THE armed standoff between federal agents and the residents of a religious commune east of Waco has rekindled soul-searching in Texas over whether citizen-owned guns cause or cure violent crime.
"Every time something like this happens, people call for more and more gun control," laments Tommy Pechacek, whose backyard gun shop lies a few miles down a rural lane from Mount Carmel, the 77-acre compound of the Branch Davidians sect.
Gov. Ann Richards, a hunter and gun owner who was graduated from high school and college in Waco, expressed shock at the admission that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) was outgunned in the Feb. 28 skirmish that left four agents and a estimated 10 sect-members dead.
The religious sect Branch Davidians have rapid-fire weapons including a .50-caliber machine gun accurate at a distance of over two miles. All could have been acquired legally.
"When we have people who ... are armed better than the protectors of society, then it's time for us to take a very serious look," Governor Richards said last week.
Earlier this year a Texas state representative proposed banning assault weapons, an action that 3 out of 4 Texans favored in a recent poll. But the gun lobby swamped the legislator's office with telephone calls and letters, forcing him to abandon the effort.
Texas has 170,000 residents who belong to the National Rifle Association, more than any state except California.
Still, the Waco situation could turn the tide against assault weapons in Texas. The legislator is now thinking of reintroducing his bill. A similar bill is before the state Senate.
"We're going to take a good, close look at what we consider military-type assault weapons," predicts Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, who presides over the Senate. "I've been leaning that way more and more every year."
Mr. Pechacek says he believes that law-abiding citizens ought to be allowed to own assault rifles. "Out in this area, it's just country people" who like to hunt and target shoot, he says.
Or so he once believed. His neighbors at Mount Carmel, of whom Pechacek hadn't heard a word spoken "in years, really in …