Vernon Howell and his followers bought parts to convert at least 50 of their AR-15s into short-barreled rifles that would shoot 9mm or .45-caliber ammunition, an arms manufacturer confirmed Thursday.
The rifles would be similar to ones often used by police and S.W.A.T. teams.
Darryl Jones of Olympic Arms in Olympia, Wash., said his company sold and shipped the parts to the Mag Bag, an auto garage on FM 2491 operated by Branch Davidian Woodrow Kendrick. He said the orders came from people named “Paul and Dave.”
The parts included barrels and upper receiver assemblies. Jones said someone who knew what to do could quickly install the parts.
“It’s user-friendly,” said Jones, a sales representative. “Anyone with manual dexterity could do it in a minute.”
The resulting rifle would be more maneuverable than an AR-15 in close-quarter fighting and would fire cheaper ammunition.
Jones said police and S.W.A.T. teams often use such rifles with 16-inch barrels because they’re easier to manipulate in urban settings and in buildings. The ammunition lacks the punch of a .223 bullet, thus making it less of a danger to carry beyond the scene.
Tactical use aside, Jones said the converted rifles ordinarily would be something a shooter would use for plinking or target practice.
The Branch Davidians reportedly had an underground target range inside their compound and spent much time practicing their shooting. Extensive shooting would make the 9mm and .45-caliber ammunition attractive because it has only a sixth as much gunpowder as the .223 and, consequently, is cheaper, Jones said.
Jones said Olympic Arms had not sold the Davidians any parts that would allow them to make rifles automatic.
Henry McMahon, a former Hewitt gun dealer and a frequent visitor to Mount Calm, established contacts for Howell and helped him buy “hundreds” of semi-automatic assault rifles, sources said.
The ATF has acknowledged there was nothing illegal about the purchases, but it says Howell and associates converted the rifles to automatic, which is a violation of the Federal Firearms Act.
McMahon moved to Florida in early January.
Former cult members and ATF sources say Howell had been buying weapons for several years but began buying large numbers within the past 12 months.
In addition to assault rifles, Howell bought a Barrett .50-caliber rifle and about 50 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition from a Dallas area wholesaler last year.
He paid about $6,500 for the rifle, which will shoot accurately up to 1,000 feet, according to Stan Benz, a partner of Barrett Arms, the Tennessee company that makes the rifle.
The ATF has said the Davidians used grenades during the ATF raid Feb. 28 and believes the Davidians have some weapons capable of knocking out lightly-armored tanks.