Many are shocked that the Tazewell County, IL Sheriff’s Office returned four guns belonging to Travis Reinking, the Nashville Waffle House suspect, to his father. Reinking’s weapons were taken from him after he was arrested for behaving aggressively outside the White House in July 2017. A month earlier, Reinking threatened someone with an AR-15 while wearing a pink dress, dove into a public pool and exposed himself to others say police records. The father “was advised that he needed to keep the weapons secure and away from Travis” reads the sheriff’s office report. Yet the Office is also saying “Your son is violent and mentally ill but here are his guns.”
This is hardly the first time gun-friendly authorities have returned weapons to violent offenders. Early last year, confessed Fort Lauderdale airport shooter, Esteban Santiago, had his gun returned to him and proceeded to kill five and injure eight with it.
On Nov. 7, Santiago walked into an Anchorage FBI office telling agents he was experiencing terroristic thoughts and believed he was being influenced by ISIS, according to police reports. He was incoherent and agitated and had a Walther 9mm pistol in his car. He was given a psychiatric evaluation, transferred to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and released on November 14. On December 8, Anchorage Police returned Santiago’s firearm to him.
Even Santiago’s brother, Bryan, was shocked that U.S. authorities would return his gun when it was known that he was increasingly paranoid and hearing voices. He had also been charged with domestic abuse.
Then there is Kyle Aaron Huff, who committed what is known as Seattle’s Columbine in 2006. Police in Whitefish, MT, his hometown, seized Huff’s firearms when he shot up a public art installation called “Moose on the Loose” and was charged with destroying art, a felony. But after Huff pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge of mischief, not a felony, authorities cheerfully returned his lethal weapons. Huff went on to kill six at a rave afterparty.
Like so many mass shooters, Huff stockpiled weapons. In addition to his 12-gauge pistol-grip Winchester 1300 Defender shotgun and a .40-caliber semiautomatic Ruger P944 handgun used at the rave, police found a Bushmaster XM15 E2S rifle, another handgun and several more boxes of ammunition in his truck and more guns and ammunition in his apartment.
Finally, there is the case of James Hodgkinson, whose guns were never taken despite St. Clair County, IL sheriff deputies visiting his house at least six times, domestic abuse charges against him and neighbors complaining of him firing a rifle at trees. St. Clair County, IL sheriff deputies just told him to not shoot at trees. He went on to shoot three last June at the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in Washington D.C.
While the NRA bellows, “the real problem is mental illness” after every mass shooting, behind the scenes it works for the rights of mentally ill people to keep their guns or have them returned.
After the Virginia Tech murders, NRA lobbyists pushed through a gun restoration provision for mentally ill people in national background check laws. “In several ways this bill is better for gun owners than current law,” boasted the NRA website because “certain types of mental health orders will no longer prohibit a person from possessing or receiving a firearm.”
Thanks to the gun lobby maneuver, Sam French, a Virginian who was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility and told authorities he heard voices, had his right to possess firearms reinstated and his gun returned after a short court hearing in 2009. Why should hearing voices intrude on his “gun rights” bellowed the gun lobby–a question reactivated by the Nashville massacre.