In a Darkened Theater…

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Gun violence seems more prevalent than ever and as a result the pro-gun vs gun control argument seems louder than ever.  In my naïve and idealistic days I used to wish guns would just go away – that we could simply jettison them all into space.  In the wake of San Bernardino, the anniversary of Sandy Hook, and with the impending release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, gun violence has weighed more heavily on my mind than ever.  I don’t want to trivialize the tragic deaths of those who have died in the over 350 mass shootings this year alone in any way. But I want to talk about how far the issue has spread its toxic roots and how engrained in daily life it has become.

I’m a huge movie fan. It’s one of my favorite things to do and talk about.  I take great pride in being considered a movie database by my friends.  To me, there’s not much better than sitting in a darkened theater being transported to a different time, place, or state of being.  Though this experience has been dinged as of late with the pervasiveness of iPhones and entitlement, something much more sinister has nearly extinguished my desire to go to the movies. There have been two mass shootings in the last two years that have taken place in movie theaters. The purposely dark room we all go to to escape our worries for a few short hours, has become yet another place where we need to be on guard and aware of our surroundings.

 

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This is how big a movie fan I am. Our coffee table is covered in a sampling of my theater stubs from the last decade.

After the horrendous events in Aurora, Colorado in 2013, I was horrified and heartbroken like virtually everyone else in the nation.  But, and it feels shameful or at the very least incredibly naïve to admit, I didn’t feel that it had a strong impact on my life.  Mass shootings continued to be an unspeakable, unfathomable tragedy I desperately wished would go away, but I had not known anyone effected. They did not happen in or near my town.  And so, like a big, dumb oafish animal I continued about my daily life.  It wasn’t until March of last year that I realized that despite my outward out of sight out of mind attitude, the fear of gun violence had begun to reside permanently within my brain.

My husband and I were at a showing of Captain America: The Winter Solider at our local theater. We sat right at the railing before the walkway in and out of the AMC. On the other side of the walkway sat a row of 10 or so young teenagers.  At first they were just the frustrating annoyances I spoke of earlier, taking their phones out, talking, and being generally rude and disruptive. But then they started getting up one at a time, leaving and coming back before the next one would leave. One or two came back with shopping bags. I told myself that these were teenagers.  That they were just spoiled brats leaving a movie their parents had paid for because they were bored, getting food or shopping, and then coming back. I tried to push it out of my mind. But then when one of them came back, he lingered near the exit ramp and then tried to signal a friend back at the row.  Suddenly my brain was overcome with fear.  What if these boys were planning something?  However unlikely, what IF one of them had a gun?  In the wake of Aurora this was now an entirely rational thought to have. Whatever the last movie I saw before Captain America The Winter Solider was, that was the last time I had an escapist experience in a movie theater.

Since that night in March of 2014 I feel anxious as I enter a theater and head to my seat.  As the lights dim and the trailers start to play, I reassure myself silently, and take in my surroundings. I think about what I would do in the event of a shooting – where I could hide, if I could make it to an exit.  I worry about my seat choice and whether it puts me harm’s way and without fail, if I am at the theater with my husband I have 30 seconds of intense panic where I think about what would happen if he were to fall victim to an attack. With the new Star Wars film opening tomorrow I’m nervous about the showing my husband and I have tickets for Friday. I know that most theaters are banning masks and even face paint in some cases, but I’m still anxious. People will be wearing robes, crowds will be large, it will undoubtedly be chaotic and chaos presents opportunity. Regardless, I refuse to let my life be held hostage by the threat or possibility of violence.

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The Purple Rose of Cairo is the ultimate love letter to the escapism of movies.

Entertainment is where we turn to forget about our 9-5s, our stresses, losses, and heart breaks.  Movies have comforted the people of this country in times of economic crisis, war, years of great uncertainty.  I feel like I’ve lost my escape.  And while I don’t mourn that loss as greatly as the great loss of life in this country as a result of gun violence, I do feel it deeply.  Gun violence in this country has reached a point where it touches our daily lives even if we’ve never been or known a direct victim. The time for talk and argument has to be over.  We need action – more regulation, more checks, more hurdles to overcome when purchasing firearms.  I’m sorry if that’s an inconvenience to responsible gun owners but that’s all it is, an inconvenience. If you’re a responsible gun owner, you endure a little more red tape and possible frustration. I am not in favor of taking away people’s guns. It’s honestly a ludicrous argument from either side.  I’m in favor of saving us from ourselves.

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