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Tennessee officials frustrated by inability to keep guns away from felons

Travis Reinking. (WZTV | Metropolitan Nashville Police Department)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WZTV) - Authorities in Tennessee have few checks to make sure criminals and mentally ill citizens give up their firearms as the law says they must.

A judge rules that felons or people convicted of domestic violence have to give up their guns, but authorities have no way to verify that happens.

The loophole has come to light in the wake of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against alleged Waffle House shooter Travis Reinking's father. The lawsuit filed in Illinois accuses Reinking's father of knowingly giving his son back an AR-15 after federal agents seized it, while knowing his son was showing erratic or unstable behavior.

"There's really no checks and balances," said Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Ed Ryan. "We don't find out that someone has given their guns back or somebody has repossessed another gun illegally or some other way until some tragedy happens."

Ryan said that reality is especially frustrating for prosecutors working on domestic violence cases. At the same time, he said checking up on gun dispossession can be dilatory for law enforcement when they are also charged with fighting and responding to crime.

The TBI and ATF have the ability to do gun sweeps in the state, but those are reserved for unique scenarios, not to verify that felons actually de-possessed a gun as the court ordered, according to the D.A.'s office.

"As frustrating as it is, I don't think there's really a way to stop it," Ryan said.

In Illinois, authorities knew that at one point that Reinking's father possessed his four handguns after his son's Firearm Owners Identification Card was confiscated following an arrest by the Secret Service at the White House.

Because gun owners in Tennessee do not have such a card, there is no tangible hand-off of weapons that authorities can supervise, as happened in Illinois.

ATF agent Marcus Watson confirmed shortly after the Waffle House shooting that Reinking should not have had a gun, but authorities have not filed any charges against Reinking's father to this point.

To prove someone was an accessory to a crime by giving or lending a firearm illegally, prosecutors have to prove not only that the third party handed over the gun but also that he or she knew the criminal should not have the weapon.

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