But research stemming from past movie theater violence suggests resilience ultimately conquers fear.
By Madeleine Thomas
People take part in a memorial service at the University of Central Florida on June 14, 2016, in Orlando, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In the aftermath of Sunday’s violent attack at an Orlando nightclub, tourism experts across Florida are already predicting fewer visitors to the state’s most popular theme parks like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld later this summer.
“People will start thinking twice before booking, you know, attractions or hotels or anything else,” Abraham Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, told the Orlando Sentinel. “I do expect to (see) some impact, downturn, in the number of tourists. Hopefully … it will be short-lived and it will not be a very major one.”
Research suggests Pizam could be right.
Following a shooting last July during a screening of Trainwreck at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, a study of 250 moviegoers by the consulting firm C4 found that about one-third of responders were in favor of adding bag checks, metal detectors, and armed guards to theater lobbies nationwide. Roughly 14 percent also supported staffing individual theaters with armed guards. Just two weeks after the shooting in Lafayette — which left three dead and nine injured — police shot and killed a man who attacked three moviegoers with a hatchet and pepper spray during a screening of Mad Max: Fury Road in Nashville, Tennessee.
Despite the violence, box office returns for Trainwreck remained strong overall, and the film still placed fourth in domestic box office estimates the weekend following the shooting, alongside Ant-Man, Pixels, and Minions. In 2012, after James Holmes opened fire during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado — killing 12 and wounding 70 — the research firm NRG found that 20 to 25 percent of moviegoers were hesitant to go to a movie theater in the week following the shooting. But other evidence would indicate the contrary. Asurvey by the Pew Research Center found that 67 percent of responders chalked up events like the Aurora shooting to the “isolated acts of troubled individuals.” The Dark Knight Rises went on to gross more than $130 million in the days after the shooting and ultimately $450 million nationwide.
In a follow-up survey of more than 500 moviegoers polled by C4 the December after the Lafayette and Nashville shootings, about a quarter of respondents noted an increase in movie theater security in the months since the events, but also expected another shooting to occur sometime in the near future. Despite these concerns, only 8 percent of responders said that they would go to the movies less frequently. About 49 percent said they would be likely to pay $1 to $3 more per ticket to help cover the costs of any added security measures, like metal detectors and bag checks.
While some lawmakers have argued that areas banning guns—like nightclubs or movie theaters — can become targets for violence, a 2013 study of 62 mass shootings by Mother Jones found that gun-free zones had virtually no influence on a shooter’s motive. And, in actuality, as many as 70 percent of mass shootings — in which at least four people are killed with a gun — may occur at home, according to a 2015 analysis of five years of mass shooting data by the Huffington Post.