Did The Aurora Shooter Seek Out A “Gun Free” Zone?

| April 10, 2013

The Facts

On July 20th, 2012, James Eagan Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58 more at the Cinemark Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado.

Those are facts. But many questions still remain, and one of the most notable asks why the shooter choose that particular theater? Location? Convenience? Or something else?


Author and gun rights activist John Lott has a theory.

So why did the killer pick the Cinemark theater? You might think that it was the one closest to the killer’s apartment. Or, that it was the one with the largest audience.

Yet, neither explanation is right. Instead, out of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned.

Most movie theaters allow permit holders carrying guns. But the Cinemark movie theater was the only one with a sign posted at the theater’s entrance.

In short, Lott maintains that the Cinemark Century 16 was chosen specifically because it was a “gun free” zone.

So why would a mass shooter pick a place that bans guns? The answer should be obvious, though it apparently is not clear to the media – disarming law-abiding citizens leaves them as sitting ducks.

So, does Lott have a point? Let’s look at some facts.

The Theaters

Lott’s first assertion is that the shooter drove past the “closest” theater, which is true.

However, the closest theater, just 1.2 miles away, was the Cinema Latino de Aurora (L on the above map).

Which, as you might guess from the name, is a small complex dedicated to serving the area’s Hispanic audience. It shows Spanish movies, and English movies with Spanish subtitles.

Holmes was not Spanish, nor would he have been able to easily blend in with the largely Hispanic crowd. It’s also not likely that he patronized the theater.

The second theater bypassed was a small Cinema Grill theater (3.72 miles, and G on the map). But the Cinema Grill is is “dinner” theater, with tables were its patrons can eat and watch a movie at the same time. Waiters and staff would also be constantly moving through the audience, delivering and removing food, and refreshing drinks.

Further, the crowd would be small compared to the Cinemark, nor would his potential targets be packed into dense rows from which there could be no escape.

Which brings us to where the shooting actually occurred, the Cinemark Century 16 at 14300 East Alameda Avenue, Aurora, Colorado. Just a mere 3.97 miles and eight minutes away from his apartment. Location B on the above map.

The Cinemark Century would have been “his” theater. You know what I mean. We all have one. The local theater megacomplex where you see most of your movies.

If you lived where Holmes lived in Aurora (A), that’s where you’d go to see a major motion movie. Not a Spanish theater. Not a dinner theater. A major movie cineplex.

He would have been there before. And he probably would have known it well.

The Harkins Northfield 18

The Harkins Northfield 18 is a new theater, and bills itself as the home of Colorado’s largest auditorium. The Harkins was also just ten minutes away from Holme’s apartment (5.13 miles).

So, wouldn’t the Harkins would have been the better target? Granted, it might not be as familiar, but surely a larger crowd — and a correspondingly larger body count — would have made it worthwhile.

Lott maintains that Holmes specifically choose the Cinemark over of the Harkins because of the former’s posted “Gun Free” policy.

Maybe. But there’s one more factor to consider…

Holmes plan was to enter the theater, prop open the emergency door, retrieve his weapons, then go back inside and begin shooting.

But the Harkins is located in the middle of The Shops At Northfield Stapleton. It’s a location with a Cold Stone ice cream store to the front, a Bar Louie to the side, and an Olive Garden restaurant located in the parking lot immediately behind the building. The area is also well patrolled.


Given the location and the amount of pedestrian foot traffic around the building and in the immediate area, even near midnight, could Holmes have parked close to the correct rear door, entered, then exited and made his way to his car, retrieved his gear, and returned back to the theater unseen and unreported?


The Cinemark Centrury 16, however, lies in a standalone building in an outer parking lot of the Town Center Mall. With the main parking lot in front of the building, Holmes was free to park his white Hyundai immediately next to the rear door of the targeted theater.

Cinemark Century 16


So, was the “gun free zone” a factor? Perhaps, though we won’t know more unless and until court records are unsealed, and even then that fact might not be specifically mentioned.

One might note that there was an armed presence at both Columbine and Virginia Tech, and yet those two schools were targeted anyway.

If armed guards are not always a deterrent, would a determined attacker shift targets simply because of the possibility there could be be a civilian with a gun in this particular theater? More to the point, would an attacker wearing a ballistic helmet, body armor, and armed with an assault weapon and two Glock pistols even care?

Lott’s assertion that Holmes bypassed the two “closest” theaters specifically to choose the Cinemark is also not particularly telling, given that the first was a smaller Hispanic-audience theater and the second a dinner theater.

Nor can we give much weight to the fact that Holmes ignored the “largest” theater in his immediate area. The lack of nearby parking and the constant flow of pedestrians, traffic, and armed patrols around all sides of the building would have made the Harkins a much riskier target.

The Cinemark Century 16, however, was a major theater close to home. It was known. The rear of the building was private and secluded, and Holmes could park just feet away from the theater’s emergency exit.

It was perfect.


Recently released court documents indicate that Holmes visited the Century 16 on June 29th, three weeks prior to his attack. Police found photos of theater 9 on his cell phone, including photos of the easily accessible rear door, its lock, and its hinges.


It’s commonly asserted that James Holmes choose the only posted “gun free” theater in a 20-mile radius, bypassing targets both closer and larger.

In reality, Holmes bypassed the Cinema Latino de Aurora, a small complex dedicated to serving the area’s Hispanic audience. It shows Spanish movies, and English movies with subtitles. Holmes, needless to say, was not Hispanic.

Holmes also ignored the Harkins, the largest theater in the area, due to the lack of privacy it would have provided. The Harkins is located in the middle of an open-air mall, with restaurants, shops, and bars to all sides.

Which leaves the Cinemark Century 16, 3.6 miles away, and the closest “megaplex” to his apartment. It was known. it was secluded. It was perfect.


Ten Closest Theater Locations

  1. Cinema Latino de Aurora (L)
    777 Peoria St., Aurora, CO 80011
    Not posted
    Showing The Dark Knight Rises
    1.22 miles (3 minutes)
  2. Cinema Grill (G)
    13682 East Alameda Avenue, Aurora, CO
    Not posted
    Showing The Dark Knight Rises
    3.72 miles (7 minutes)
  3. Century Cinemark Theater (B)
    14300 East Alameda Avenue, Aurora, CO 80012
    No weapons allowed sign
    Showing The Dark Knight Rises
    3.97 miles (8 minutes)
  4. Harkins Northfield 18 (H)
    8300 E. Northfield Blvd., Denver, CO 80238
    Not posted at the time of the attack
    Showing The Dark Knight Rises
    5.13 miles (10 minutes)
  5. Aurora Movie Tavern
    18605 East Hampden Avenue, Aurora, CO 80013-3533
    Not posted
    Showing The Dark Knight Rises
    10.04 miles (18 minutes)
  6. Elvis Cinemas Tiffany Plaza 6
    7400 E. Hampden Ave, Denver, CO 80231
    Not posted
    Not showing The Dark Knight Rises
    9.12 miles (18 minutes)
  7. The Movie Tavern At Seven Hills
    18305 E. Hampden Ave., Aurora, CO 80013
    Not posted
    Showing The Dark Knight Rises
    10.02 miles (19 minutes)
  8. Landmark Theatre Greenwood Village
    5415 Landmark Place, Greenwood Village, CO 80111
    Not posted
    Showing The Dark Knight Rises
    12.88 miles (19 minutes)
  9. UA Colorado Center Stadium 9 and IMAX
    2000 S. Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO 80222
    Not posted
    Showing The Dark Knight Rises
    9.66 miles (20 minutes)
  10. Esquire Theatre
    590 Downing St., Denver, CO 80218
    Not showing The Dark Knight Rises
    9.95 miles (21 minutes)


  1. Lott: So are movie theaters near where the Aurora, Colorado killer lived posted to prevent concealed carry?
  2. Did Colorado shooter single out Cinemark theater because it banned guns?
  3. Documents unsealed in Aurora theater shooting case (kdvr.com)
  4. Colorado Court Documents
  5. James Holmes Shared ‘Homicidal Thoughts’ With Psychiatrist Before Aurora Shooting (usnews.com)

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