holmes's as well. The only thing worse than these acts of mass violence would be failing to recognize these multitude of determinants involved and ignoring them.