Washington (AFP) – Police were hunting Sunday for a seminude gunman on the run after a pre-dawn shooting at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, in the southern US state of Tennessee left four people dead.
The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department wrote on Twitter that the shooting occurred in an area southeast of the city at 3:25 am (0825 GMT).
Three of the victims died at the scene and a fourth at a hospital, while two others people were being treated for injuries, police said.
“A patron wrestled away the gunman’s rifle. He was nude & fled on foot. He is a white man with short hair,” the department said.
Having twice identifying the shooter as “nude,” police later tweeted that the gunman had shed his coat and was last seen wearing black pants but no shirt.
Police said that “murder warrants are now being drafted against Travis Reinking,” a 29-year-old from Morton, Illinois who was earlier identified as a person of interest.
Local police spokesman Don Aaron told a televised news briefing that Reinking had arrived in a pickup truck, and opened fire on people gathered outside the restaurant.
He then went inside the restaurant where more shots were fired, and a patron was hit, before someone was able to grab his rifle from him, Aaron said.
“This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family. We ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers,” Waffle House wrote on Twitter.
Police posted a photo of an AR-15-style assault rifle, saying it was the weapon used in the shooting.
AR-15s have been repeatedly used by mass shooters in the US, where the debate over gun control is fierce and gun violence is frequent.
AR-15 rifles were used to kill 58 people in Las Vegas last October, while Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz in February opened fire on his former high school with an AR-15, killing 17 students and staff members.
In the wake of the Florida massacre, student survivors launched a gun control campaign — drawing hundreds of thousands to demonstrations — and businesses including Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods took measures to restrict access to assault rifles and firearms in general.
However, Congress remains deadlocked on the contentious issue.
Meanwhile, an ABC News/Washington Post poll published Friday suggested that support for a ban on assault weapons has risen sharply in the past few months.
Sixty-two percent of those polled said they support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, up from 50 percent in mid-February and 45 percent in late 2015.
“Assault weapons” were banned in the US from 1994 to 2004, when the prohibition lapsed.
But even when the ban was in effect, manufacturers came up with cosmetic modifications so rifles did not meet the official definition of an assault weapon, and other functionally similar semi-automatic rifles were never banned at all.