Aurora Theater Shooting Foreseeable Rules Federal Judge
Lawsuits against the theater where 12 people were murdered in 2012 may go forward.
Lawsuits against the theater where 12 people were murdered during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises may go forward.
Denver Post‘s John Ingold reports (“Federal judge rules Aurora theater shooting was foreseeable“):
The owner of the Aurora movie theater that was the site of a deadly 2012 attack could have reasonably enough foreseen the danger of such an attack to be held liable for it, a federal judge ruled Friday.
Noting “the grim history of mass shootings and mass killings that have occurred in more recent times,” U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled that Cinemark — owner of the Century Aurora 16 theater — could have predicted that movie patrons might be targeted for an attack. Jackson’s ruling allows 20 lawsuits filed by survivors of the attack or relatives of those killed to proceed toward trial.
“Although theaters had theretofore been spared a mass shooting incident, the patrons of a movie theater are, perhaps even more than students in a school or shoppers in a mall, ‘sitting ducks,’ ” Jackson wrote.
To be sure, this ruling simply denied a motion to dismiss for summary judgment; it doesn’t decide whether Cinemark is liable for damages for failing to take reasonable measures to prevent the shooting spree. Still, the notion that theater owners ought provide armed security in anticipation of some nut deciding to mow down its patrons is absurd.
Reason‘s Lenore Skenazy:
The judge seems to be saying that because we do not live in a perfect world, free of all violence, all businesses open to the public should be constantly on guard against psychopathic killers. Even though, as Scott Greenfield points out at his blog Simple Justice, ”Perhaps the defining feature of crazy people is that they’re unpredictable.” But predict them businesses must, said Judge Jackson.
While the ruling does not decide any of the lawsuits, it does establish that they can proceed. In doing so, it endorses what I call “worst-first thinking”—dreaming up the worst case scenario first (“What if someone comes in and shoots up our book club?”) and proceeding as if it’s likely to happen.
Worst-first thinking promotes constant panic. The word for that isn’t prudence. It’s paranoia.
Alas, we’re already there. Our schools, including small church-run day schools for preschoolers, already operate on lockdown and spend considerable time on drills against the incredibly unlikely eventuality that someone comes to shoot them up. We arrest people for letting their 9-year-olds go to the playground by themselves or leaving their 11-year-old in the car while they run into a convenience store.
It’s easy to sympathize with the families of those murdered in the Aurora theater shooting or any of the other horrific mass shooting incidents in recent years. But it’s just bizarre to put the blame on the theater owner, school principal, or others holding perfectly normal events.
For one thing, while they’re all over the news, mass shootings are nonetheless exceedingly rare and unpredictable. It’s a near certainty that another one will happen. But we have no way of knowing at which of millions of potential venues it might occur. It’s simply unreasonable to harden all of them against an exceedingly unlikely event.
For another, to the extent that we should reasonable expect theater owners to be aware of the possibility that a shooting might occur at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, the same is true of the patrons themselves. By attending a movie—or doing virtually anything—we knowingly take the very tiny risk that some nutjob will mow us down in preference to living our lives in constant fear.