Defense Media Network

Aurora, Colo., Movie Theater Shooting Fallout

Will America become the land of the free and the home of the metal detector?

The horrific movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., has spawned a number of debates across the country. Debates rage over gun control and second amendment rights, reporting mental illness or suspect behavior to authorities, or whether there is a need to put metal detectors in public gathering places.

All of those debates have been vibrant and passionate, if not outright blistering if you hear the radio talk shows or visit blog chat rooms, but let’s take a look at the metal detector issue.

Think of all of the places that we go today where we encounter a metal detector of some sorts:

They include:

  • Airports,
  • Government office buildings,
  • Courthouses,
  • Law enforcement facilities,
  • National monuments and museums (e.g., Smithsonian, Statue of Liberty, etc.),
  • Junior highs and high schools,
  • Cruise ships, and so forth.

In each of these places there are a number of very good historical and strategic reasons that metal detectors are used. They not only protect the staff and visitors to those facilities, but literally screen for those persons who might be looking to unleash harm. As a visitor to those places, it’s not unusual for you to know that you’ve got to open your bags/briefcase, empty your pockets, and shove your jacket and other items through a conveyor to be X-rayed or screened.

For as reassuring as it may be to know that no one short of armed security in the place you are entering is carrying a weapon, going through these measures can also be a nuisance and hassle. It’s also not an absolute guarantee that someone hasn’t found a means of bringing another type of weapon to cause murder and mayhem. There are no limits to the creativity of disturbed or evil individuals in terms of technology usage and deviancy – a lesson we are seeing each day as we learn more about the Aurora shooter.

It is also worth noting that prior to 9/11 and certainly afterward, theater owners individually or through groups like the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) have been proactive in working with law enforcement and security experts at all levels to make sure guest experiences at their facilities were safe and pleasant ones.

In terms of the debate about putting metal detectors in movie theaters, shopping centers, train stations, and other public places, the debate should center around the following areas:

  • Cost;
  • Practicality; and,
  • Personal liberty.



Metal detectors come in all shapes and sizes, with costs that range from cheap to ridiculously expensive. Regardless of what you buy, the machine is only as good as the people operating it and whether they know what to look for. It’s not as simple as seeing the outline of a gun or knife on a display screen or the listening for the beep of the machine at something it has picked up.

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Richard “Rich” Cooper is a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC, a government and public affairs...