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Lesson Plan

The Second Amendment: Siege at Waco

About this Video
This 14-minute video shows students how the federal government’s botched raid on the compound of the Branch Davidian religious sect in 1993 gave rise to a nationwide militia movement of people advocating an expansive and individualistic interpretation of the Second Amendment. Students will learn how this movement included terrorists like Timothy McVeigh as well as lawful activists, many of whom continue to influence the national conversation on gun rights. Including interviews with militia activists as well as their opponents, the video provides students with context and insight on a defining cultural and political moment in the tug-of-war between individual rights and government powers. Useful for any lesson introducing Second Amendment controversies, the video illustrates why the right of individuals to own firearms remains one of the most contentious issues in American government.
Content Advisory: This video includes footage of gun violence during a law enforcement raid that left 80 people dead.
Students will learn
  • How a 1993 federal firearms raid near Waco, Texas, led to a 51-day siege and resulted in the deaths of more than 80 people.
  • How the events at Waco led to a national movement that advocated expansive interpretations of gun rights granted to individuals under the Second Amendment, and how some followers of this movement engaged in terrorism to advance their views.
  • How the Second Amendment controversies arising from the siege at Waco continue to affect the worldview of some gun rights activists in the modern world.
Why Waco is Still a Battleground in the 2nd Amendment Debate
Subjects
  • Civics & Government
  • U.S. History
Topics
  • Barack Obama
  • Bill Clinton
  • The Second Amendment
  • Cultural and Social Change
  • 1990s America
  • America After 2000
  • The Modern Era (1980-Present)
For Teachers
Introducing the Lesson

The continuing controversy over Americans’ rights under the Second Amendment have often been framed by a single word: “Waco.”

It was near that Texas town in 1993 that federal agents raided Mount Carmel, the compound of an apocalyptic sect known as the Branch Davidians.

Federal agents looking for illegal weapons were seeking to execute a search warrant. They soon met fierce resistance from the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh, a self-styled messiah.

That encounter triggered a 51-day siege, which eventually left 75 sect members dead, including Koresh. Most were killed by a fire set by the Davidians, a federal investigation later concluded.

The grim events led federal agents to reassess their tactics, but it fueled the rise of a militia movement, citizens who viewed the Waco raid as an attack on Second Amendment rights.

Timothy McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran who witnessed the siege at Waco, sought revenge two years later. He and an accomplice bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and wounding some 700 others.

That bombing led to a federal crackdown on militias, which had almost disappeared until the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012 set into motion a new wave of heavily-armed, radical anti-government groups.

Their presence continues to be felt today, whenever debates about Second Amendment rights arise.

Comprehension Questions
  • What caused the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to raid the compound of David Koresh’s followers near Waco, Texas in 1993? Which weapons was Koresh stockpiling?
  • What miscalculations and errors of judgement did federal law enforcement officials make during the initial raid on the compound, and in the weeks that followed?
  • How did some gun rights advocates interpret the raid on the compound? How did Waco become a symbol and rallying cry for the militia movement?
  • How was the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City directly related to the raid at Waco?
  • How was law enforcement’s response to a standoff with Cliven Bundy and his followers in 2014 different from their response to the standoff with David Koresh and his followers in 1993?
Discussion Questions and Writing Prompts
  • The Second Amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” How do you interpret this Amendment? How do you think the leaders of the militia movement interpret it?
  • Do you think the opening phrasing of the Second Amendment limits or restricts the right to keep and bear arms within the context of “militias”? Or do you believe this amendment grants an individual right to possess arms, as the Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia vs Heller (2008)?
  • Do you think the Second Amendment grants an individual right to possess the specific kinds of arms that the Branch Davidians were seeking to stockpile? How should we define “arms” in the Second Amendment?
  • How do we balance the individual right to “keep and bear arms” (as described by the Court in Heller) with the government’s regulatory and legislative powers? Are individuals entitled to any and all “arms”? Should Americans be allowed to purchase tanks, cannons, nuclear weapons? What criteria do we use to decide when the right to bear arms is limited?
  • In the video, Mike Vanderboegh says, “My reaction to Waco was horror. It was the defining moment, I think, of the late 20th century in terms of the relationship between the citizen and the government.” Do you think James Madison, who drafted the Second Amendment, would agree with this perspective? Why or why not? Why is it hard to read the minds of the Founders when trying to apply their writing to modern events, and especially to the regulation of technologies like hand grenades and automatic weapons?
Additional Resources
Transcript for "Why Waco is Still a Battleground in the 2nd Amendment Debate" Retro Report
“Memories of Waco Fuel Far Right Groups” Retro Report
Audio Interview: "In the Shadow of Waco, a Legacy of Government Mistrust" WNYC

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem

Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequences of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact or develop over the course of a text.

Evaluate the consequences of human-made catastrophe on politics.

Skill 4.B: Explain how a specific historical context is situated within a broader historical context.