Home Sweet Home on the Firing Range

By Angie Wagner
Los Angeles Times
May 16, 1999
Sunday, Bulldog Edition
Section: Metro
Page: B-1

FRONT SIGHT, Nev. (AP) — In the midst of simmering desert, in a town yet to be, Ignatius Piazza envisions a gated community that will offer residents not golf courses, not swimming pools, but an array of 13 shooting ranges.

Its name is Front Sight. Call it home on the range.

The 550-acre, master-planned community, straddling two counties whose planners have already given their approval, will offer prospective buyers 177 one-acre custom-home lots and 350 townhomes.

Front Sight will have its own community center, school and landing strip — at a cost of almost $25 million.

Plus, of course, the handy gun ranges to fire off a few rounds.

It’s the Pebble Beach of firearms training, Piazza boasts, wearing the Front Sight uniform of navy fatigues and black boots.

Piazza insists he and others involved in the project are not affiliated with any militia group. He says most of the students who have taken his classes here or in Bakersfield, Calif., are professionals, law enforcement officers and housewives.

And he understands that just the concept of Front Sight will offend some people after Tuesday’s massacre in Littleton, Colo., where two high school students used a semi-automatic rifle, two sawed-off shotguns, a pistol and homemade bombs to kill 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

He maintains, however, that a familiarity with guns, Front Sight’s goal, could have reduced the bloodshed at Columbine High School.

Had any of the adults in Colorado at the school been armed with a concealed weapon, it would not have been a six-hour siege by two very disturbed individuals, he says. The problem would have been handled immediately. Lives would have been saved.

In fact, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy Neil Gardner, assigned full-time to Columbine High, exchanged gunfire with the attackers early in the assault and radioed for backup.

Piazza expects Front Sight’s first phase — more training ranges and classrooms — to be ready by year’s end. New residents will be welcomed by the end of 2000, he says.

For now, the planned community is just a maze of gravel and dust with some tents to hold classes, which have drawn 2,000 students since they began in January. The site, roughly halfway between Death Valley and Las Vegas, as yet has neither water nor power.

Piazza, 39, says he got interested in guns in 1988 after a drive-by shooting in his upscale neighborhood in Aptos, Calif. He owned guns but says he really didn’t have the skills to defend himself.

After some lessons, the former chiropractor thought about building the ultimate weapons training center. He opened the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute in Bakersfield in 1996. Then, with the cash flow from those classes, he bought the Nevada land from a company getting rid of surplus holdings.

He declines to name the price. It was dirt cheap, he says.

Piazza was also attracted to Nevada because of what he calls the state’s firearm-friendly laws. Nevada allows citizens to own Class 3 weapons, such as submachine guns. California does not.

I felt there was a need for a world-class facility, much done like the golf resort industry, Piazza says.

Piazza has developed the Front Sight project with Las Vegas engineer David Dwyer and says he has several investors. Local government is treating it just like any other new development.

Our planning commissioners are in support of it, says Tom Riley, Nye County planning commissioner. They don’t have any real concerns with it. … Instead of the 19th hole, they’ve got the bullet hole.

Not everyone is amused. A proponent of gun control called Piazza’s community a scary idea.

I am frightened by these isolationists and gun fanatic people who want to commune together and promote a life that focuses on guns, says Eric Gorovitz, legal director for the Trauma Foundation in San Francisco.

Front Sight’s residential lots lie in Nye County; the shooting ranges are in Clark County, which has approved use permits for them. The site is 10 miles from the nearest town, Pahrump.

Most of the street names will have something to do with guns. You can live on Second Amendment Drive if you want, Piazza says.

Lots in the gun-oriented, gated community aren’t for sale; they are an added benefit of purchasing a membership. The $200,000 platinum membership entitles a person to gun training classes and a lot. Other memberships include classes but no living space.

Piazza said 25 platinum memberships have already been sold.

One platinum member is Dr. Gary Cecchi, a 47-year-old oncologist in Walnut Creek, Calif., near San Francisco.

I just think that he is going to pull this kind of unique community off, so I just took a shot at it, says Cecchi, who has taken Piazza’s classes for three years and plans to use his Front Sight house as a second home.

Along with the 13 shooting ranges, Front Sight will have a video center, a five-story, recreational SWAT tower and underground tunnels and a rappelling area for training. And don’t forget the Front Sight-style pro shop and armory.