EDITORIAL: Bad Illinois gun law to blame for Waffle House shooter having an AR-15

SHARE EDITORIAL: Bad Illinois gun law to blame for Waffle House shooter having an AR-15

Police tape blocks off a Waffle House restaurant Sunday in Nashville, Tenn. At least four people died after a gunman opened fire at the restaurant early Sunday.(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Travis J. Reinking, who was arrested Monday in the shooting deaths of four people at a Waffle House in Nashville, had a particularly lethal gun there because of a bad law here.

The Illinois law can be fixed, and now we know it must be.


Last July, Reinking was arrested after crossing a White House security barrier. Authorities took away his firearms, including an AR-15. But soon after that, the sheriff’s department in Illinois’ Tazewell County, where Reinking lives, handed the arsenal over to Reinking’s father. And, Nashville police say, the father gave the weapons back to his son.

That makes no sense. Reinking obviously was unfit to have access to a gun, even back then. And an AR-15 — a semi-automatic rifle used in many of America’s worst mass shootings — is an especially dangerous weapon. Guns with so much firepower should never be returned to untrustworthy owners without the approval of an independent judicial officer.

Travis J. Reinking<br>| AFP PHOTO / Metropolitan Nashville Police Department / Jose Romero

Travis J. Reinking
| AFP PHOTO / Metropolitan Nashville Police Department / Jose Romero

Reinking clearly was troubled. He thought singer-songwriter Taylor Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone and Netflix account. He told Tazewell County police last summer that people were wiretapping his computer and phone and barking like dogs outside his home. Also last year, police said, he threatened someone with an AR-15 while wearing a pink dress and exposing himself.

He tried to scale the White House fence because he wanted a meeting with Donald Trump.

Can we agree Reinking should not have been allowed anywhere near an AR-15?

Or, for that matter, any other gun?

The Illinois Legislature is working on a bipartisan bill that would permit families of troubled individuals who are a danger to themselves or others to have guns removed temporarily from that person’s home. That change in the law is overdue. Too often, family members are aware that a troubled person should not possess firearms, but they have no legal avenue to remove them. This bill would fix that.

In the wake of the Waffle House shooting, the Legislature also should draw up a bill that would prevent weapons from being returned to anybody after police take them away, unless a court signs off on it. As the Waffle House case shows, we can’t always rely on family members to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.

In March, the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center reported that 79 percent of mass attackers in 2017 had “made concerning communications and/or elicited concern from others” before the attacks. But Elliot N. Fineman, president and CEO of the National Gun Victims Action Council, said guns too often are returned to people who have exhibited such symptoms.

Last year, for example, Esteban Santiago allegedly killed five people and injured six others at the Fort Lauderdale airport — using a gun that had been taken from him because of his psychological problems but then handed back to him.

The Legislature can’t fix the laws of other states. But it can do something about the more foolish gun laws here.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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