Thanks to a new emphasis on searching the bags of moviegoers, the Regal Cinemas chain is treating its customers to its own brand of security theater. According to a story appearing on NPR, the theater chain has always reserved the right to inspect backpacks and the like to intercept bootleg food and drinks. Now, however, the company is claiming ticket takers will be routinely conducting searches of all bags “[t]o ensure the safety of our guests and employees.”
Regal’s revised notice of bag inspections appears on the company's website. It states:
Security issues have become a daily part of our lives in America. Regal Entertainment Group wants our customers and staff to feel comfortable and safe when visiting or working in our theatres. To ensure the safety of our guests and employees, backpacks and bags of any kind are subject to inspection prior to admission. We acknowledge that this procedure can cause some inconvenience and that it is not without flaws, but hope these are minor in comparison to increased safety.
The changes, of course, follow a number of high-profile acts of violence in movie theatres. To be clear, NRA appreciates that businesses like Regal that host the public have legitimate security concerns. We do not believe, however, that “bag checks” by theatre personnel with no security expertise or training have any effective or plausible relationship to public safety.
First, anybody seriously intent on doing harm can easily barge past the unarmed ticket taker. Second, the policy only extends to bags. It does not include patdowns or magnetometers to determine if customers are carrying contraband or weapons on their persons. Third, ticket takers may not even recognize certain types of weapons or bags with hidden pockets or compartments. Certainly, with patrons eager to get be seated, movie personnel will not have much time to conduct their newly-added duty. Fifth, in one of the most notorious examples of violence in a movie theatre, in Aurora, Colo., the assailant did not bring his weapons in through the lobby. Rather, he waited until the movie started, left through an emergency exit that he propped open, and reentered the theater with armaments he had stashed in a nearby vehicle.
It’s clear that Regal’s policy is intended to create an impression that it is “doing something” to prevent violence on its premises. In fact, the policy does no such thing. Meanwhile, it will serve to reinforce the common practice amongst movie theaters of banning even the lawful carrying of concealed firearms or other personal protection equipment, items that really could provide a benefit were an attack to occur. It also conditions patrons to believe that their security needs are being provided for by the managers of the property, when in fact they are not.
To the degree Regal’s policy accomplishes anything, it will be to needlessly intrude upon customers’ privacy and provide an advantage to an armed assailant who methodically plots an attack on unsuspecting and disarmed moviegoers. In the realm of security theater, that is not comedy. It is horror.