DALLAS — Chris Kyle, reputed to be the deadliest sniper in American military history, often took veterans out shooting as a way to ease the trauma of war. Taking aim at a target, he once wrote, would help coax them back into normal, everyday life with a familiar, comforting activity.
But his death at a North Texas shooting range — allegedly at the hands of a troubled Iraq War veteran he was trying to assist — has highlighted the potential dangers of the practice.
Former soldiers and others familiar with their struggles say shooting a gun can sometimes be as therapeutic as playing with a dog or riding a horse. Psychiatrists wonder, though, whether the smell of the gunpowder and the crack of gunfire can trigger unpredictable responses, particularly in someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other illnesses that aren’t immediately obvious.
“You have to be very careful with doing those kinds of treatment,” said Dr. Charles Marmar, chairman of the psychiatry department at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “People have to be well prepared for them.”
“But obviously you would not take a person who was highly unstable and give them access to weapons,” added Marmar, who said he wasn’t commenting on the suspected shooter’s mental state. “That’s very different.”
Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said he has heard of exposure to weapons being helpful to some veterans who weren’t keen on meeting with a psychiatrist or undergoing therapy sessions.
“These types of programs can often be an on-ramp for people who won’t go to any other type of program,” Rieckhoff said. “Anything that is connected to the military culture is an…