August 5, 2019

To the William Paterson community: 

Over the weekend, two mass shootings occurred in our country: One in Texas and the other in my home state of Ohio. Our sympathy goes out to all of the victims and their loved ones. But I fear our sympathy, thoughts and prayers are no longer enough. 

It seems the abnormal is becoming normal and that should concern all of us. With these two attacks, there have been 251 mass shootings in the United States already in 2019, more than in any other developed country. We lead in this grave statistic with the closest country having had three. Comparatively, this is not normal. But here in the United States, the abnormal is becoming the normal.  

I was struck in the last Democratic debate when one candidate pointed out that we have the power to change our democracy. He noted that at one time we decided it was not okay to drink alcohol and, as a country, we amended the Constitution. And then we changed our minds and altered it again. We have amended our governing documents several times and we can again if we want the abnormal to stop from becoming the normal. 

Now before we go down the rabbit hole, let me be clear. I am not advocating for any one solution. Better mental health care, background checks, assault weapon bans or restrictions, and changing the second amendment are all possibilities among others. What we are discovering is that doing nothing, while certainly an option, will likely lead to the continued loss of life. We must collectively begin to create change to prevent the abnormal from becoming normal.  

Often our response is “thoughts and prayers” and, to many, faith can be a comfort in times of distress. But thoughts that do not lead to action rarely change the concerns that plague us. As I said in one of my previous communications, we as a country have not come to terms with how to address gun violence or end this epidemic, but the continued loss of life reminds us that we must do something.  

For me, in times of emotional distress I try to read something that will help balance my thoughts and emotions. I found this article from the New York Times helpful in thinking about gun violence through the use of data. It has helped me think about the epidemic holistically by exploring some of the causal arguments of gun violence quantifiably. Perhaps this or some other reading might help you. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/world/americas/mass-shootings-us-international.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&sfns=mo

May our thoughts call us to action to support whatever peaceful gun violence solution we believe will be the most effective in leading toward a safer world for our children, families, and loved ones. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful and vitriolic words and actions of bad people but for the appalling silence of good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability.” 

Please know I am thinking about all of you and am grateful that today we remain safe.  


Richard J. Helldobler, PhD