Our Editorial: Nashville shootings show Red Flag flaws

The Detroit News

Travis Reinking, accused in Sunday’s shooting rampage at a Nashville Waffle House, makes the perfect case for the Red Flag proposals moving through Congress. He also offers evidence of why such laws may not be as effective as backers hope in preventing gun violence.

Reinking was well known to law enforcement agencies before he allegedly walked into the restaurant Sunday and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, killing four and wounding four more.

Previously, in Illinois, he had donned a women’s pink house coat and dove into a public pool, before exposing himself to lifeguards. When police arrived they found an AR-15 in the trunk of his car.

He had also complained to police that pop star Taylor Swift was stalking him and had hacked into his Netflix account.

And last summer, he was arrested by the Secret Service while trying to get onto the grounds of the White House.

Clearly, this is a guy who should have never been allowed near a gun.

And, in fact, the bizarre pool incident in Illinois led to the revocation of Reinking’s firearms license, and all of his guns were ordered transferred to his father.

That’s the sort of intervention Red Flag laws are designed to enable. Proposals in Congress, including one co-sponsored by Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, would give police or family members the ability to petition a court to remove guns from individuals who are determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

Reinking certainly fits into that category. He has struggled with mental illness for years.

And yet despite his many encounters with law enforcement agencies and concerns expressed by his family about his mental state, he was apparently able to bring a small arsenal to Nashville to carry out a mass shooting.

One reason is that the weapons taken away from Reinking were entrusted to his father, who was advised to lock them up. The father, a businessman in Morton, Ill., didn’t have the good sense to keep the guns away from his son, returning them once Reinking began to show signs that his mental troubles had eased.

This is inexplicable in light of family statements that they were worried about his erratic behavior, and that he had been having delusions since 2014. But it is an instructive reminder that laws only work if people obey them.

Any version of a Red Flag law that emerges from Congress must include stiff penalties for those who sell or give firearms to people found by a court to be ineligible to possess them. It’s not certain whether Reinking’s father can be charged as an accomplice in his son’s murders; a new law should remove any doubt about such culpability.

This case also confirms that beefed-up gun controls alone won’t stop gun violence. With so many firearms in circulation, those hell-bent on carnage will always find an illegal means of replenishing their weapons stock.

So a Red Flag bill must include mandates that those who fall under its provisions not only lose their guns, but are required to undergo mental health treatment. Access to guns is no greater driver of mass shootings than is a lack of access to adequate mental health care.

A Red Flag law may provide a useful tool in reducing gun violence. But it won’t be foolproof, as Reinking illustrates.

This and other gun control measures must be accompanied by better efforts to intercept and treat those who show an inclination toward mayhem, and to encourage families to fully participate in keeping guns out of their hands.