He DIGS It: A Social Psychiatric Model for Dads Into Gun Safety


You’ve heard of MADD—Mother’s Against Drunk Driving—but what about DIGS?




“You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.” - Attributed to Winston Churchill

Yesterday, before all the Uvalde victims were buried, another mass murder occurred, apparently with an accompanying suicide of the perpetrator. This time it came to us on the campus of St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa. If gun violence in an elementary school and health care center will not move politicians forward, what will?

It seems to me that this is a public mental health safety issue at its core. Given that, I started to wonder if there were any successful outcomes for anything like this. Probably because I know one of the leaders of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, that grassroots movement readily came to mind. Resisted at first, over 40 years, expected deaths seem to have been cut in half.

Given the important role of fathers with sons, and that mass shooters are almost invariably men, why not a movement of fathers like the mothers?

Shooters seem drunk on power rather than drunk on alcohol. Psychodynamically, firearms have often thought to be a phallic symbol, representing real or imagined power. Some interplay of testosterone, alienation, and guns seems to increase the gun violence risk.

Power needs to be expressed elsewhere and differently. If we emphasize safety rather than gun control, it may naturally cross politically divisive lines. Whatever one thinks of the National Rifle Association, they do have a history of emphasizing firearm safety. Emphasizing control seems to backfire with more guns bought.

MADD has a catchy name and acronym. What might compare to that with gun violence prevention? How about the acronym DIGS for Dads Into Gun Safety? The Dads of DIGS could become role models, teachers, and activists for developing men, so important now as the roles and opportunities for men are changing. Fathers, mothers, and educators may need to reinforce a different kind of moral and values development for boys instead of the traditional emphasis on strength and control. This is a purposely broad umbrella of safety in order to build consensus and broad benefits, given that mass shootings are a rare endpoint.

Dads, in the broadest sense of the term—biological, step, adoptive, and spiritual—could also then become more likely to recognize and intervene when the warning signs seem to increase, leakage of intent before the action being the most common. What more leakage do we need than the Buffalo mass murder shooter including “murder/suicide” in his post high school goals?

Society has had seeds of such a movement. For over a hundred years, Boys Clubs of America have been 1 example. I am looking for health care leaders to start an expanded movement. Father’s Day is right around the corner. Anyone interested?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

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