Opinion » Editorial

Tennessee’s Waffle House (and Senate)

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The odyssey from his home state of Illinois to Tennessee of Travis Reinking, the armed assailant who killed four people at a Nashville-area Waffle House early Sunday morning is instructive, especially considering information given to the media from Nashville police chief Steve Anderson after a manhunt resulted in Reinking's capture on Monday.

As Anderson explained things, Reinking had been violating no Tennessee laws until he started pulling the trigger in the wee hours of Sunday morning. This was despite the fact that Reinking was on record as having violated firearms laws in his home state of Illinois and had been dispossessed of four different weapons after a series of misadventures both there and in Washington, D.C.

On a visit to the nation's capital, the obviously disturbed young man had been arrested by secret service agents when, bearing the aforementioned firearms, he attempted to enter the White House for a "meeting" with the president.

After the White House incident, Illinois state police revoked Reinking's license to own firearms and confiscated his four weapons. They were turned over to Reinking's father, who seems to have compounded the prior violation of Illinois law by returning the guns to his son. They were in young Reinking's possession when he subsequently moved into Nashville, the capital city of a state whose legislature has in the last decade struck down virtually every known and every possible restriction on possession and use of firearms.

Most recently the General Assembly, where the National Rifle Association's word is the closest thing to holy writ, has given serious consideration to a "Consitutional-carry" bill that would allow any citizen to carry weapons about his person at will, and, failing that, to legislation that would recognize as valid in Tennessee such gun-carry rights as may have been granted an individual by the laws of any other state. As of now, however, if Chief Anderson is correct, transgressions of law in other states seem not to be honored within Tennessee's boundaries.

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Whenever gun violence erupts somewhere, opponents of gun regulation legislation, in Tennessee and elsewhere, have learned to shift attention away from such sensible restrictions as strengthening background checks and, in particular, closing the infamous gun-show loophole, which allows unimpeded over-the-counter sales of firearms. One of the gun lobby's favorite diversionary tactics has been to change the subject, usually to pretend grave concern for the mentally ill, blaming all eruptions of deadly violence not on the weapon that accomplished them but on the mental state of the perpetrator.

After the Waffle House shooting in Antioch, Democrats in the Tennessee legislature called this particular bluff, attempting to offer legislation in the closing days of the current General Assembly that would make it difficult-to-impossible for someone diagnosed as mentally ill to possess a deadly weapon. Did the Republican majority, many of whose spokespersons in office have invoked "mental illness" rhetoric whenever a gun is fired in anger, consider the legislation? They did not. Instead they blocked any such legislation from consideration as the legislature prepared to adjourn for the year.

The site of the shooting in Antioch is not the only place where the word "waffle" deserves to be in the title.

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