Branch Davidians apparently fired a host of automatic weapons in repelling government agents, according to a list of the weapons recovered from the ruins of Mount Carmel.
At least 40 machine guns are listed in the unsealed court records.
In addition, crime scene investigators for the Texas Department of Public Safety found silencers, anti-tank rifles, pistols, sawed-off shotguns, a .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifle and parts for making grenades and pipe bombs.
The findings did not surprise the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said spokesman Jack Killorin.
ATF agents raided Mount Carmel on Feb. 28 to serve an arrest warrant to cult leader Vernon Howell for the possession of automatic weapons. They were fought off by well-armed Branch Davidians, who believed Howell was Christ and would one day be attacked by the government.
Four ATF agents and six cult members died in the shootout.
“We knew the warrant was good within the first 30 seconds of our contact with the Branch Davidians,” Killorin said. “Our officers knew what was being fired at them. They have enough experience to know the difference between automatic and semi-automatic weapons.”
An Austin gun expert said the Branch Davidians had a formidable arsenal.
“It sounds like they had an extensive survivalist arsenal,” said Oliver Buschow, of McBride’s Gun Shop. “They had top-of-the-line equipment for civilians. Also, the weaponry they had requires fairly inexpensive ammunition.” An April 19 fire destroyed the Mount Carmel compound and killed as many as 96 Branch Davidians.
Authorities sifting through the rubble found more than 200 weapons and more than a million rounds of ammunition. Their findings are detailed in computer records released this week.
Many of the rifles used by the cult were labeled in the inventory as machine guns. An ATF spokesman said the weapons were fully automatic.
Some of the weapons listed in the unsealed document include 19 SGW CAR-AR assault submachine guns, three fitted with silencers, three Israeli-made IMI Galil assault rifles; nine FAL assault rifles, three mounted on bipods; an M60 machine gun; and 54 AK-47 assault rifles.
Buschow, a recognized expert on military-style weapons, said it would have required expertise to convert semi-automatic weapons – which fire one round each time the trigger is pulled – to fully automatic weapons.
“It’s fairly difficult,” he said. “If it’s done correctly, lots of parts on the inside of the receiver have to be modified. People think you can file down one part and make a rifle automatic. You can. Only when you pull the trigger, it shoots until it’s empty. That’s not very effective. It takes quite a bit of machine work to change a semi-automatic rifle into an automatic. You have to be highly skilled, have the right equipment and the right steel to do it.”
The numerous SGW CAR-AR submachine guns found are similar to a Colt AR-15, Buschow said.
“They have a shorter barrel, 16 inches, and are easier to move around within confined quarters,” he said. “With a collapsible stock, they’re as easy to handle as a shotgun with a pistol grip.”
The M60 machine gun is a U.S. military issue weapon. It weighs 24 pounds but can be shot off the shoulder.
“There are some dealers that have them,” Buschow said. “They’re not cheap.”
Killorin said he found it intriguing that silencers were recovered.
“It adds a different tenor to things,” he said. “I don’t buy the concept that it’s OK to stockpile illegal weapons to shoot at law enforcement officers as some people seem to do. But silencers are more for assassination and guerrilla warfare than home defense.”