America awoke the morning of July 20 to the horrors of the events of the Massacre in Theatre Nine in Aurora, Colo. All were stunned, horrified and disbelieving. As a parent of a teenager who was out that evening attending the Batman premier, this event really hit home.
As our hearts bleed for the victims and their families, I am reminded of the emotional toll a similar event caused to an Uncle on my wife’s side, who was a witness to and victim of the traumatic 1989 Standard Gravure mass shooting in Louisville. In that incident the shooter killed eight and injured 12 of his co-workers right before his very eyes. As he watched a friend dying at his feet, the gunman made eye contact with him as well, but by-passed him before walking around the corner and taking his own life. Such events leave emotional scars that last a lifetime. This event forever altered his life, and he was unable to return to work because of post-traumatic stress.
In a previous career I worked for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co., where I was loss group coordinator working out of the Chicago office. I handled a large book of several large theatre companies around the country. Working on such large accounts as Regal Cinemas and others, I would consult with them as to how to reduce their major loss sources and to address potential loss exposures. The potential exposure that concerned me most was not a fire in a theatre as all of them were properly sprinklered, it was an unknown lone gunman entering one of these theatres and leaving his mark on society.
Many clients prefer to believe that – well that’s never happened before theory – so they shouldn’t invest their resources because they are a for-profit company and they would be throwing money away. Some would on occasions hire armed off-duty police officers and private security for special events, if a theatre was located in high crime areas, which was always a reactive stance because of past events and losses. Many clients don’t react to potential loss exposure until such an event has occurred to them or someone else in their industry.
In the aftermath of the Aurora shooting, the movie theatre industry must now consider extra security and risk control measures to try to prevent a reoccurrence. Theatre companies are now looking to ban costumes at these premier events, and many will be hiring extra security with the costs inevitably being passed down to the consumer.
Theaters will also need to review their emergency action plans to ensure employees know what to do and how to evacuate people safely. Many will look to improve their surveillance and some may even consider installing metal detectors to check for dangerous weapons.
Implementing such preventative measures in our hometown movie theatres points out what type of society we have become. But the fact is, regardless of changes the industry makes it is hard to prevent such random acts of violence.
According to my internet search, there have been 56 mass murders across the United States in 30 different states since 1982, and these don’t account for domestic murder-suicide incidents.
Typically when a high-profile shooting takes place, invariably the airwaves are full of talk of additional gun control. But as time passes the public develops a case of amnesia until another incident occurs.
My wife, 20-year veteran of psychiatric nursing, tells me the real key to preventing such occurrences must come from the general public, friends, families, neighbors and co-workers — to help identify mentally ill people before they carry out such horrific events. Then once identified, the focus must be on providing proper treatment which is getting harder and harder to do.
According to some reports on the internet, one in 17 Americans currently has a mental illness. Unfortunately the mental health system today is incapable of treating such illness like they once did. Current inpatient hospitalization stays have been shortened and if patients don’t present an imminent threat to themselves or society during their short term care, they are released to walk and live amongst us.
Case in point is the Virginia Tech shooting which appeared to be the failure of the mental health system. Reports cited that the shooter had been determined to be an imminent danger to himself; however the magistrate who ruled on his case determined that there were alternatives to involuntary hospitalization.
Mental health systems all across this country have been dismantled and the infrastructure is simply not there any more. Funding for community mental health services has long been inadequate and continues to decline as the economy continues to stagger. States all across this country continue to slash funding, as just recently Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced a planned closure of two state-run mental health institutions.
As the trend continues, persons with mental illness who are a menace to society are now being housed in jails, rather than long-term treatment facilities. The privatization of the mental health industry has tried to fill the void and we build more jails and prisons. The focus has shifted from treating to housing, and then these individuals are released back into society over and over again as their jail sentences expire.
According to a recent article in PyschWorld.com the Bureau of Justice reported there were an estimated 283,000 prison and jail inmates who suffered from mental health problems in 1998. That number is now estimated to be 1.25 million. The rate of reported mental health disorders in the state prison population is five times greater (56.2 percent) than in the general adult population (11 percent).
In the case of James Holmes, it’s perplexing to think that a medical graduate student with such grandiose delusional tendencies wasn’t identified by his own medical school.
As these mass shootings now occur with some form of regularity in our society, we can see patterns that point us where we need to focus. Psychiatrists today will tell you these perpetrators are usually paranoid or delusional single men, depressed, angry, loners who feel alienated, with a history of having trouble connecting romantically with others and with society.
These delusional killers justify their actions as a right, and they sometimes look at themselves as action heroes rushing in to right a wrong. Those with paranoid tendencies believe there is a conspiracy against them and that their violent measures are heroic acts to avenge being a victim or being wronged.
I conclude with saying that on the surface, I am not one in favor of any additional gun controls. However, I personally don’t see the need for any person to own an assault weapon, as they are weapons of war. But I am not for additional gun-control laws and believe that more needs to be done to identify mentally unstable people from getting their hands on firearms. If James Holmes was unable to get his hands on firearms, he would have still carried out his deadly rampage. It’s against the law to build bombs, but he had several rigged in his apartment. He could have used those if he didn’t have access to guns.
I will tell you, if you want to prevent such events — then focus on the “root cause” of the problem and that is mental illness, and there is where the solution will be found.
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at email@example.com.