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Gun violence: Where are the angry moms today?

March 13, 2014
by Dennis Grantham, Editor-in-Chief
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In 1980, MADD attacked lax drunk-driving laws. We could learn lessons from them today.

Some kids are passionate about sports, some about making top grades in school, some with hunting or fishing, some with cars. 

We trust that most children and young adults will somehow learn to manage their passions and interests appropriately often with the help of parents, friends, teachers or other mentors. And we also depend on the law, for example, laws that prevent the purchase and use of potentially dangerous substances, like alcohol, by young people.  In time, or through experience, most learn how to accentuate the positives of a passionate interest or curtail the behavior when it moves in a negative way.

But what happens when a passion or interest goes awry?  Then, we call it an obsession. For example, a grades-obsessed student obtains and abuses Adderall in hopes of boosting performance, a hunter or fisherman becomes a "poacher" for taking more than his limit, or a car owner is tried as a murderer because impaired or reckless driving resulted in a deadly accident.

Now, let's consider the case of Darion Aguilar, who according to Maryland Police, was an anxious young man of 19 who was "obsessed" with mass killings, like Columbine. Having and indulging this interest through reading, game playing, thought or fantasy is disturbing, but not criminal. Nor is it a clear signal of a mental health disorder, though in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of two people by Aguilar in a Maryland shopping mall, it will likely be painted that way.

What jumped out at me in a Wednesday Washington Post article was the fact that Aguilar, at age 19, legally purchased a pistol-grip, 12-gauge shotgun at a store in Rockville, Md. Then, some days later, he bought a substantial quantity of ammunition. (He had 54 shells when he entered the mall but fired only nine, killing two people and then himself.)

Does this strike you as the least bit odd? A 19-year old from College Park who works at Dunkin' Donuts who spends a couple week's pay, dropping $300-500 on a pistol grip shotgun (a configuration made for small spaces) and another hundred on at least three boxes of 12 gauge ammo?

It seems very odd to me.

Something else does, too: If that young man had killed two people at the same mall on the same day with his mother's car - and a blood alcohol level - we would implicate him as a killer, just the same. But we might also consider his mother, and the people who sold or served the alcohol to Aguilar, as accessories to his crime.

It didn't used to be that way though. Drunk driving, even when it resulted in death, was often treated as an unfortunate accident, involving otherwise good, generally hardworking people. That was certainly the attitude when I was growing up, and young people of my generation sometimes took risks with alcohol and driving that would be harshly punished today.  

It wasn't until about 1980 that a small group of angry women - Mothers against Drunk Driving or MADD - mobilized public support for measures that focused attention on alcohol abuse, frequent drunk drivers, alcohol sales to minors, bartenders who serve too much to patrons, and parents who hosted underage drinking.

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Dennis Grantham

Dennis Grantham

@BH_dgrantham

www.behavioral.net