Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of the siege at Mount Carmel near Waco. A religious sect known as the Branch Davidians was holed up with illegal guns and explosives in a walled-off compound. David Koresh, their leader, had multiple wives and local authorities also suspected him of having sex with underage females in the group.
Koresh and his followers had a lot to answer for. But many Americans who watched the 51-day standoff between the Davidians and the FBI were uneasy at the sight of military tanks and high-tech weapons deployed against civilian men, women and children at Mount Carmel.
The siege began when agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided the Davidian compound. An intense gun battle erupted, resulting in the deaths of four government agents and six Branch Davidians.
The failed raid evolved into the prolonged standoff, which ended when the FBI used a tank to inject tear gas into the compound. A fire erupted, killing 76 Davidians who refused to come out of the flaming building.
In one sense, the story of Mount Carmel is all about guns -- the Davidians stockpiling firearms for what they believed was the coming apocalypse.
The Branch Davidian siege ended on April 19, 1993. Two years later to the day, on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh ignited a truck bomb that killed 169 people in the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh later painted himself as an anti-government patriot seeking revenge for what FBI and ATF agents did to the Davidians two years earlier.
America's violent debate over firearms has not abated during the 25 years since the events at Mount Carmel. Here we are today still arguing about what types of firearms and ammo clips should be illegal.
Nothing has been resolved. Shootings at public schools and terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists periodically bring the debate back into the headlines. The news recedes after the burials and we start the process all over again.
The National Rifle Association, Congress and average Americans must come to a consensus on gun rights. Hunters and target shooters must not be impeded. Firearms for self-defense in the home must be respected.
Everything else is up for grabs. We must acknowledge the Branch Davidians did not need automatic weapons and hand grenades to protect themselves from intruders any more than a hunter needs a high-velocity AR-15 to take down a deer.
The search for a sensible response to gun violence, thus far, has been like a midnight walk through the wilderness on a moonless night. We have no idea where we are going, much less how to get there.