One year ago, on a pre-dawn Sunday morning, a nearly naked 29-year-old Travis Jeffrey Reinking parked at a Waffle House near Nashville. He sat a few minutes in his truck, then got out and began killing people. He shot two outside, entered and shot four more. Four people died. Thus, he set the stage for the Blount County Commission to take a stand on gun control.
Reinking was a schizophrenic with a history of delusions, bizarre behavior, hostility and firearms. Illinois police twice had confronted him over disturbances involving paranoia, public nudity and weapons. He had been arrested at the White House trying to see the president. His father had more than once temporarily taken his four guns.
Weeks before the shooting, his Nashville employer fired him for paranoid behavior. Four days before, he stole a car. Five months before, Illinois police had used that state’s “red flag” law to take his guns, including the rifle later used at the Waffle House. But they left them with his father. As before, he returned them to his son. Lest our community view this sad story in the abstract, consider this: Only two months before the shooting, Reinking was among us. Employed in Nashville, he worked here as a crane operator in construction, staying in local motels. He caused a disturbance at the Alcoa Inn to which police were called. Suppose he had snapped while here? Whom among us today would we be mourning? And yet, 20 of our Blount County commissioners would seem to think taking Reinking’s guns was overreach. They have introduced a resolution declaring Blount County a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” (The Daily Times, April 12). The resolution, apparently sponsored by all 20, responds to a bill before the 111th General Assembly. Senate Bill 943 would create a Tennessee version of so-called red flag laws now found in 15 other states. It would permit, through judicial process, the confiscation of firearms from an individual deemed a risk to himself or others. SB 943 is a studied response to the Waffle House incident. The commission’s resolution is winner-take-all politics designed to divide and inflame.
What will this resolution do? With respect to gun laws in Blount County, nothing. It says not a word about related actions. Will our law enforcement ignore federal and state guns laws? Will it cease assistance to non-county officials in pursuit of weapons violators? Will county courts refuse to consider seizure requests regarding unstable individuals? Declaring selected laws invalid is the premise behind the immigration sanctuary concept this resolution emulates. But our commissioners do not speak to this more tenuous position. They say only, in effect, “For the public good, we hereby declare Blount County a Second Amendment Sanctuary.”
On the other hand, what will be the practical effect? A recent writer to The Daily Times asks if we are foregoing our current moniker, “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies?” Good question, because it doesn’t jive with this new look. Regardless of intent, this resolution makes Blount County a beacon for anyone wishing to avoid scrutiny of weapons-related activities. So whom might it keep away? Last I heard, we’re projecting more than 2,000 new jobs here, many for highly educated young people in technical positions. Will our new brand be a beacon to them and their young families? And what of tourists? Visitors to the Smokies come from across the continent and the world. We want them to stop here, not drive through with their windows up and doors locked.
Commissioner Steve Mikels expressed surprise at opposition to this resolution. What the commissioners miss is that their constituencies are not just those who voted for them. A majority of Americans, both liberal and conservative, consistently favor at least limited gun control. And only last year, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found an overwhelming 89% of both Democratic and Republican voters favor keeping guns from the mentally ill. We in Blount County, the commission’s full constituency, are not an exception. I argue neither for nor against gun control or SB 943. I argue for Blount County, a warm and welcoming community of diverse backgrounds, lifestyles and, yes, politics. We are a generally tolerant, intelligent and humor-loving bunch. If our commissioners want to venture from the workaday world of infrastructure, schools and budgets into pure politics, I would prefer they bring us together around the unique mix that we are. Please, help us grow. Don’t inflame and divide us.