In 1965, before most of you were born, the U.S. Army taught me how to efficiently kill people. I learned how to kill, not only with a large variety of firearms such as handguns, long guns, automatic ones and large-caliber grenade launchers, but with small explosives such as booby traps, ordinary knives, pieces of wire for strangulation and even just with my hands. This training was more than half a century ago, so I am certain that today's military training and weaponry are now much more efficient.
But, still, when I look back on the list of killing methods I learned as a young man, it's all quite impressive. In 1965, America didn't worry that training young men like me (only men in '65) could create unintended consequences. Recently, like those who became ambushers of police, some people with military training have taken to using those efficient killing skills for purposes beyond which they were intended.
Moving ahead 51 years after my killing-methods training, I moved to Utah in 2006 and took a concealed-carry permit class. The instructor made a really useful observation: "Keep that thing concealed, unless and until you plan to shoot someone." His advice was very practical. "For instance," he explained, "if you're in a bank and it's being robbed, who do you think the armed robber will see as his first threat to neutralize—grandma and three kids, or you with a gun on your hip?" Guns might not kill people, as the saying goes, but people with guns surely will kill people who also have guns.
Guns aren't all that kill people. Lately on the news, people with knives, bombs, trucks and lots of other stuff are all adding to the statistics. Police officer defensive training includes how to respond to potential killers with knives as well as guns. Danger from being gunned down, or knifed down, or bombed, more often than not, comes statistically from friends and family who are mentally stressed and bent on suicide.
Also, you know that the current level of danger has always been around us. In Jeffrey Toobin's recent book, American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, and citing FBI statistics from the time, in 1972 there were 1,962 actual and attempted bombings, and 25 killed, in the U.S. In 1973 there were 1,995 bombings and 22 killed. In 1974, there were 2,044 bombings and 24 killed.
Suicide to make a statement is nothing new, either. In WWII, Japanese kamikaze pilots killed themselves for honor and patriotism. In the '60s, Buddhist Monks set themselves on fire in public squares. Utah's Butch Cassidy and Sundance went out in a rapid-fire blaze of glory.
So, how do you stop people who are indifferent to their own death from killing you and me? How do you prevent so many suicidal mental cases from morphing into mass terrorists? Utah Legislature identifies one solution to improving mental health: reduce porn. Evidently, they feel that the clearest path to safety is stopping dirty movies on the internet. I suggest they are solving the wrong problem.
In Washington, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has taken a position that part of our growing safety problem is brought on by the culture that glamorizes violence through pop movies, games and social media. Like his equivalents in the Capitol, he really misses the point.
To change dangerous behavior, I agree with most mental health professionals that we need to do two things:
1. Determine which behavior is actually changeable. We've learned that changing someone's sexual orientation isn't, but changing suicidal and homicidal feelings is.
2. Identify which mental and societal buttons to switch in order to move perpetrators in the world from suicide and violence to calmer ways to be heard.
If we can do this, we will reduce epidemic suicides, reduce suicide-induced murder, improve police officer safety and reduce terrorist threats by perpetrators willing to die.
Both Clinton and Trump differ on how to make us safe, but both dwell on Middle East religious influence instead of how to change people's minds who are willing to die. The Dallas police shooter was not a terrorist from a Middle-Eastern culture but a pissed-off ex-soldier who found a cultural excuse to do what he would have done anyway with a different excuse if not for that one. That box-truck-driving killer in Nice, France, we now know, was nothing more than a pissed-off road rage petty criminal.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, supports a bill proposed by Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., to improve Medicaid coverage of mental health services and increase protections for volunteers who staff crisis centers and help lines. Chaffetz has called mental-health reform expensive, but thinks it could be an area of common ground for Republicans and Democrats. Go, Jason.
Of the many mental health instabilities I've been accused of over the years (yes, many), it's never reached the level where people fear to be in the lane next to me at the gun range. But thanks to my highly efficient U.S. Army training and those ultra-easy Utah gun laws, just like your many friends and neighbors, your teachers, doctors, lawyers and food servers, you never know. Any one of us, certainly, could become your worst nightmare.
Rep. Chaffetz might be on to something. Let him know you want him to get moving on that mental health bill and suitable funding.