Due west of Vegas, in the rolling scrubland where myths about the shoot-'em-up American West linger like high plains sunsets, Ignatius Piazza’s utopia, where everyone packs heat in peace, is becoming a reality. Ten miles before Pahrump, on Highway 160, in the shadow of the Spring Mountains, this self-styled entrepreneur is building Front Sight, the world’s first gated community dedicated exclusively to guns and the people who like to shoot them.
The 550-acre town is rapidly springing to life. Dirt roads crisscross a site that already boasts power lines and a water well. Wood stakes mark the future locations of the 12 shooting ranges, a classroom, an armory, a pro shop, a SWAT tower, and a landing strip, all of which should be ready by this spring. And 29 of the 177 one-acre home lots have already been purchased.
When Front Sight matures into a fully equipped facility, it will also boast such high-tech amenities as video simulators, an elaborate defensive driving course, and a celebrity training center, where movie stars can enjoy target practice in private. In short, Front Sight’s gunning to be a veritable firearms theme park and community, a place where the right to bear arms and freshly picked tomatoes meet.
"The location is excellent because there’s only one Las Vegas in the world." says the mustachioed Piazza, from the interim Front Sight training facility outside Bakersfield, California, a nonresidential, small-scale version of its Nevada counterpart. "We will benefit from our proximity to this resort facility!"
Resort is a word Piazza frequently uses, likening his desert creation to the gated golf communities found in warm-weather states. Front Sight, he says, will offer people of similar interests a place to live, play, train, and above all exercise their much trampled-upon Second Amendment rights in peace.
The price tag to create a town out of nothing is staggering: $25 million, all of it to be raised through club dues and private investors. And, predictably, some gun-control advocates are up in arms. But Piazza is undeterred.
"I will admit it’s a daunting task." he says, sounding like a general surveying the designated battlefield. "But I've never looked back. It’s only a question of how fast it will go up!"
Given Piazza’s steadfast belief in guns, one might expect to find military service or perhaps right-wing militia connections on his résumé. Not so. His family doesn't even shoot guns. Piazza was just an ordinary suburban California chiropractor — albeit a gun owner — until one frightful day back in 1988.
That night, while watching TV with his wife, thrill-seeking drive-by shooters opened fire in his neighborhood. Piazza dropped to the floor until the bullets stopped flying. Later, surveying the damage from his front lawn, shaken and angry, he experienced an epiphany.
"It was a realization that, without training, you're at the mercy of whatever crazed individual chooses you as a victim." says Piazza. "What could I have done? My guns were all locked up safe!" That was then. Today, he carries a .40 caliber Glock 22 pistol most of the time. Piazza is unapologetic about his firearm support. He believes that every state should allow ordinary folks to carry concealed weapons in order to protect themselves against rampant "moral decay."
Front Sight’s more immediate mission, however, is to teach gun owners how to react quickly in an emergency. The basic Front Sight course, generally taught by former cops and former military leaders, consists of classes in gun handling, marksmanship, and tactical training. "If that same drive-by shooting happened today and it turned into a home invasion, I would be well trained." Piazza says flatly.
He doesn't, however, want to seem trigger-happy. He carefully controls media coverage of the project, usually requiring journalists to take part in a Front Sight training course before consenting to an interview. It’s to show the outside world that Front Sight is far more legitimate and far less fringe than a survivalist boot camp.
A gated gun town might strike some as positively medieval. But Piazza’s acolytes don't seem too concerned with the opinions of gun-hating liberals. Especially when feudal, gated communities for like-minded folks are cropping-up in other parts of the U.S. "I think it’s a tremendous idea because people can go there and shoot anytime they want." says 58-year-old Bill Laird, a naval consultant from San Bernardino County, California, who purchased a Front Sight lot this year as an eventual retirement destination.
Like most Front Sight residents, he’s an older Caucasian male, a gun hobbyist who feels vulnerable in an increasingly hostile society. "I don't want to be a victim of the crimes I see on the news." he says. Unlike Piazza, Laird has never been shot at. But he’s well prepared for the day when he is.
Fear of victimization and chaos usually amount to not much more than a stirring hour of radio or television, in the case of Front Sight, however, they appear to have built a town. Still, Piazza wants to go one step further. He believes Americans should arm themselves en masse because only that will discourage criminals. In the wake of the Columbine shootings last year, for example, Piazza proposed that teachers carry firearms. He says 200 teachers so far have responded to his ads offering to train them.
Piazza also explains how this country’s gun-control laws are ineffectual. "The criminals are laughing at the legislators [who are trying to pass] anti-gun laws." he says scornfully. "The criminals are never going to follow them!"
Will Front Sight attract this criminal element? No, says Piazza. The $900 fee for the basic four-day course already dissuades most sociopaths. Front Sight also requires a detailed character reference, a criterion that Piazza claims makes his classes more selective than most American police forces. "They're the kind of people who like to play with guns, and it’s a safe place to play with them," says Pahrump town board chairman Gary Hollis, whose own gun is mounted on his truck.
Many gun critics say the 20th century will be remembered as a dark age, an era when handguns, still legal, were responsible for mass murders at schools, day-care centers, and churches. But Piazza claims that it’s the dawn of a golden age in gun rights. He confidently predicts that Front Sight will become so popular that it will spawn similar franchises across the country. And if these designer villages force anti-gun citizens to form gated gun-free communities, so be it.
"That’s fine," Piazza says ominously, "criminals have to go and work somewhere!";