We've known a little bit about Front Sight Firearms Training Institute and Dr. Ignatius Piazza for some time. But until we visited with Dr. Piazza, "Naish" for short, and toured the southern Nevada facility, we had no real idea what Front Sight was all about.
The invitation came during the SHOT Show in Las Vegas this past winter. The "country club" approach to development geared around firearms training and the lavish scale models certainly caught my eye. But, Piazza’s personal story is what truly intrigued me.
In his written letter to potential students, Dr. Piazza explains his evolution. "Prior to 1988, I was just your average gun enthusiast. Then one evening, a group of anti-socials drove through my quiet neighborhood in California and blasted away at everything that represented the fruits of a decent work ethic. During this random drive-by shooting spree, I was struck by a sudden and frightening realization. Although I owned firearms and shot them regularly at the range, I was never taught the skills required to use a gun when it is needed most-to defend one’s life."
"The revelation began my quest for training and ultimately placed me under the tutelage of Col. Jeff Cooper, the father of modern pistolcraft and founder of The American Pistol Institute. The colonel’s weaponcraft doctrine rang loud and true for me and his teachings inspired me to reach others. Thus, Front Sight Firearms Training Institute was conceived."
We made arrangements to tour Front Sight two days later and talked at length with Piazza. What follows is a portion of what we heard and what we saw. And, you too will not fully comprehend the concept until you visit Front Sight!
Front Sight’s Vision
I asked Piazza about the goal of Front Sight. What were they really trying to accomplish? "To answer that I have to explain the celebrity-training center," Naish began. Gaining the support of celebrities is a major focus. "We're losing our gun rights in America. We need to reach the opinion leaders, because those are the people who really make change in this country. And, the opinion leaders are Fortune 500 executives, the Hollywood crowd, the media, and last but not least, the politicians. The reason they're last is because they're influenced be all the other groups."
Front Sight provides for the diversity of gun enthusiasts, but places special importance on these power people. By providing private, first class facilities and training, Front Sight staff gets valuable one-on-one time with very influencial people-people who often speak publicly against guns and privately secure concealed carry permits!
"Those people don't take firearms training with the general public," reminds Piazza. "They want the people they hire as bodyguards to have the very best firearms training in the world. Since he/she has a concealed weapons permit, they would like to have the best training for themselves. Where do they get that? Right here in the Celebrity Training Center. He/she can come in by helicopter or tinted-window limo. No one will know except the Front Sight staff. And, while he/she is here, we have the opportunity to begin changing their opinion about who it is that actually owns firearms. We can show them who’s taking gun courses: professionals, law enforcement officers, business owners and their families, law abiding, responsible citizens; people who should have firearms. Stereotypes and misconceptions disappear in a hurry. When that happens, they leave with a differen t opinion."
"We also get media people out here checking us out that are slightly on the side of gun control. We turn them around, or at least get them to a neutral position. And, to the people that are already in neutral, they become pro-gun. And, that’s our goal," states Piazza.
Between Piazza’s descriptions, our tour of the ranges, and by seeing the scale models, we gained a real sense of the project: A world class, full service, firearms training community. Naish paints us a picture:
"What we're standing on right here are 4 simulators that will be carved out of this dirt mound. Everything you see here is being built to a very high standard. When this is all completed, these will be four 360-degree simulators. Over in that corner where the road bends around will be 4 more simulators. Then, we'll have eight ranges across here (sweeping his arm to the north)."
"This large range we're now shooting on is a universal range that will strictly be for half and 1-day courses. We'll be able to run 3 to 4 different types of classes all at the same time on that range. All of the other ranges are what we call standard ranges in that they'll have reactive targets. You can see some of them there; they turn. These ranges still need to be finished up. They're about 80% complete."
"Out in this area, from this point all the way to the end of the road, will be a paved parking area for students. We'll also use that large area as a defensive driving track. Six lanes wide, 600 yards long, so we can do all types of defensive driving. Around the bend and heading all the way out past where those rocks are is our 400-yard rifle range."
"We're pushing hard to get Phase I complete to resort-quality standards by the end of this year. Then Phase II, which is the Celebrity Training Center, Martial Arts Gymnasium, some private training ranges and the 1000 yard rifle range will be finished 6 to 8 months after Phase I is completed."
"Then the amenities for Phase III will follow about a year after that. By amenities, I mean roads, water, power, sewer, commercial center, community center, townhomes and condos. Then, our students can actually stay out here and rent those when they're in the courses at the site. People will easily be able to start building homes out here about that time, also."
"It’s a master planned community out in the floor of the desert. And, it’s in a great place because we're in a noise and ballistic shadow. You see, we're shooting in this direction (pointing north) and there’s no way a round could ever get over there (pointing southwest). The sound all moves out in that direction, north. So you can be standing in the lower-elevation residential area to the southwest when we're on the rifle range shooting M-16s, and you don't hear it. You have to listen hard, and you can hear just a faint little "d-d-d-d" sound. For someone who wants to live in this kind of a community way out in the desert, that’s probably a nice sound."
"The whole project has been a ten-year evolution. Even now we are still enhancing the things that we're offering based on what students want. Initially, we wanted a thousand-yard rifle range. Then people who purchased our Platinum membership said, "You know, I've got a plane. It would be nice if you could put in an airstrip." So, we now plan to have an airstrip running parallel to the 1000-yard range."
When asked about the quality of the instructional staff, Piazza was quick to point out, "First off, we maintain a ratio of one instructor to every 4 to 5 students on the firing line. We advertise that. It doesn't matter what class you're taking: a free one-day submachine gun class or a $5,000 African Safari prep course. It usually ends up one instructor for every 3 to 4 students on the firing line. It'll be one-on-one in the tactical simulators, and sometimes two instructors for every student depending on the scenario."
"We also have a very important policy here that all the instructors must be able to perform on demand everything that they teach the students. We do this for two reasons: One, I rarely saw my instructor shoot when I was a student, and I always wondered. So, we answer that question for our students so that they know that all the instructors are the real deal. They can do exactly what they say they can and what they're asking the students to do. Secondly, of course, is so the instructors are always at the top of their game."
"In addition, we want instructors to always remember what it’s like to be a student and have that supportive caring attitude toward the students. It’s not hard to think back to the first time you ever touched a gun, how your hands were shaking and you didn't quite know how to load it or unload it. Well guess what? We have students who come in here everyday that have never owned a gun. Sometimes they're using our guns for the first time. So, we have to be patient and supportive of these students. We treat them with respect and treat them in a caring fashion. This is extremely important."
"There have been instructors with great resumes, who can perform on demand, but have had too hard of an edge. They wash out with us. They don't stick around long; I won't have them in the organization."
Piazza explains the deal: "What we provide is more than what students expect when they come out here for our free submachine gun course. Then, they want to take the next course in the series. Many of them want to take all our courses, so we have the membership program for them. And, then we have people that see this and say, "You know, this is where I want to retire." And so for them the Platinum membership is available. We've been fortunate to be able to continue the progress without having to go into huge debt or without having to sell off a huge portion of the company to a venture capitalist or somebody like that. The reason we can do it is because we have a philosophy that everybody is a lifetime student. And our statistics back that up."
"Ninety-five percent of all the students who take a course with us come and take another course. Their next course is usually within six months. The other five percent? It just takes them a little longer for them to come back. So, we can give something that is not only free but costs us a significant amount, because we have this long-term lifetime student philosophy. The greatest skeptic becomes your greatest supporter when he realizes that, hey, these guys are for real."
"Basically, I was a big gun collector. But, I was never taught how to use firearms when you need them most, when you're trying to defend yourself. I just took a class and realized that this is something that was badly needed. There are a lot of people out there like me, who, if it was done in a resort quality standard — which has never been done before — it would truly be the shining example of what firearm ownership and firearms training is all about for the private citizens. It just grew from there."
You need to experience Front Sight to fully appreciate it. For more information on Front Site Firearms Training Institute and to learn about upcoming free submachine courses, visit their website. We'll see you on the range.