What can we learn from the Colorado shooting?

Bruce Schneier asks what lessons we can learn from the shooting in a Colorado movie theater, and answers the question with admirable good sense:

The rarity of events such as the Aurora massacre doesn't mean we should ignore any lessons it might teach us. Because people overreact to rare events, they're useful catalysts for social introspection and policy change. The key here is to focus not on the details of the particular event but on the broader issues common to all similar events.

Installing metal detectors at movie theaters doesn't make sense -- there's no reason to think the next crazy gunman will choose a movie theater as his venue, and how effectively would a metal detector deter a lone gunman anyway? -- but understanding the reasons why the United States has so many gun deaths compared with other countries does. The particular motivations of alleged killer James Holmes aren't relevant -- the next gunman will have different motivations -- but the general state of mental health care in the United States is.

Even with this, the most important lesson of the Aurora massacre is how rare these events actually are. Our brains are primed to believe that movie theaters are more dangerous than they used to be, but they're not. The riskiest part of the evening is still the car ride to and from the movie theater, and even that's very safe.

Drawing the wrong lessons from horrific events (via Interesting People)


  1. I think the mental health stigma in the US is the underlying problem. For some reason it’s popular to think that mental illness doesn’t really exist, and patients should just “snap out of it”. People are ostracized for having legitimate medical problems and instead of useful therapy, the pharmaceuticals shove terrible drugs down everyone’s throat.

    1. At the same time, most mental illnesses DO NOT result in violent behavior. Part of the reason people are ostracized is because of notions like that.
      There is NO indication yet as to whether he is just a sociopath, or that he has a mental illness.  We just don’t know.  So while your points are in general important and true, I’m not sure how it’s all that relevant to the case, at least at this time. Just because he murdered a bunch of people and acted weird in court after doesn’t mean he’s mentally ill, and in fact it’s pretty terrible to immediatley make that assumption when you just don’t know.

      Do you really believe assuming every mass-murderer is mentally ill and just couldn’t get the help they needed is going to lessen the stigma?! It only adds to it.

        1. Technically?  It’s a mental illness.  That said, sociopathy is one of the few (if not only) mental illnesses where the likelihood of them EVER realizing they even need help (let alone *ask* for it) is so minuscule that it’s a completely different monster (as it were) from most mental illnesses.

          I think it’s important to re-read what I began my comments with:  Most mental illnesses DO NOT present themselves with violent behavior — at the very least, mass-murdering is really, really rare.  This is just not a common side-effect of ANY mental illness (the rarity of these events is the entire point of this post!) — trying to make the claim that the reason this happened is because of the stigma of mental health is, in my opinion, quite a reach. Also, correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, etc.

          Lumping his murdering, likely sociopathic ass under the general term “mental illness” and the general idea of the stigma of mental illness, especially without knowing first if he is even suffering from a mental illness, is kinda shitty — and even if he does have a mental illness, it it might not necessarily be connected to the murders or mean he’s not a sociopath. We just don’t know enough and the assumptions are kind of crappy, is all.

          Additionally, sociopaths know what they are doing is wrong but just don’t give a fuck.  They are in control of their actions and are generally of sound mind.  If he’s a sociopath, he didn’t have a mental breakdown — he just did it for the thrill or some other really terrible “reason”.

          A mental breakdown implies a lack of control over your thoughts/actions or a disconnect from reality — sociopathy does not.

    2.  It might not help that popular media figures are telling those mentally ill people that America is under attack and the Communists are coming for their guns and the black helicopters are being fueled up.

      Yea, and it might not help that the manufacturers of those guns are fighting tooth and nail to protect those mentally ill peoples’ right to bear as many arms as they can possibly obtain, and to remove any roadblocks to heavily arming the most unstable people in this country.

      But it’s not polite to talk about these things.

      1. Yeah.  You’re totally not being hyperbolic, nor are you contributing to the stigma of the mentally ill.  OH YEAH!  All the mentally ill are gun-owning murderers!!

  2. What we can learn: Boycott the MPAA. Wait for movies to come out on Netflix or Bittorrent. Watch them in the safety and comfort of your own home.

    1. Look I’m all for wanton piracy (and even Netflix, where piracy fails), but are you really saying the lesson you’ve learned is “don’t leave the house”?

  3. Shit happens and crazy people need to be paid attention to. Also, stay the fuck out of Colorado.

  4. Didn’t the shooter exit the theater through a fire exit and re-enter, fully armed? A metal detector at the entrance wouldn’t have done SHIT. Nor would banning costumes, which I’ve heard some people call for.

    What would have helped, in this case, is to make the emergency door actually trigger the fire alarm like it’s supposed to. If he had to exit and re-enter through the well-lit hallways it’s far more likely someone would have seen him and it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad of a massacre.

      1. Emergency doors don’t open inwards, do they? If they did it would be far easier to sneak in. 

        From one of the accounts:”the theater did not have an emergency door that was alarmed or guarded. [The shooter] allegedly bought a ticket to “Batman Dark Knight Rises” and entered the theater with the rest of the crowd, but then went outside through the emergency exit door to retrieve his guns – then returned inside through the same emergency door and began randomly firing into the crowd.”(Source: http://www.inquisitr.com/283811/james-holmes-lawsuit-filed-by-theater-shooting-victim/#Lp4bD5Q1hV38SAxC.99 ) operly secured and tied to an alarm.

        1.  I guess it depends on how they are designed. I swear i have seen some that could swing both ways (tho set up so that you normally could only open them by pressing on the large handle from the inside).

          1. I guess that’s possible, but an emergency door that swings inwards wouldn’t make much sense, except in a zombie outbreak or alien invasion. :)

          2. @aaronmhill:disqus  It would make perfect sense if there was an alarm and that alarm was *activated* and there was also the possibility to lock only the outside portion after-hours while leaving the inside (to outside) portion unlocked, which is possible.

          3. @boingboing-fbcce68c3853e923f0983996eee5573e:disqus True. Regardless of the implementation, metal detectors are basically moot, as the attack vector would have completely circumvented them in this case. It’s like putting a home security system on your doors after someone crept in through a window.

        2. Inward-swinging emergency doors are frowned upon because the press of a panicked crowd can make them impossible to open. Most modern emergency-only exits swing outwards and are locked when closed. They have a pushbar on the inside which serves to both unlock and open the door. It would have been trivial for the shooter to jam a pen or a stick between the door and the frame when he stepped out, thus preventing it from closing and locking behind him.

          1.  Agreed — but all of this just shows why metal detectors / costume prevention would have been moot. He could have broken in, Mission Impossible style and it would have made no different to Metal Detectors being a bad idea.

    1. Use of the emergency exit will not and must not automatically trigger the fire alarm because it does not indicate a fire; it just means some bonehead decided to go out that way.  It MAY trigger a security alarm in the theater office, but such alarms are frequent in any large building.  You can’t expect someone to come running every time a simple door alarm goes off for a few seconds.

      1. It is very common in most movie theaters I’ve been to to exit through the “emergency” exits after a movie.  Usually those exits open directly to the outside right next to the parking lot, thus making it faster to get out.

        Not everyone does that, but in a theater that has a couple of hundred seats it’s likely to be a few people every showing.

        Having those doors alarmed would be ridiculous, as it would be false alarms all the time.  

  5. It is time, and past time, for Americans to stop collaborating with terrorists by reacting in terror. If they change how you live your life, they’ve won.

  6. re: “but understanding the reasons why the United States has so many gun deaths compared with other countries does”

    Why? Because of our prohibition of drugs and are large urban centers of poor people. The two combined makes for high crime areas as people fight for scraps of the black market drug trade.

    But more to my point – you can’t compare Aurora to say the gang mess in Chicago. Aurora wasn’t “crime”, it was “crazy”.  You can NEVER fully stop crazy, and if you try you are just going to curtail the freedoms of the 99.999% of non-crazy people.

    1. Trying to outlaw “mental illness” actually makes more sense (relatively speaking), than making more laws which restrict people WHO AREN’T BREAKING THE LAW IN THE FIRST PLACE.

      …but then we would be going into scary Minority Report / Orwellian / Kafkaesque pre-crime territory (which already now is a thing; because of the FBI’s “foiling” of it’s own self-made terrorist “plots”)

  7. When you combine mental illness with any condition that limits one’s ability to feel empathy or see other human beings as significant, you have a ticking time bomb. There are basically three reasons most of these time bombs don’t go off: 1. Mental functioning is impaired enough so that planning an orchestrated violent event isn’t plausible 2. Some functional people are keeping a close eye on the person to keep the mentally ill person from going off, or 3. The meds are still working.

    The key really isn’t mental illness, as the vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness are far more apt to hurt themselves than anyone else. The key is a marked lack of empathy and social skills COMBINED with mental illness. That is a deadly combination.

    1.  Why is gun control such a controversial subject in the States?

      I really don’t understand why this is way more restricted in Boingboing than other worrying subjects  like racism, homophobia or politics.

      PD: I´m not trying to continue the “gun control” debate, just asking why it´s off-limits. 

      1. Because it’s exactly the same people saying exactly the same things. Very loudly. Over and over. It’s like listening to robots argue.

  8. What can we learn from the shooting?

    Bad things happen to good people for no reason. You are mortal. You can die at any time and almost certainly not see it coming. Every moment you have with your loved ones is precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

    Much to learn indeed.

  9. The best remedy is to look at the motivation behind spree shootings. Note how they have evolved from a jealous man taking out his wife before he offs himself, to taking out the extended family, then strangers.  Finally the Norwegian guy and now this guy hang around for the denouement.
     The fact is that fame is hard but notoriety is easy. When the media blasts their name and picture all over the world for weeks they feel that they have achieved some sort  of immortality.
    Boing Boing is to be commended for denying the latest creep that privilege on their pages. If the rest of the media would deny the next one what he seeks, then the one after that may never get inspired.

  10.  Metal detectors? No, they should install those full body airport scanners in movie theaters. And also full body pat downs by the qualified hands of some underpaid goverment personnel. Then we would be safe!

  11. No one seems to be talking about the difference the media makes, not in exposing us to violence, but informing us it has happened. Do we really know if the frequency of such attacks have increased, or just our awareness of them? A hundred years ago, we did not have the Internet, radio or TV, only newspapers, daily in large cities but weekly or less in small towns. People didn’t usually hear about incidents of mass violence, other than wars, because it wasn’t in the newspaper unless it happened in that town, or a nearby large city. Newspapers were, for the most part, reluctant to publish stories with much violence, because it was too “unsavory”. It would take a lot of research, but I would be interested in finding out if there were incidents like the one in Colorado 100 or more years ago that few people heard about because the media was so different.

  12. “Because people overreact to rare events, they’re useful catalysts for social introspection and policy change.”
    what i read: “how can we use this tragedy to push our own political agenda, lets not waste this golden opportunity.”
    invariably whenever there is a tragedy, someone steps up to manipulate it to push a political agenda. pearl harbor, 9/11, columbine, Oklahoma city bombing, now this whenever there is a tragedy, rather than grieve and move on, someone says “how can i use this to manipulate people into doing what i want” its sad and frankly kinda sick.

Comments are closed.