The nation’s media have swarmed over, around and through this community to cover a tragic shootout. When this chapter is over, they should fan out into their own communities and see the same.

The shootout at Mount Carmel is nothing to trivialize – four federal agents dead, 15 injured; uncounted dead and injured in the compound. But let’s face it, America. Bloodshed has become so mundane, it takes something like a man claiming to be Christ to make everyone stop and give a national issue their undivided attention.

Pay attention to this: 16,507 people were murdered with firearms in 1998. Accidents with firearms claimed 1,416. Figure in suicides and America had 37,155 firearms deaths that year – one every seven minutes. Stop the presses. Roll the tape.

The Branch Davidians apparently thought they were securing their safety by arming themselves so heavily. But they weren’t protecting themselves, they were deceiving themselves. The same applies to homes where loved ones have died from gun accidents, or incidents in which a gun on the night stand meant that a lover’s spat or neighbors’ quarrel ended in bloodshed.

Law-abiding Americans should have the right to own a gun for self-protection or sport. But this country has sacrificed for too long the public safety at the altar of convenience for gun owners. Partial credit, of course, goes to the mighty gun lobby.

Three things should happen to turn this around:

  • Licensing of gun ownership: To purchase a gun an individual should be held up to standards no less restrictive than it takes to operate a motor vehicle. That means licensing, a background check, required safety training, and a waiting period for processing.

Interestingly, the National Rifle Association is promoting licensing and background checks for concealed weapons permits in Texas. The NRA wouldn’t agree, but that’s a workable design for licensing all gun owners.

The most compelling reason for the so-called Brady Bill, which would require a national waiting period and background check for gun buyers, is that federal gun laws that have been on the books for 25 years cannot now be enforced without it. Gun buyers must sign forms, but there’s no way to check their veracity.

  • Restricting gun dealers’ licensing: There are over a quarter million gun dealers’ licenses, obtained for a mere 410 a year with very little chance that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will check the veracity of claims.

Only 20 percent of the nation’s gun dealers actually operate gun shops and are capable or willing to abide by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which prohibits gun sales to minors, felons, drug addicts and non-citizens.

The ATF should require fingerprinting and background checks of gun dealers, and raise the fee considerably.

  • Ban automatic weapons: Maybe it’s hard to classify semiautomatic “assault weapons,” but it’s not hard to classify automatic weapons – and they should be banned even for licensed gun dealers. Machine guns have no purpose in civilian society. Neither do so-called “hellfire switches,” which the Branch Davidians reportedly possessed to make their semiautomatic weapons fire repeatedly.

It’s said that with the huge numbers of guns circulating now, all gun control laws can do is crimp the style of lawful gun owners. Maybe so. But gun proliferation must be turned around somehow, and the sooner the better. Driver’s licenses inconvenience lawful drivers, too, but we accept them.

There is no much talk about America’s drug culture. Let’s start looking at our gun culture and start fighting back.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.