In a recent column I pondered why a religious cult decided to settle in Waco, stockpile an arsenal of weapons and engage federal agents in a 45-minute pitched gun battle that killed four agents and wounded 15 others. A still undetermined number of cult members also were killed and wounded.

The reader response was unexpected, to say the least. The column moved on the Cox News Service and New York Times News Service national wires. Individual newspaper editors decide each day what wire material they will use so columnists never know where, or if, their stuff will be published.

My column zipped off into the electronic either Tuesday afternoon. I began fielding telephone calls as soon as I entered my office Wednesday morning.

Some people — apparently caring nothing about the expense — called from across the country just to get an update on the standoff between the federal agents and the cult members holed up in their heavily fortified compound outside Waco.

A few called to sympathize with Waco residents and to relate some similar tragedy they experienced in their communities.

To my surprise, most of the callers sympathized with the Branch Davidian cult members. No one called to take the side of the federal agents. There’s something strange going on out there, folks.

The gist of the message by the cult defenders was that the government shouldn’t be coming onto a man’s private property and try to take away his guns. All the callers were men. They said they would do the same thing if government agents stepped foot on their property and tried to take away their guns. The federal agents deserved what they got, they said. Wow.

Fear gun confiscation

Evidently the tragic shoot-out was a come-to-life nightmare for a lot of gun nuts who have been warning one another for years that someday the government would try to take away their guns. These supposedly law-abiding, Constitution-quoting citizens have strong anti-government sentiments.

That seems strange to me. They staunchly oppose law-breakers (and need their guns to gun down law-breakers), but they also don’t trust the government that makes the laws. What am I missing here?

In the case of last Sunday’s shoot-out between Branch Davidian cult members and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, the anti-government callers were willing to overlook the part of my column that described how the cult was accused of building up an arsenal of assault weapons. They ignored the part that told of the allegations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse of children. The column also said the cult’s leader had been accused of having sex with under-aged girls, that he whipped infants and that he declared himself the only perfect mate for women in the cult.

Protection against government

It’s not that any of the callers expressed real pro-cult sentiments, it’s just that they were pro-gun ownership at any cost. So much so, in fact, that there was an intense secondary message that their guns may be needed more to protect themselves from their own government than from criminals or even foreign governments. If this is correct, I wonder how they got that way.

I do not for a minute think that this group of callers represents the feelings of more than a small segment of Americans. At least, I hope not. But I am convinced that these people feel super strongly about their right to keep their guns at any cost, even if it means killing government agents.

It seems to me that some gun owners have made a religion out of guns. Perhaps I have stumbled over a different type of cult, a gun cult.

I own guns. I grew up in the country around guns and never used to give them much thought. But I’ve never worshipped guns. And I’ve never held gun ownership above the law. And, more and more, I’ve been thinking that there are some pretty darn scary gun owners out there.

Rowland Nethaway’s column usually appears Wednesdays and Fridays. Bob Lott’s column will return soon.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part Two 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.

Read the accounts of 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."

The 1987 Rodenville shootout and trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more coming soon.