Branch Davidian cult leader Vernon Howell apparently was not a frequent customer at most local gun shops.
But two Waco dealers say Sunday’s deadly gun battle between Howell’s followers and federal agents triggered a boost in sales.
A cursory check of local gun dealers revealed only two cases of contact with Howell.
Leo Bradshaw of Cogdell’s Gun Shop said he sold weapons to Howell and his followers before a Davidian power struggle that led to a 1987 shootout.
“Some of the guns I sold them were used in that confrontation,” he said. “I sold them several guns in ’86 and ’87.”
He sold Howell and several of his followers two .223-caliber Ruger rifles.
But he knew of no recent sales to the cult.
“I have not heard of those people making any purchases in the community,” Bradshaw said.
Jeff Donnell, manager of Praco Pawn & Sportsman Center, said Howell regularly visited his shop until three months ago.
Howell never bought anything, though, Donnell said.
“He’d come in,” the manager said. “I don’t remember him ever purchasing any guns or ammo.
“I usually just saw him roam around and look at the tapes and CDs and stuff. Every once in a while, he’d come over and look at the guns.”
Several dealers declined to comment about possible sales to Howell and his followers.
Others said they never saw Howell in their stores.
“Not to my knowledge,” said Mark Cherry, of Keith’s Gun Shop. “We have a few who buy assault rifles, but I know they’re not Branch Davidians because I’ve seen them since this happened.”
Cult members apparently used both automatic and semiautomatic weapons in the gun battle.
Praco Pawn Shop is the only Waco store contacted that sells fully automatic weapons.
Donnell said several customers fear the Mount Carmel shootout will lead to stricter gun laws.
Those fears may have led to increased sales of semiautomatic guns like AR-15s.
“We sold six in the last two days, and I haven’t sold six in the last two years,” Donnell said. “Since this deal went down and people are getting real skeptical of assault rifles, the sale of those particular types of weapons have gone up.
“People say, ‘I want to get this before some law is passed.’ ”
Most pawn shops and gun dealers, however, say their sales have not been affected.
The AR-15 is a “semiautomatic version of an M-16,” Donnell said. Most of his customers use the gun in shooting competitions.
Another gun dealer said the cult story has sparked discussion and a few purchases.
Since Sunday, Lone Star Pawn No. 2 has sold two assault rifles, said Stanley Foreman, gun manager. They normally sell five to 10 a year.
“It kind of went up a little,” he said.
Foreman said one customer told him “a lot of people have started talking about them since they see them on TV.”
He said customers are interested in semiautomatic assault rifles like the AR-15, AK-47 and Mini 14.
Praco Pawn Shop is authorized to sell fully-automatic weapons like M-16s and Uzis.
Donnell said ownership of those weapons requires a federal firearm license.
Tom Hill, Washington spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said Tuesday that Howell did not have such a license.
Allen Lee of Lee’s Gun Shop in Lorena said: “He didn’t buy the guns from local dealers. The gun shows around the country arecheaper.”
The most recent gun show in Waco was three weeks ago.
Donnell believes weapons often fall into the wrong hands at such shows.
“I think a lot of the problem is the gun shows,” he said. “You can walk in and purchase a gun and not have any paperwork on it. That’s where the real problem is.”
Donnell, who has worked at Praco for four years, believes laws governing the purchase of handguns should be more rigid because those are the weapons most often used in reckless crimes of passion.
“Personally, I think if the laws were going to be made stricter, it should be aimed toward the handguns more than ARs,” he said. “There should be a waiting period.”
Beverly Bridger of First Pawn & Loan believes the showdown between the cult and federal agents could cause tougher gun control laws.
“Oh, I think so,” she said. “If it wasn’t so easy for them to get a hold of them, that wouldn’t have happened Sunday.”
But Cherry was more skeptical.
“I don’t think taking away guns is going to take away madmen,” he said.