A Planned Community for the Gun Enthusiast

Los Angeles Times

Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Firearms: A development called Front Sight would include, along with 1-acre home sites, 12 shooting ranges, a town armory and a web of tunnels for honing shooting skills.

By TOM GORMAN, Times Staff Writer

PAHRUMP, Nev. — Californians looking for a place to stash their assault weapons to avoid a Dec. 31 registration deadline can send them to Second Amendment Drive, out here in the Nevada desert.

It’s the main drag through Front Sight, a planned resort community where residents would have, not only the right, but practically a responsibility, to bear arms.

This is, after all, a place where even gun novices can come out for a day of submachine-gunning. One recent day, more than 50 people — including a schoolteacher, a grandmother, a Baptist minister, a software engineer, and a Hollywood actor — showed up for training and, by day’s end, were blazing away with 9-millimeter Uzis at targets depicting human torsos.

Front Sight founder Ignatius Piazza hopes to build a private $25-million residential community anchored, not by a golf course or a lake, but by a dozen shooting ranges. The project also is to include a firearms pro shop with a gunsmith, a community armory and a five-story tower and a web of tunnels to sharpen self-defense skills in stairwells, hallways and dark quarters.

Front Sight Shooting Range

The site is 50 miles west of Las Vegas, near Pahrump, a fast-growing desert community of sprawling subdivisions and legal brothels.

A Dodge City with Uzis? Piazza prefers to describe this as a Disneyland for gun lovers, the safest town in all the land. The place will be protected, of course, by armed guards at the entry gate.

Piazza says 40 families have purchased $300,000 "platinum" memberships in his gun club, entitling them to one-acre home sites.

Among those buyers is Holly Gallo, 32, a grade school teacher from the San Jose area who said she and her gun hobbyist husband can hardly wait to move here.

"I don't like worrying about my safety," she said, "and somebody would have to be a complete idiot to break into a home here."

Construction has yet to begin, however, on what Piazza envisions as an 200-home development. In the meantime there is a new law in neighboring California requiring all assault weapons to be registered by Jan. 1 — and Piazza hopes to drum up short-term business for his Front Sight Firearms Training Institute by offering free gun storage to Californians leery of the government.

"Gun confiscation always follows gun registration in countries outside the United States," said Piazza, a former chiropractor and a gun collector who says he got into firearms after a drive-by shooting near his Bakersfield-area home in 1988 left him rattled.

Gun owners must spend at least $500 on firearms courses to store as many as three assault weapons for a year. "This is a viable solution" for Californians who want to comply with the new law by simply removing their weapons from the state, he said.

California officials and gun control advocates applaud Piazza’s offer to be a weapons caretaker.

"It’s perfectly legal, and if people just want to store their weapons there, I'm thrilled that they have to take good safety courses as well," said state Sen. Don Perata (D-Alameda). He wrote the 1999 legislation requiring that assault weapons left out of a 1989 law be registered. A list of assault weapon characteristics and registration details are available online at http://www.regagun.org/.

"If I had my way, the gun owners would all purchase home sites and live there as well," Perata said. "If we can get these people with unusual adoration of firearms to live in one area — in another state — I'm even happier."

Luis Tolley, western director for Handgun Control, the nation’s largest gun control advocacy group, said he also supports Piazza’s gun-storage offer — even though he finds the notion of an entire gun-focused community "silly."

"I have no objection to owners moving those weapons out of state," Tolley said. "That'll protect California’s citizens — even if it’s bad news for Nevada."

No one knows exactly how many assault weapons are in California; as of last week the state attorney general’s office had received more than 5,000 new registration cards, said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer.

Also unknown is how many assault gun owners will ignore the requirement and risk a felony arrest, modify their guns so they no longer must be registered, or ship them out of state.

"A lot of people don't want to be on the wrong side of the law; 99% of gun owners are law-abiding, and they'll either sell their weapons or register them," said Don McLean, an editor at Soldier of Fortune magazine. "But I think a lot of people would see storing their weapons in Nevada as a way to comply with the law and keep their particular toys" without submitting to registration.

Others aren't so sure. Various gun authorities say they know of no one besides Piazza who is offering to store California assault weapons.

"Shipping a weapon out of state, which the law allows, has no personal appeal to me," said Steve Helsley, a spokesman for the National Rifle Assn. "Because then you don't have it to use when you want."

Piazza started promoting his offer Dec. 1 and said he already has received shipments of 25 weapons from California. About 200 other owners have paid for the training-and-storage deal, and "our phones have been ringing off the hook," he said.

For some, the appeal of Front Sight goes far beyond its ability to store weapons. Here, gun lovers come to practice and unabashedly have fun, handling weapons that are off-limits in many other states. California, for instance, not only requires the registration of assault weapons but bans automatic-fire weapons such as Uzis and other submachine guns except for use in law enforcement and the entertainment industry, under special permits.

Nevada, on the other hand, does not require registration of assault weapons and allows the firing of machine guns at facilities with federal permits.

Among the courses Piazza’s 95 instructors offer: the use of submachine guns, low-light gunfights, shooting from moving vehicles and prep classes for African safaris. His clients, he said, include law enforcement officers, private security guards, hunters and recreational shooters.

A big share of them, too, are folks — stoked, perhaps, by too many movies or by news footage — who just can't resist the opportunity to fire an Uzi.

Among them was Gary Graham, a film and television actor who had fired weapons with blanks, but had never before wielded a loaded Uzi.

He ended his day by squeezing its trigger one last time, unloading 20 slugs in two seconds toward his target. Only three missed the chest, and he beamed.

"What a blast," he said. "Exhilarating."

Maher Benhan, a dancer and choreographer who recently moved from New York to San Francisco, had little difficulty handling the weapon, despite wearing a purple Indian sarong, and said afterward that she was now hooked on recreational shooting.

"It’s like dancing," she explained. "It takes 100% of your concentration, control, and consciousness — all of it put together for a single moment. This was very liberating for me."

Nearby, Jack Boyd, who operates a North Hollywood security company, said he was relieved that no one had been hurt during the exercises.

"The thought of going somewhere with a lot of inexperienced people who I didn't know, all of them shooting submachine guns, sounded a little dangerous," he said afterward. "But it turned out, this was a lot of fun."

Among the uninitiated was Dorothy Bowen, 63, a local resident whose late husband — a former deputy sheriff — once held his service revolver and allowed her to squeeze the trigger. On this day, she was holding her first weapon — an Uzi, of all things.

Throughout the day, she struggled with her proper shooting posture — including learning how to bend forward at the waist to counter the weapon’s recoil. Her silver dream-catcher earrings drooped free as she placed her cheek against the gun’s butt and squeezed off a series of short bursts, going first for the chest, later for the forehead, of her paper target.

"I love it!" she proclaimed during a break. "To heck with [gun opponent] Rosie O'Donnell."

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