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Did Colorado shooter single out Cinemark theater because it banned guns?

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    July 23, 2012: The Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. (Getty)

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    From left, Tylecia Amos, 14, Shatyra Amos, 15, Michael Walker, 17, and Mykia Walker, 16, carry flowers to lay at a makeshift memorial across the street from the Century Theater parking lot, on Saturday, July 21, 2012 in Aurora, Colo. Twelve people were killed and dozens were injured in the attack early Friday at the packed theater during a showing of the Batman movie, "Dark Knight Rises." Police have identified the suspected shooter as James Holmes, 24. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez) (The Associated Press2012)

With 12 dead and 58 wounded, the July 20th shooting at the Cinemark Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colorado was sure to result in a lawsuit. On Friday, the first suit was announced, claiming Cinemark has “primary responsibility.” The theater did have responsibility for the attack, but not for the reasons that the lawyers bringing the case think.

The lawyer bringing the suit, Attorney Marc Bern, with the New York city law firm of Napoli, Bern, Ripka and Scholonik, suggested the theater should have had security guards the night of the attack. Yet, checking bags or metal detectors at the front of the theater that night wouldn’t have prevented the attack. The killer brought his guns in through an emergency backdoor.

Armed security guards at movie theaters are rare in low crime areas, such as Aurora, especially on less crowded weeknights. And, with an audience fleeing the theater, armed guards may have experienced difficulty getting quickly inside.

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. In Colorado, individuals with permits can carry concealed handgun in most malls, stores, movie theaters, and restaurants. But private businesses can determine whether permit holders can carry guns on their private property.

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.

A simple web search and some telephone calls reveal how easily one can find out how Cinemark compared to other movie theaters. According to mapquest.com and movies.com, there were seven movie theaters showing "The Dark Knight Rises" on July 20th within 20 minutes of the killer’s apartment at 1690 Paris St, Aurora, Colorado. At 4 miles and an 8-minute car ride, the Cinemark’s Century Theater wasn't the closest. Another theater was only 1.2 miles (3 minutes) away.

There was also a theater just slightly further away, 10 minutes. It is the "home of Colorado's largest auditorium," according to their movie hotline greeting message. The potentially huge audience ought to have been attractive to someone trying to kill as many people as possible. Four other theaters were 18 minutes, two at 19 minutes, and 20 minutes away. But all of those theaters allowed permitted concealed handguns.

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.

Concealed carry is much more frequent than many people believe. With over 4 percent of the adult population in Colorado having concealed handgun permits, a couple hundred adults in Cinemark’s movie theater #9 means that there is an extremely high probability that at least one adult would have a permit.

Unfortunately, some have still not figured this out. A manager at the Harkins Northfield 18 five miles from the killer’s apartment told me, the theater changed its policy and started banning concealed handguns following the Cinemark attack.

The recent Colorado and Sikh Temple shootings are by no means the first times that killers targeted gun-free zones. We have witnessed mass public shootings in such places as the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska and the Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City, Utah. In both cases, guns were banned at those particular malls, but not at other similar venues that allowed guns and were spared. With just one single exception, the attack in Tucson last year, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.

And remember the 1999 Columbine attack in Colorado. Few appreciate that Dylan Klebold, one of the two Columbine killers, was following Colorado legislation that would have let citizens carry a concealed handgun. Presumably, he feared being stopped during his attack by someone with a weapon. In fact, the Columbine attack occurred the very day that final passage was scheduled.

Gun-free zones are a magnet for those who want to kill many people quickly. Even the most ardent gun control advocate would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on their home. Let’s stop finally putting them elsewhere.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.