Herald-Leader Editorial

Ky. lacks means to avert violence; lawmakers should act so death is not in vain

July 1, 2014 

Clinton David Inabnit, left, and Mark J. Stanziano

Someone who has a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of crime.

Yet too often — usually in retrospect — the combination of mental illness and access to firearms is such an obvious tragedy in the making that we are bewildered because no one intervened.

Such a tragedy ended the life of Somerset attorney Mark J. Stanziano as he arrived, unsuspecting, for work Friday morning.

A 40-year-old man, whom acquaintances recognized as mentally ill and who had been seen carrying a holstered gun in his neighborhood, fired seven shots into Stanziano as he stood on the sidewalk outside his office.

A Pulaski County sheriff's detective witnessed the shooting from the county courthouse less than a block away but did not have time to do anything other than take the confessed shooter, Clinton David Inabnit, into custody.

Stanziano, a widely respected defense attorney, had befriended Inabnit and even had offered to pay for him to enter mental health treatment and get back on medication.

Law enforcement and mental health authorities in Somerset should review this tragedy to see how it might have been prevented and how to avert similar violence, including whether the gun was legally obtained. But some things we already know:

■ Kentucky lacks mechanisms for intervening in such situations before they explode into violence and tragedy.

■ The state's mental health system has been so weakened by years of underfunding and neglect that long-term treatment, especially when the client is noncompliant, is largely nonexistent.

■ Kentucky's General Assembly missed an opportunity this year when it failed to enact legislation authorizing court-ordered mental health outpatient treatment. Even a low-cost pilot program stumbled on cost concerns.

Some Kentucky places, including Fayette County, are moving on their own to create mental health courts to help coordinate treatment for individuals charged with misdemeanors. Preventing violent escalations would be one of many benefits.

And other states are acting. Arizona's legislature has authorized involuntary detainment to mental health centers. Described as "involuntary mental-health first-aid," the law relies on unprecedented data sharing among police, courts and the mental health system, according to a recent report by NBC Nightly News.

Several states have laws allowing the temporary disarming of individuals thought to be threats to others or themselves.

In Congress, Democratic lawmakers from California have introduced bills aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of the violent mentally ill. One measure would provide grants to states to strengthen outpatient treatment and start court-ordered mental health programs. Another, the Pause for Safety Act, would let family members and acquaintances apply for a gun-violence prevention order, allowing police to temporarily disarm a person thought to be a threat.

Needless to say, none of the measures is going anywhere in a Congress that lacks the spine to stand up to the gun lobby, even as mass shootings have become routine.

The public, however, supports common-sense precautions, and Kentucky lawmakers should create new legal paths for responding to mental illness and protecting the innocent from violence.

Mark Stanziano is owed that.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service