Nashville Waffle House Shooting Reveals Gaps In Gun Laws

Travis Reinking shot four people dead in Nashville over the weekend with a gun that he wasn't supposed to have access to. Thanks to what seem to be loopholes in existing gun laws, he had one anyway.

Early Sunday morning, a male wearing only a green jacket walked into a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee and gunned down four people before having his gun taken away by an unarmed hero and running away before he could be detained. Thanks to evidence left at the scene, police knew the identity of that man, Travis Reinking, and he was eventually captured near the scene of the shooting on Monday afternoon. As it turns out, though, Reinking, was not unknown to law enforcement. Last year, he was arrested near the White House and had several other run-ins with the police that resulted in his guns, including the AR-15 that was used in the Nashville shooting, being taken away from him. Even though he wasn’t supposed to, he got those guns back, including that AR-15 that he used to kill four people Sunday morning:

NASHVILLE — He was once reported to the police in Illinois for stashing an AR-15 in the trunk of his car and then diving into a public pool wearing a women’s pink housecoat. There was the time he complained to an officer that the singer Taylor Swift had demanded a rendezvous. And then last July he was grabbed by the Secret Service when he tried to force his way on to the White House grounds.

Travis Reinking, 29, was on the radar of law enforcement well before he was taken into custody on Monday and accused of barging into a Nashville Waffle House over the weekend and opening fire, killing four and injuring four more.

Yet even after the Illinois police revoked his firearms license and ordered that his guns be transferred to his father, Mr. Reinking got them back, including the AR-15 used in the Tennessee shooting, the police said. His case raises questions over how such a troubled individual could have legally carried weapons for so long and could have continued to carry them even after he was ordered to give them up.

“We have a man who has exhibited significant instability,” acknowledged Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.

The police say that Mr. Reinking’s father, Jeffrey, the owner of a crane business near the town of Morton, Ill., returned the guns to his son, enabling Travis Reinking to carry out the killings over the weekend.

Jeffrey Reinking’s act of returning the guns to his son is “potentially a violation of federal law,” Marcus Watson, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said at a news conference.

Jeffrey Reinking could not be reached for comment on Monday. After Travis Reinking’s arrest in Washington last year, the F.B.I. passed on information about him to local authorities in Illinois, where he was ordered to complete 32 hours of community service at a Baptist church near Morton. The F.B.I. closed its investigation of Mr. Reinking in October.

About 160 law enforcement officials were involved in the search for Mr. Reinking, who officials said began his rampage at the restaurant southeast of downtown Nashville just before 3:30 a.m. on Sunday. The episode unnerved one of the largest cities in the South, focusing attention yet again on the ease with which so many people, including those with mental health issues, can access guns.

In addition to the White House incident, Reinking demonstrated other bizarre behavior that ought to have flagged him as someone who should not have had access to any weapons at all:

Mr. Reinking lived in Illinois for most of his life and only recently moved to the Nashville area to work in construction.

In reports, the sheriff’s department in Tazewell County, Ill., had described Mr. Reinking as a man who was hostile to the police, had threatened suicide and believed his family was harassing him.

His father, mother and grandmother were all worried enough about his behavior that they called for help. They told the police that Mr. Reinking had been having delusions since August 2014.

In May 2016, police officers responded to a CVS parking lot in Morton after Mr. Reinking’s family reported that he had talked of committing suicide, and owned firearms. Mr. Reinking told officers that Ms. Swift had stalked him and hacked into his Netflix account.

A few weeks earlier, he told officers, he had chased Ms. Swift in an attempt to get her to stop harassing him. “Travis stated he was telling the truth and he had proof on his phone since it was hacked,” the report said. “However, Travis would not show us his phone.”

Mr. Reinking was transported to a hospital to be evaluated. In June 2017, the police were called to a public pool in Tremont, Ill., where he had dived into a pool wearing a housecoat, then had shed the coat, wearing only underwear.

According to the report, Mr. Reinking began yelling at lifeguards and then “showed his genitals, saying he was a man.”

Still, he was not arrested.

“This is an informational report showing the state of mind of Travis Reinking,” the report noted. When the police contacted Mr. Reinking’s father, he said that he had taken three rifles and a handgun away from his son “when Travis was having problems,” then gave them back to him.

The officers advised Jeffrey Reinking that “he might want to lock the guns back up until Travis gets mental help, which he stated he would.”

In August 2017, Travis Reinking, driving a blue Mitsubishi, pulled up alongside a police car and said he wanted to file a report. About 20 to 30 people were hacking into his phone and computer, he told the police. He could hear people outside his home barking like dogs, but didn’t know who they were. At a Walmart recently, he felt that a man in a black shirt was watching him, and no one else.

“Travis said he is tired of people messing with him,” the report said. The officer advised Mr. Reinking to call the police if he heard people barking like dogs again. “No further action is being taken,” the report said.

Later that month, after the White House incident, the police approached Mr. Reinking and his father to deliver a copy of the paper revoking his license. He handed over the card and helped the police retrieve all of his weapons and ammunition, which were handed over to Jeffrey Reinking.

“Jeffrey was advised that he needed to keep the weapons secure and away from Travis,” the police report said. “Jeffrey stated he would comply.”

All of this happened in Illinois, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and what seems like a fairly straightforward process by which someone can lose the right to possess firearms and have their guns confiscated:

According to Illinois gun law, a person must be granted a Firearm Owners Identification card, or FOID, to possess a firearm. About 2.1 million people in Illinois have the cards.

But under the law, the process to keep firearms out of the hands of a person whose card has been revoked is weak, allowing many people to keep access to the weapons with little threat of enforcement or penalty.

The Illinois State Police revoked more than 11,000 cards in 2016, said a spokesman, Lt. Matthew Boerwinkle. People whose cards have been revoked are required to surrender the card and any weapons to a local law enforcement agency. But there is a provision that allows people whose license has been revoked to transfer their weapons to another person with a valid card, as Mr. Reinking’s father had.

Those local police departments are then required to document that the person has turned over the card and weapons.

But local law enforcement agencies frequently fail to take action. In 2016, only about 4,000 of the 11,000 people whose cards were revoked submitted the mandatory reports explaining what they did with their guns, The Chicago Tribune reported in 2017.

“They’re required to do it, but there’s essentially no teeth in the law that holds the law enforcement agencies accountable to do it,” Lieutenant Boerwinkle said on Monday.

In this case, of course, the Illinois law appeared to work the way it was supposed to, at least initially. In the wake of the White House incident and the other incidents that took place last summer, Reinking had his guns taken away from him. For reasons that still aren’t at all clear though, those guns were given to Reinking’s father who “promised” that he wouldn’t give them to his son. How he managed to get that to happen is unclear, and I haven’t had the opportunity to review the relevant Illinois laws to determine whether it was even appropriate for the authorities to give the seized weapons back to a family member given the circumstances behind the reasons that Travis Reinking had his guns taken away.

Whatever the legal basis, though, Jeffrey Reinking’s promise not to give the guns back to his son was either not true at the time he made it or he decided to renege on it for reasons only he can explain. As it stands, what Reinking’s father did is apparently a violation of Illinois law since his son’s permit to own a weapon remained revoked even after the guns were given to his father. Additionally, the elder Reinking may also be criminally liable under Federal law in that he transferred weapons to someone he knew was legally ineligible to have them, and who he also knew to have a history of criminal and mentally unstable behavior that made allowing him to have access to weapons such as this was a very bad idea, to say the least. Assuming all of these facts can be established, then Reinking’s father ought to face appropriate charges under both Illinois and Federal law, and should at the very least also be held civilly liable for the role he played in allowing his son to have access to the weapon that led to the deaths of four people over the weekend. If there are sufficient facts to justify it, I would suggest that he should face criminal liability as an accessory to the murder of four people in Nashville over the weekend.

The most important thing about all of this is the fact that the legal grounds already existed to ensure that Travis Reinking could not have legal access to firearms, but that this system broke down and, as a result, four people are dead. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this happen in a mass shooting case, of course. The gunman in the shooting at a historically African-American church in South Carolina should not have had access to weapons due to the fact that he was facing charges on a felony at the time he purchased the weapon he ultimately used to kill nine people. He was allowed to take custody of the gun he used in the shooting because the background check had not come back within the statutory period, meaning that the seller had the discretion to decide whether or not to let the buyer walk out the door with the weapon. The shooter in the massacre at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas had multiple domestic violence convictions from his time in the Air Force, but because those convictions were not properly reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that is used to conduct federally-mandated background checks. Had the laws operated the way they were supposed to, then there’s a strong possibility those shootings might not have happened and the same thing appears to be the case in the Nashville shooting.

Gun rights advocates will no doubt use incidents like this to argue against the proposition that additional laws would not have prevented the shooting. In some sense, I suppose, they’re correct, but I’d suggest that each of these incidents also makes apparent that there are loopholes in the applicable laws that ought to be fixed. The Charleston case makes a strong argument for the proposition that no person should be allowed to walk out of a gun shop with a weapon unless there’s been a definitive report received back from the NICS check that they have nothing on their record barring them from owning a weapon. The Sutherland Springs case seems to make it clear that the laws requiring the appropriate reporting of criminal convictions, both in civilian and military courts, to the NICS system need to be updated and strengthened. And, finally, the Waffle House case indicates that the laws allowing guns to be taken away from mentally unstable people like Travis Reinking should be strengthened to prevent what happened here from happening again. Giving guns taken away from a mentally unstable adult to one of their family members is nothing but an utter absurdity since there is no way to guarantee that said family member won’t do what Jeffrey Reinking did in this case. These all seem to me to be perfectly reasonable ideas that would be well within the confines of the Second Amendment right recognized in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. ChicagoWhether any such action is actually taken is, of course, an entirely different matter, and since we’re in the middle of an election year the odds of anything happening at the Federal level are pretty much zero.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Guns and Gun Control, Law and the Courts, Policing, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Daryl’s other brother Darryl says:

    I hope the father pays an equal price to what his son does. If it’s the death penalty…then that’s good for both of them.

  2. Kathy says:

    What I don’t understand is if this man was so clearly mentally ill, why didn’t anyone get him treatment? If someone bleeding from the eyes, or coughing blood, or with an arm clearly broken or dislocated, made reports to the police, wouldn’t they urge him to get medical attention?

  3. I don’t support the death penalty in any circumstance so I wouldn’t support it here.

    In any case, if there are legal grounds for holding him criminally liable for the Nashville shooting it would be as an accessory, and generally speaking the penalties for that kind of conviction are not as severe as they are for the person who actually committed the act. Not exactly a cakewalk either, mind you. An accessory charge, if prosecutors can make it stick, would be a felony calling for prison time.

  4. teve tory says:
  5. Andy says:

    How he managed to get that to happen is unclear, and I haven’t had the opportunity to review the relevant Illinois laws to determine whether it was even appropriate for the authorities to give the seized weapons back to a family member given the circumstances behind the reasons that Travis Reinking had his guns taken away.

    It appears the law states the FOID license card must be surrendered to local law enforcement, not the guns themselves – those are supposed to be transferred to someone else and documented on a form which must also be given to law enforcement. Transferring them to law enforcement appears to be optional.

    Failure to do either of those things within 48 hours gives law enforcement the right to apply for a warrant to seize the weapons.

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    @Andy:..It appears the law states the FOID license card must be surrendered to local law enforcement, not the guns themselves-..

    Guns don’t kill people. Firearms Owners Identification Cards kill people.

  7. Franklin says:

    @teve tory: Facepalm. To be fair, she said that years before this incident. Wonder if she’s singing a different tune now?

  8. Franklin says:

    Gun rights advocates will no doubt use incidents like this to argue against the proposition that unenforced additional laws would not have prevented the shooting.

    With the added change, sure I’ll agree. Though I’m not convinced that the best way forward is to throw up our hands and say “what can you do?”

  9. CSK says:

    Just as a beginning, mind you, as a prelude to further punishment, Jeffrey Reinking should have his ass kicked from Boston to San Francisco. He knew his son was mentally ill. He knew. What the hell was he thinking? A neighbor described the Reinking family as “good Christians.” What did they think they could do–pray away the crazy?

  10. teve tory says:

    @Franklin: You’re right. I shoulda said “The shooter’s mom previously blamed no prayer in schools.”

  11. mattbernius says:


    He knew his son was mentally ill. He knew. What the hell was he thinking?

    “Knowing” that some Doctor claims that his son has mental illness, and *believing* it are two entirely different things. That’s if he believes in mental illness in the first place (versus “he’s just going through a rough patch”).

    While we have yet to hear his defense, I suspect we will find out that there was the typical American stigma towards mental illness that we often see at play in these situations.

    Sadly, its one I’ve had far too many past experiences with.

  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    And then last July he was grabbed by the Secret Service when he tried to force his way on to the White House grounds.

    Does running past a security guard before getting dogpiled really constitute “trying to force his way”? I’m not sure if people are considering the ramifications of treating this as a violent crime. You’ll be turning lots of protesters into felons for things like sit-ins.

  13. Mister Bluster says:

    Does running past a security guard before getting dogpiled really constitute “trying to force his way”?

    At the White House…yes! At your house, not so much.

    (I keep clicking on the preview button even though I know there will be no preview.
    What is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results? AARGH!)

  14. Modulo Myself says:

    Anyone who is mentally ill should not have weapons. The absolute stupidity of the parents and the police (‘you might want to lock these guns up’) is breathtaking. Leave out shooting other people–it’s like they don’t even grasp the concept of harming oneself. I wonder how much of a relationship there is between the weaponized paranoia of police SWAT teams and extreme gun owners and being so dumb that you simply don’t recognize the danger in an actual person.

  15. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    What is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results? AARGH!

    Habit, and forgetting details.

  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Let me give a concrete example. Should this guy:

    ‘Trump is treason,’ yells protester as president visits senators

    be treated as a violent felon? Does that photo constitute “trying to force his way past presidential security”?

  17. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    No, he shouldn’t be treated as a violent felon. For one thing, he doesn’t have the established record of gibbering lunacy that Travis Reinking does.

  18. Warren Weber says:

    The “loophole” here seems to be that the father chose to break the law in giving the guns to the shooter, and the shooter chose to accept them. That isn’t a “loophole,” it’s a pretty strong indicator that if someone feels like breaking the law, they’ll go ahead and break the law.

    Or do you have some new definition of “loophole” that I’m unaware of? One besides “failures of a system to account for all conditions, variables, or exceptions?”

  19. Matt says:

    The father most certainly broke laws and hopefully is charged accordingly. I’m tired of these type of people breaking the law and then not being prosecuted for it…

  20. Mister Bluster says:

    Should this treated as a violent felon?
    I don’t know, was he treated as a violent felon?
    Just watched the video.
    Was he arrested?
    I suppose the cops could have beat him on the head with Billy Clubs as they wrestled him to the floor.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    Speaking of nuts, it looks like the guy killing all those people in Toronto was a self-proclaimed “incel” trying to spark a revolution.

    I wonder if these idiots realise that the more they act like antisocial losers, the more the world is going to treat them as antisocial losers. Nobody likes a whiner.

  22. @Warren Weber:

    The loophole is that it was apparently even possible that guns taken away from someone who is both clearly mentally unstable and has a criminal record were given to a family member based solely on his “promise” that he wouldn’t give the guns to his son.

    Rather than relying on that promise, the law shouldn’t allow the guns to be returned to anyone as long as the original owner, the son, is legally ineligible to own a weapon

  23. MarkedMan says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug is exactly right. And remember that the NRA is constantly in the background doing everything in their power to weaken every gun law, every time. Oh, and ending the careers of any elected official in a red state or a rural district in a blue state if they decide the culprit is talking too much about the harm guns can do. So that’s how we end up in a situation where people ruled too dangerous to possess weapons merely has those weapons transferred to another room in the same house. Perhaps a sheriff could take a more aggressive view of the law, but “Sheriff” is usually an elected position and if they make too much trouble the NRA is coming after them.

  24. Mu says:

    There seem to be two oddities in this. First, the guns were removed under state law, it’s hard to see how returning them might be a violation of federal law. He doesn’t seem to have any of the typical “prohibited persons” marks, no felony convictions, not adjudicated as medically defective.
    The state giving the weapons to the father is easily explained – revocation of the FID doesn’t constitute a criminal conviction that allows confiscation. So if the state takes the weapons anyway they’d have to compensate under the 5th amendment. Turning them over to a relative gets around that nicely.
    Now, to what degree the father was required to keep the guns away from his son needs some searching in obscure state gun rules, presumably Illinois law doesn’t allow private transfers to persons without a FID.

  25. Tyrell says:

    This is what has been happening now and I noticed it occurs every time something like this happens. People get all excited and stirred up. They demand and propose some new laws. Then, much to their shock, they find out there is a law like that already on the books. Or their new law has loopholes or conflicts, such as the requirements of the Hippa laws of confidentiality.
    While the father certainly did not show good judgement, is that against the law?
    How could he know that his son would go out and do that? That is no different from these judges letting vicious criminals go with s slap on the wrist and then they shoot up a place. Can judges be charged with that?

  26. Warren Weber says:

    @Doug Mataconis: So, that some people will choose to ignore a law is a “gap” in the law? Then pretty much every single law has the same “gap.”

    The law said that this nutjob, prior to any criminal conviction, should be deprived of a constitutional right and denied the right to continue to possess his legal property. Turning it over to another person who could legally possess the property satisfied the requirements of the law.

    For the government to not only demand that he give up his property, but surrender it to the government would raise some very awkward Constitutional issues, mainly the Due Process and Takings parts. Especially if done before trial, let alone conviction.

    The law said it was illegal for the father to give his son his guns back, and it was illegal for the son to take the guns back. They did so anyway; bring the full force of the law down upon them. Make the father face at least accessory to murder charges, if not felony murder.

  27. Warren Weber says:

    @Tyrell: While the father certainly did not show good judgement, is that against the law?
    How could he know that his son would go out and do that?

    Who cares? The law said he couldn’t give the guns back to his son. I suspect he even agreed to not give them back to his son when he accepted them.

    He made his choice; let him live with the consequences. Not only the guilt he rightfully ought to feel for the rest of his life, but the full force of the law as well.

    Maybe he and Junior can share a cell.