The American Public Health Association joins the rest of the nation this week in offering our deepest sympathies to the entire Virginia Tech community, especially to the families and friends of the victims of Monday’s unconscionable acts.

These tragic shooting deaths painfully remind us that handgun deaths and injuries, including suicides, homicides and assaults, remain a major public health problem in the United States. In addition, this tragedy points out the challenges of ensuring that individuals in need of mental health services receive them.

While many of the details surrounding these senseless killings remain unclear, our legislators should not adopt a wait-and-see approach. There are many steps that Congress should take to prevent such tragedies in the future.

The American Public Health Association has long called for increasing access to mental health services and reducing barriers to such care for all people who need it. But just as strongly, we have supported common-sense efforts to limit access to handguns and to high-power assault pistols with no legitimate sporting or hunting purpose. Also, Congress should increase funding to collect data to better understand and prevent violent death in the future.

Taken alone, poor access to mental health services or easy access to handguns are a major national problem. Together, unaddressed, they create a national tragedy.