When any type of mass tragedy happens, especially school shootings, we talk a lot.

People talk about how tragic the event was.

People talk about all the tell-tale signs that they saw, but never reported.

People talk about what should have been done by everyone involved.

Politicians talk about what they are going to do.

There needs to be less talk and more action.

There are three things that seem to be common denominators in most school shootings; bullying, mental health and guns.

If we are going to make real changes, we have to be honest with ourselves. No topic is off the table. History has shown little will change once the shock wears off. Here are some recommendations we believe will make strides toward school shooting prevention.

Develop skills to cope with bullying

Bullying is one of the top reasons behind school shootings, including Columbine and the Uvalde shootings. The shooter in Uvalde was known as a loner who was bullied as a child and kept to himself.

Many of the gunmen in school shootings were social outcasts, labeled as undesirable by their peers and sometimes their teachers and communities. The baggage they unload on their victims is the hate-laden verbal and mental sewage they have been forced to swallow from the bullies that tormented them systematically for years.

While many schools have implemented anti-bullying programs in recent years, they don’t seem to have the desired effect they are reaching for. When are we going to realize that telling kids, and even adults, to be nice and not to bully others isn’t working?

So, if we can’t make a bully stop hurting others with their words, then we need to start developing coping skills and empowering our students with positive self-images. We need to work harder at allowing kids more down time in activities like recess at school to build stronger friendships and to work out conflicts on the playground.

We need to talk about proper ways to handle our sadness, hurt, anger and disappointments. How to be good sports when we win and also how to behave when we lose and accept the loss. We need to have students routinely tell each other out loud what they like and respect about one another. We need to find what each student is good at and give them ample praise. We also need to teach the courteous goodwill of grace and acceptance for others. You don’t have to agree or like anyone to be respectful and kind to them.

Provide access to mental healthcare

Studies have shown that the long-term effects of being bullied can have lasting negative impact on a person’s mental health. Bullying develops feelings of exclusion, rejections, isolation, which untreated can lead to depression, anxiety and develop further into interpersonal violence, substance abuse, sexual violence, poor social functions and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

At a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas state leaders said the lack of mental health resources was the primary cause of the mass shooting in Uvalde.

Texas has made great strides in working to provide more access to those in need of mental health care, however, more is still needed, especially in rural Texas communities.

The Texas legislature began to acknowledge its severe lack of mental healthcare in 2019 with the creations of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium to address the urgent mental health challenges and improve the state’s mental health care system in relation to children and adolescents. The TCMHCC spent its first year launching initiatives through 12 medical schools across the state. The following legislative session, the state appropriated $8.44 billion for behavioral health across 25 state agencies, an increase of roughly $350 million.

Texas has long been rated badly for its access to mental health care, with a mental health workforce availability rate of 880:1 as of November 2021.

According to a 2021 report by Mental Health America, 67.1% of youth with major depression in Texas do not receive any treatment and 11.5% of children with private insurance in the state did not have coverage for behavioral health, another one of the highest rates in the nation.

The biggest missing piece of the puzzle to solving the mental health care crisis for teens is a way to increase the availability of behavioral care in rural counties immediately. Gov. Abbott needs to not only talk about the problem, he needs to develop fast, long-term solutions now.

Raise the age to buy assault rifles to 21

Let’s face it, you can’t have a school shooting without a gun. Most Texans believe in the right to own and bear arms, and we uphold our Second Amendment rights. The rights of a responsible adult to own guns is not the issue here. The real issue is that Uvalde’s gunman was able to buy not only one, but two AR-15s two days after his 18th birthday. However, under federal law, which trumps Texas law in this matter, to buy a handgun from a licensed dealer you must be 21 years-old . Not even old enough to buy his own beer or cigarettes, the shooter legally purchased two automatic weapons and an arsenal filled with 375 rounds of ammunition. That’s a lot of ammunition, a typical soldier carries 210 rounds.

AR-15 style rifles, only legal in the United States since President Bill Clinton’s ban was lifted in 2004, have played a prominent role in many high-profile mass shootings in the United States and were used in half of the 10 deadliest mass shootings including 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary, 2017 Las Vegas shootings, 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting, 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shootings and the Robb Elementary School shooting.

Lawmakers are now calling for the minimum age to purchase assault rifles to be raised from 18 to 21. Florida, Washington, Vermont, California, Illinois and Hawaii have already increased the minimum age of purchase for long guns to 21. Most of them did so after the 2018 shooting that killed 17 people the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida high school.

While these events have led to emotionally charged responses, moving forward our solutions should be mindful of the best interest of students’ safety. In our view, there are no simple solutions, but addressing these matters is a necessary step in preventing future attacks.

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