Better mental healthcare, Commonsense gun control are the ways to make Texas safer

Another mass shooting. This time at Robb Primary School in Uwald. It was predictable and possibly preventable.

Texans want safe schools and reasonable improvements in gun control and mental health policies, but state policymakers have failed to enact rational policies that would save lives.

The shock to the Uvalde community was to be expected because Texas has already seen a large number of mass shootings in schools, churches and retail stores without any meaningful policy changes so far. The Ovaldi school shooting was the 27th school shooting this year.

Four other mass shootings stand out and were supposed to bring about important policy changes. In 2019, a 21-year-old racist man from the Dallas area drove to El Paso and killed 23 people. A few weeks later, 8 people were killed in another mass shooting in Midland Odessa. In 2018, 10 adults and students were killed and 13 injured by a 17-year-old student at Santa Fe High School in the Houston area. In 2017, 26 people were killed in a church in Sutherland Springs – the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.

In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, Governor Greg Abbott said, “Our goal is to make sure that we do everything in our power to make sure that such a crime does not happen again.” Texas Governor Dan Patrick said on Fox News he was “willing to take an arrow” from the National Rifle Association to bolster background checks. Unfortunately, the Texas legislature went in the opposite direction and made it legal for individuals to carry handguns without a license or training in 2021.

Days after the Santa Fe shooting, Abbott made a 40-page list of recommendations to improve school safety, including introducing mental health assessments that identify students at risk of harming others. However, many of these recommendations have never been implemented, and events in Ovaldi suggest that many schools are no safer.

Mass shootings continue amid false political promises. Most Texans reported a desire for reform. Overall, nearly 60% of Texans oppose an unlicensed carry, and nearly half of Texas voters would make stricter gun laws if they could. Only 18% of Texans oppose criminal and mental health checks.

The failure to listen to the general consensus on gun control is also made worse by the disrupted school funding system. A recent analysis revealed that Texas was among the three lowest states nationally (along with Alabama and Mississippi) in terms of the adequacy of funding at the county level. Consequently, many Texas schools lack a full-time school counselor who can conduct mental health assessments, work with teachers to implement the school’s mental health program, and provide counseling to students and families in need.

These policy failures are unacceptable. As education researchers, we’ve been to hundreds of schools across the state interviewing and working with teachers, principals, supervisors, and school counselors. They care deeply about their students and need help.

We hope that the horrific events at Robb Elementary School will compel state policy makers to enact rationale reforms. They can begin by reviewing state policies that allow teens to have access to guns.

Policy makers must also address the lack of mental health support within schools. In many rural contexts such as Uvalde, schools can be an important community center for health care and mental health support. Additional investments can be made to ensure that each school has a school counselor and that the number of students does not exceed 250 students.

In addition, the state can provide additional funding for training school counselors, provide additional professional development for all school staff in mental health, and assist schools and community organizations in implementing research-supported community and school violence prevention programs.

We all want a safer Texas where kids and adults don’t need to live in fear of the next mass shooting. Gun violence is complex and every case is unique, but we need state policymakers to support our schools and enact rational gun control policies to prevent the next mass shooting.

David DeMatthews is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin.

Carlton Brown is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services at the University of Texas at El Paso.

A version of this editorial appeared in Houston ChronicleAnd the Waco Tribune HeraldAnd the Lubbock Avalanche JournalAnd the San Antonio Express News.