Wednesday saw a sad milestone, another movie theater shooting, in the Nashville, Tennessee area. A few weeks ago, there was a shooting that left three moviegoers dead in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the July 2012 shooting of 12 people at a theater in Aurora, Colorado is still etched in people’s memories (defendant James Holmes was found guilty of that shooting last month).
So, the question arises: what changes are theaters making to protect customers and to keep their businesses going?
The answer? Probably not much, if anything, has changed, nor is it likely to in the near future. Fortune contacted some of the largest U.S. theaters chains — Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, and Cinemark Theatres — but none responded to requests for comment. And despite the fact that there have been three mass shootings in movie theaters since 2012, overall, movie ticket sales have remained relatively strong. In 2014, American box office receipts of $10.4 billion were down 5% from the previous year. The number of tickets sold and the average number sold per person declined by 6% over the same period.
Consumers seem to still trust going to theaters.
Chris Johnson, CEO of Classic Cinemas, which runs 104 screens in 13 Illinois locations, said that business was initially off after the Aurora, Colorado shooting three years ago in which 12 died and 70 were injured. However, sales didn’t drop.
“We had a real positive attendance last night and there was no step back yesterday when [the Tennessee shooting] happened,” Johnson told Fortune. “It’s a very unfortunate situation, but people still fly, still go to school, still go to church, still go to malls, and every other place where there’s been an unfortunate incident. I don’t want to disregard it because it bothers me immensely, but really, from a long-term perspective, you’re basically [asking whether] people are going to go outside ever again, and I don’t see that happening. People are going to continue to go out.”
The cost of beefed up security
Additionally, moviegoers don’t seem to want to turn the experience into something like entering an airport. Immediately following the most recent shooting in Tennessee, some theatergoers told the Arizona Republic that movie operators should beef up security through activity like checking bags. But metal detectors don’t appear to be popular. According to a July study by research firm C4, conducted days after the Lafayette shooting, moviegoers had mixed feelings over the installation of additional security in theaters.
Even with one third saying they wanted to see metal detectors and even armed security, only 13% of them would pay $3 more per ticket for the additional security.
Given that operating a checkpoint can run between $250,000 and $1 million a year, beefing up security would likely result in higher ticket prices for consumers.
Would more security prevent tragedies?
Not only can security be expensive, but there’s also the question of how well it can work. In Aurora, the convicted shooter James Holmes was allegedly unarmed when he bought his ticket. Only after entering did he prop open an emergency door and return with body armor and weapons.
Still, Bob Brzenchek, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Philadelphia-based Peirce College, argues that there is more theaters could — and should — do to prevent future tragedies. “It’s crucial that they address where their vulnerabilities are,” he said. “There needs to be an emergency action plan in place. They need to get in the minds of these folks and think of every different scenario,” working with local authorities.
Because, if there’s a sequel to Wednesday’s shooting, theater operators may have no choice but to beef up their response.