Federal lawmakers confronting the complex issue of mass shootings could learn a thing or two from local leaders who are confronting the complex issue of reducing fatalities on Point Mallard Parkway.

Heavily traveled and narrow, Point Mallard Parkway (Alabama 67) has been the site of far too many traffic fatalities, including four last year and two in just over a month this year. The initial reaction by Decatur leaders — a reaction that delayed constructive solutions — was to point to causal factors in the wrecks that could not easily be solved.

This person, they said of the drivers causing the head-on collisions, was on drugs. This one was drunk. This one was speeding. Expensive solutions like a barrier separating the oncoming lanes, they said, will not prevent wrecks caused by impaired or reckless drivers.

And on a basic level, they were correct. An impaired or reckless driver is a threat to other drivers, regardless of barriers or anti-hydroplaning asphalt.

But it didn’t take too many fatalities before the mayor and council members realized they had to do something. And their logic in reaching that conclusion was to come to a depressing but pragmatic understanding: There will always be drivers who are impaired, distracted or reckless. We can and should tackle those issues, but finally we have to accept them as a given. Any solution to the distressingly high number of fatalities on Point Mallard Parkway must take into account that some drivers on that congested highway will be irresponsible.

Stated differently, a solution like barriers is necessary precisely because of those irresponsible drivers. Such drivers will cause accidents, so we as a community must look for solutions that will limit the number of deaths their reckless behavior will cause. A barrier between oncoming lanes will not eliminate wrecks, but it will decrease the likelihood that irresponsible drivers will cause invariably fatal head-on collisions.

With the nation reeling from the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in the space of less than 24 hours, we’re seeing the usual debate. This wasn’t about guns, it was about mental illness, some say. It wasn’t about guns, but about white nationalism. In different contexts, some have said it wasn’t about guns, but about Muslim extremism.

And, just as Decatur leaders were correct that many of the fatal wrecks on the parkway would not have happened but for impaired drivers, national leaders are correct. But for mental illness, the El Paso and Dayton shootings would not have happened. The same can be said of all the mass shootings before them. Regardless of their religion or ethnicity, sane people do not gun down strangers.

And just as Decatur leaders were correct that solutions to a deadly problem must account for impaired and reckless drivers, federal lawmakers must search for solutions that account for the fact that some nut cases want to kill strangers.

As a society, we need to do what we can to protect ourselves from those whose twisted brains find satisfaction in committing mass shootings. To be sure, we should tackle the underlying problem — through ready access to mental health treatment, condemnation of politicized racism and proactive law enforcement — but it is precisely because these defective personalities exist that we must take steps to minimize the damage they can inflict.

The obvious mental illness of the El Paso and Dayton shooters is not an excuse to refrain from reasonable gun control, but the reason we need it. The military-style semi-automatic rifles used by these two men, and by dozens before them, allowed them to kill en masse, as did their high-capacity magazines.

Our local leaders demonstrated the intelligence to recognize that fatalities on Point Mallard Parkway were the result not of one cause but of several, and the courage to begin dealing with the causes they could control. Likewise, federal leaders need to recognize that every mass shooting has multiple causes. Mental illness is one, but so is the ease with which Americans can purchase weapons and high-capacity magazines designed to inflict mass casualties. Acknowledging the former is not an excuse for avoiding gun control, but a reason for insisting upon it.

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