Obtaining a handgun or rifle in Texas involves little more than asking any of the state’s 17,000 federally licensed weapons dealers for one, or several.

The state’s firearms statutes are among the nation’s weakest, and little more than an honor system is used to screen purchasers. This helped members of the Branch Davidians religious cult build a lethal arsenal before their deadly shootout with federal agents Feb. 28, according to authorities and gun-control proponents.

“The way Texas law stands today, a person can go into a gun dealer, fill out a federal firearms form and walk away with a weapon,” Patricia Guillermo, spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office, said Monday.

Those seeking firearms must produce proof of Texas residency and complete the federal form pledging that they are not convicted felons, illegal immigrants, mentally incompetent or otherwise banned from buying firearms.

But the state does not check to determine whether the information provided is accurate, according to state and federal law enforcement officials.

There are no background checks or waiting periods, Guillermo said. It is an honor system based almost entirely on the good will of the purchaser.

Vernon Howell, leader of the Branch Davidians, has stockpiled more than 100 firearms at Ranch Apocalypse, his compound near Waco where cult members and law enforcement authorities were in their ninth day of a tense standoff Monday.

Howell’s cache includes handguns and AK-47 and AR-15 military-style rifles, some apparently bought at Texas gun stores and gun shows, federal authorities said.

The bloody firefight in which four federal agents were killed and 16 wounded and the apparent ease with which guns can be bought in the Lone Star State are likely to fuel an already heated debate about gun control in Texas and nationally.

The Branch Davidians are believed to have bought at least 45 military-style assault rifles, federal agents have said.

One Hewitt gun dealer allegedly has bragged about selling Howell large numbers of AR-15 rifles, federal sources said.

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.