Better laws are needed

Congress remains all but silent on the glaring gaps in gun laws and the availability of assault weapons.

By all accounts, Travis Reinking should not have had a gun. Yet he did, and so four people are dead.

It would be easy to shrug off the April 22 shooting in a Nashville, Tennessee, Waffle House by repeating the vague, tired mantra of the National Rifle Association and many a politician — you know, that the answer to gun violence in America is to “do something about mental illness.” A closer look, however, shows this latest episode is not only about mental illness, but also about glaring loopholes in gun laws and the ready availability of assault weapons.

Yes, Mr. Reinking is so apparently dangerously mentally ill that, at the FBI’s request, Illinois police revoked his state firearms card and confiscated his guns. That was after his arrest last July for entering a restricted area of the White House and refusing to leave, saying he wanted to meet the president. A year earlier, he told Illinois deputies that superstar musician Taylor Swift was stalking him and that his family was involved.

Yet Mr. Reinking, 29, got his guns back, including the AR-15 he used in the Waffle House. His father — to whom deputies entrusted the guns on the promise he would keep them out of his son’s possession — returned them, Nashville police say. Records show it was the third time he had done so.

Then, just over a week ago, Mr. Reinking, clad in only a jacket, went to the Waffle House and killed four people and wounded several others, police say. When he paused to reload, a patron, 29-year-old James Shaw Jr. — who had himself sustained a minor bullet wound — wrested the assault weapon away from him. Mr. Reinking fled but was arrested the next day.

Where to begin? Let’s start with unregulated private transfers of long guns with no background check. Would Mr. Reinking’s father have handed those guns over to his son if he knew it clearly violated the law and put his own right to possess weapons in jeopardy?

Let’s talk, too, about the guns themselves — about the efficiency and deadliness of assault weapons, and about how, fortunately, the shooter didn’t have the kind of higher-capacity magazines that are all too readily available. Why is that? Why do civilians need military-style firearms?

And let’s talk about that good guy without a gun. The NRA doesn’t seem to want to, nor does President Donald Trump, who claims we’d be better off with more people shooting back and forth. There was not a single tweet from the president on this shooting — no thoughts and prayers for the dead, even, no praise for the unarmed hero. As for the Republicans who control Congress, they’re focused not on universal background checks or an assault weapons ban or on “red flag” laws to take guns away from dangerous people, but instead on the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow as many people as possible to carry concealed weapons wherever they feel like it.

Yes, we need to “do something about mental illness,” but we need to do something, too, about the insanity of laws, or the lack of them, that put such a deadly weapon into the hands of someone who, by any measure, should not have had one.

The Times Union

By Josh Bovee

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