Waffle House shooter obtained AR-15 despite having guns taken away multiple times

Alleged gunman Travis Reinking has a history of threatening behavior and encounters with law enforcement.

Despite a history of threatening behavior and multiple encounters with law enforcement, Travis Reinking was able to access and AR-15 and used it to kill at least four people during a shooting on April 22. (CREDIT: FOX NEWS, SCREENGRAB)
Despite a history of threatening behavior and multiple encounters with law enforcement, Travis Reinking was able to access and AR-15 and used it to kill at least four people during a shooting on April 22. (CREDIT: FOX NEWS, SCREENGRAB)

The suspected gunman behind a Tennessee shooting this past weekend that left four people dead had a record of dangerous and troubling behavior — but law enforcement officials who had previously seized his personal stockpile of weapons later returned them to his father anyway, records show.

A set of legal loopholes in Illinois law may have allowed him to access at least one of the guns returned to his father, which he later used to carry out the shooting.

Twenty-nine-year-old Morton, Illinois resident Travis Reinking was well known to Illinois police prior to Sunday, when he drove his pickup truck to a Waffle House in the city of Antioch, just southeast of Nashville, and opened fire using an AR-15 rifle, killing four people.

After the shooting, Reinking fled the scene wearing nothing but a green jacket, carrying two AR-15 magazines in his pockets, which he later dropped, according to CNN. He was apprehended and arrested on Monday afternoon.

The Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office removed four weapons from Reinking’s possession in August 2017, including a 9mm handgun, an AR-15, a .22 caliber rifle, and a Remington bolt-action hunting rifle. Police also removed “miscellaneous” ammunition and Reinking’s Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card.


According to a subsequent police report, “All weapons and ammo were released to [his father], Jeffrey Reinking,” who also holds an FOID card. Police stated that they advised Jeffrey to keep the weapons “secure and away from Travis,” to which he responded that he would comply.

Although it’s unclear exactly how Reinking came into possession of the AR-15 he used during Sunday’s shooting, according to The Tennessean, police believe Reinking’s father may have returned it to his son against their advice.

That sort of transfer is surprisingly legal under Illinois law. As the outlet notes, Illinois residents are typically barred from giving weapons to anyone who does not have a valid FOID card. But a loophole in the law allows family members to transfer firearms to one another, so long as they’re a “bona fide gift.”

If Reinking did obtain the AR-15 from his father, it wouldn’t be the first time he was given weapons he arguably shouldn’t have had.

Police had previously warned Reinking’s father about his son’s concerning behavior. In June 2016, following an incident at a public pool during which Reinking threatened lifeguards and exposed himself, police notified Jeffrey that a staffer at the family’s crane business saw Reinking placing an AR-15 in the trunk of his car before driving to the pool wearing only his underwear and a women’s housecoat. Although the then-28-year-old had not used the AR-15 during that particular incident, police advised his family to lock up his weapons anyway.


Jeffrey told officers he had removed three rifles from his son’s possession prior to the incident at the pool, because Reinking “was having problems.” He stated that he had later given them back because he was planning to move out of state.

It’s not clear, then, why police allowed Reinking’s firearms back in his father’s home, given Jeffrey’s history of granting his son access to weapons against their official advice.

Reinking also has a documented history of suicidal behavior. In May 2016, according to police reports, the then-27-year-old was placed in protective custody and taken to a nearby medical facility to be evaluated after threatening to commit suicide because he believed pop star Taylor Swift was “harassing” him. His father and mother both advised authorities that their son had been having delusions about the singer since 2014, and that he believed police and his own family were involved in hacking his phone so that Swift could stalk him.

Emergency officials from the Tazwood Center for Wellness — a mental health center — initially responded to Reinking’s suicide threat, but ultimately could not convince him to go to Tazwood. Police officers ultimately took him to the nearby Methodist Hospital for evaluation, informing him that “he did not have a choice.” It’s not clear what happened at that point, or if Reinking was placed under any sort of hospital supervision.

Illinois law currently prohibits individuals from selling or giving guns to “any person who has been a patient in a mental institution within the past 5 years.” However, the fact that Reinking was transported to a general hospital, rather than a mental institution, may have prevented him from falling under that firearms rule.

The Tazwood Center for Wellness’ Emergency Response Service did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress request for comment.


Reinking was also known to U.S. Secret Service agents after an incident in July 2017, in which he crossed over an exterior White House barrier, saying he wanted a meeting with President Trump. He was later charged with “unlawful entry.” According to Politico, the incident is what prompted FBI officials to ask Tazewell County police to revoke Reinking’s FOID card and confiscate his weapons.

The Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. Secret Service told ThinkProgress in an email that officials at both the Secret Service Field Office in Nashville and the agency’s headquarters were “working closely with all law enforcement personnel involved in this case.”