Tennessee Theater Shooting Highlights Security Flaws, Experts Say: ‘They Are Failing Their Moviegoers’

“Movie theaters should be training their staff in how to deal with these types of situations,” retired SWAT commander tells TheWrap


Security experts say more needs to be done to ensure the safety of moviegoers following yet another theater shooting in Antioch, Tennessee, on Wednesday.

A 29-year-old white man armed with a hatchet, a gun and pepper spray stormed a screening of “Mad Max: Fury Road” at a suburban Nashville movie theater, injuring three people before he was shot and killed by police.

“Movie theaters should be training their staff in how to deal with these types of situations,” security expert and retired New Orleans Police Department SWAT commander Mike Cahn told TheWrap. “If I’m a ticket taker and I see a man carrying two bags and he seems despondent, that should raise a red flag, especially so soon after the attack in Louisiana.”

The assailant, who has not yet been identified, entered the Carmike Hickory 8 Cinemas wearing a surgical mask and unleashed a thick cloud of pepper spray as he began attacking patrons with a hatchet. Two bags belonging to the shooter were later found at the scene.

Wednesday’s incident, which left three people injured, comes less than two weeks after a similar attack in Lafayette, Louisiana, in which three people were killed, and three years after the shooting in an Aurora, Colorado theater, which left 12 people dead and another 70 injured.

Experts say the timing is no coincidence.

“This is absolutely a copy cat deal,” Cahn said. “The close time frame would suggest to me this is an individual who was seeking attention.”

There are other similarities, experts say, that suggest a link between the attacks.

“Both the Aurora shooting and the one in Tennessee happened shortly after the movie began, and both used some sort of chemical like pepper spray,” security expert Howard Levinson told TheWrap. “These attacks are all very similar. People see certain things and repeat them.”

After the 2012 massacre in Aurora, Colorado, the National Association of Theater Owners worked with Homeland Security to try and fix some of the security shortcomings. But for the most part, not much has changed.

“The industry needs to update their emergency and fire safety codes to include active shooter situations,” said Levinson, who consulted with a large New England-based theater chain for years.

NATO told TheWrap in a statement: “the safety of our guests and employees is, and always will be, our industry’s highest priority,” adding it is “grateful to the theater staff and first responders who acted so quickly and efficiently to end today’s incident without serious injury.”

But experts say movie theaters should and could be doing more to ensure the safety of their customers.

“If they don’t, they are failing their moviegoers. They’re not doing the right thing,” Cahn said.