Waco arsenal a symbol of gun madness


THE M-1 Abrams battle tank is an ugly monster, 67 tons of high-powered meanness that blew Saddam Hussein's army out of business in Desert Storm.

If ever a scene symbolized the gun madness in the United States, it was captured in TV pictures of M-1 tanks rolling into Waco, Texas, to counter the civilian arsenal of David Koresh, a.k.a Jesus.

Makes sense, of course. David Koresh is a match for Saddam when it comes to fruitcake illusions and a talent for buying arms.

"Let's get it on. We're ready for war," Koresh told FBI negotiators, claiming he has weapons to blow the Bradley armed vehicles "40 or 50 feet in the air."

Koresh is a Bible-thumping wacko whose threats are taken seriously after the bungled OK Corral shootout that left four Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents dead. Said an ATF spokesperson, "We were outgunned."

You wonder if politicians in Congress, who scamper like rabbits in terror of the gun lobby, are paying attention to the Waco travesty.

Do they notice Koresh, who needed only a mail-order catalog, found it easier and cheaper than Saddam to collect firepower?

Check out the arsenal returned to Koresh after he was acquitted of murder two years ago: AR-15s, M-16s, Uzi-type assault rifles, Luger pistols, .357 Magnums. He's reportedly added grenade launchers and a .50-caliber machine gun. The preacher wasn't going deer hunting.

After all, this is Texas, where it's as simple to buy a shootin' iron as a bottle of pop. Shucks, Houston has 1,791 gun dealers. Not many cities have as many churches or bars. And Bubbas use their weaponry amazingly, in one year more Texans were killed by guns (3,692) than in car accidents (3,180).

I'm not picking on Texas, which has enough troubles. But its buy-'em-by-the-six-pack laws and Waco Wackiness epitomize life in the United States of Artillery.

You'd think this galvanizing drama would give Congress the backbone to quench the plague of guns.

For the first time in a dozen years, we have a president uncowed by the National Rifle Association lobby.

"I don't believe we're well-served by having a bunch of 14- and 15-year-old kids with handguns shooting each other because of gang battles or because they're mad or high on drugs," Mr. Clinton said. Later, after the Waco gunfire, he blasted the NRA for damning every gun law: "I wish the NRA would go back to doing what it did when I was a boy."

If Mr. Clinton's gutsiness doesn't buck up Congress, it could emulate Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder, who limited gun purchases to one a month, or New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, who's facing down an NRA campaign to strip his super-tough gun law.

Don't hold your breath until Congress turns brave against NRA lobbyists who stuff members' pockets at campaign time.

The easy part should be passing the Brady bill that calls for a five-day cool-off before a gun purchase. It's bounced around Capitol Hill for seven years. Overwhelmingly, cop organizations want the Brady bill. President Clinton, unlike President Bush, is eager to sign it.

The time is ripe. ATF director Stephen Higgins, asked why he changed his mind on the Brady bill, snapped: "We've never had four agents killed in one day."

Face it, the gun holocaust will go on until Congress has the courage to ban rapid-fire assault weapons that David Koresh's cultists used in the Waco firestorm.

As anti-gun bumper stickers say, "You Don't Need An AK-47 to Shoot Bambi."

Two years ago Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, put together a tough bill that would outlaw manufacture or sale of 13 assault weapons, including the Colt AR-15, MAC-10 and Uzi types that are favorite street cannons.

Fiercely opposed by the NRA, the bill was slaughtered on the House floor, 247-177. "You might as well outlaw hammers and ball bats," argued a Texas congressman.

In their subservience to the NRA, the Honorables ignored the lone nut who one day earlier used a Glock semi-automatic to murder 22 people in Killeen, Texas.

So it goes. They'll shrug off the AK-47 an alleged Pakistani alien recently used to kill two motorists and wound three others at the CIA gates. That AK-47, according to the ATF experts, came from a flood of 1.9 million guns pouring into this country from Chinese defense firms.

"They're the K-mart of weapons manufacturers," said an ATF official.

Great. The lust for cocaine has made Colombian drug dealers wealthy. Now our gun mania bankrolls China's defense buildup.

Clinton refuses to buy the NRA scam on assault weaponry: "I don't believe everybody in America needs to be able to buy a semi-automatic or automatic weapon, built only to kill people, in order for some Americans to hunt or practice marksmanship."

Don't bet that the Honorables will listen to the sensible president or the echoes of Waco.

They'd rather hunker down and moan about the guns of Bosnia and Somalia. They're deaf men in a war zone.

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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