Friday, April 14, 2000

Would you like an Uzi with that order?

Developer targets shooting aficionados inNevada

By Greg Barrett

Gannett News Service

On the firing line...
Students in Front Sight’s free one-day Uzi class are taught the basics in gunsafety and firing, and how to stop an attacker with three shots to the chestand one to the head.

FRONT SIGHT, Nev. — Australian journalist GerardRyle looks nauseous as he retreats from the firing line cradling his 9mm Uzi. In the background: a paper silhouette of a person obliterated by a single pull of a trigger and 20 successive blasts.

I’ve never fired a gun in my life, Rylemutters. This is awful.

Outsiders might relate. But most folks locking andloading here on a remote desert shooting range are gun enthusiasts eager todrive 48 miles west from as Vegas for a sure shot at trigger happiness. Theyare the us in the us-and-they sales pitch that distinguishesbetween Second Amendment advocates and adversaries, a wedge plied as a bridgeto the nation’s first gun-resort town.

Every time they pass another gun-control law itdrives more people to us, says town founder Ignatius Piazza, speaking toa group of police officers, bellhops, lawyers, stockbrokers, school teachersand the like, gun owners lured to a desert schvitz by the promise of firing anUzi. It’s the same glamour weapon, Piazza tells the group, that waswhipped from the jackets of the Secret Service 19 years ago when John Hinckleyshot President Reagan.

Anti-gun people expect to see Bubba, his redneckbuddies and a bunch of neo-Nazis, but they’re not going to find that here.They can’t say we’re training militia or training terrorists when wehave law enforcement officers in every class here.

Nation’s safest town?

Map to Front Sight

Here is Front Sight, Nev., a developing town named forthe part of the gun barrel used for aiming, and a concept visible only inPiazza’s imagination and eight architectural renderings — framed,matted and showcased on easels in a huge tent pitched alongside cactus. Piazzapromises resort like no other, a gun-toting gated community where home securitysystems are strapped to swaggering hips (although you don’t have to shoota gun to live here) and crime rates are zilch.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in the safest townin America? he asks the assembled shooters, presumably intoxicated fromthe recoil of an Uzi. We won’t have any crime at Front Sight, notwith everyone trained in firearms and most everyone owning them.

This loaded version of Darwinism is projected to include12 shooting ranges, an assault tower, 400 yards of training tunnels, 177 homelots, a convenience store and a private K-12 school spilling across 550 acresfrom Clark County into Nye County, a southern swatch of Nevada better known forits mobile-home bordellos. Initial bureaucratic blessings have been given andthe infrastructure is in the ground. Plans call for a community by the fall of2002.

U.S. stereotype: handguns and gun collectors.

The foreign journalist Ryle is intrigued with aparticular chatty class member named Martin Laetsch, a 30-year-old IntelCorp., manager from Portland, Ore. Laetsch is a collector ofWorld War II German automatic guns, and an expectant father who keeps a handgunlocked in a safe near his bed.

It is such the image of the typical American,Ryle says.

Laetsch, small in stature, is no slouch with a rifle. Oneach command of an ex-Marine and Front Sight shooting instructor, he piercesthe chest and head of his target, then reloads. On the horizon you can seeNevada’s snow-capped Mountain Springs Summit, an odd juxtapose to thesegames.

You do everything you can to make sure youdon’t get in a position where you have to use a gun, Laetsch says,but if you do, you need to be ready to pull the trigger.

Piazza alternately refers to Front Sight as a Disneylandor Pebble Beach for the nation’s 80 million gun owners. Last year he movedmost of his Sight Firearms Training Institute across the border from its basein Bakersfield, Calif., where automatic weapons such as the Uzi are outlawedfor private citizens.

The man is a visionary, says Tanya Metaksa, a senior advisor and former chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, here on her own time for the free one-day Uzi class. I think the idea is great. I hope he succeeds.

Reporting from the firing line

handfuls of 9mm ammo
Front Sight, Nev., lures potential buyers with afree one-day Uzi class that has visitors digging into buckets to refill their clips.

The novelty of Front Sight has captured the news media's fascination, some of which have made it sound like honey already flows on this land dubbed by foreign press as Gun City, USA. That explains Ryle’s presence here, and his reluctant grip on an Uzi. Like all journalists wishing to interview Piazza, Ryle, a reporter with Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, must learn the finer points of shooting an assault rifle. The idea isto arm the so-called liberal news media with proper perspective. All the betterif journalists come away seduced by a submachine gun’s virilerat-a-tat-tat.

I look forward to a positive story, Piazzatells this reporter more than once, one day after several hours were spent onthe shooting range.

Piazza, 40, is a master marksman and marketer tan fromshooting guns in the desert. He is also a former chiropractor who frequentlycommutes here from his $700,000 beach home near Santa Cruz, Calif., then makesa two-hour sales appeal that’s about as subtle as the Sunday collectionplate. To potential buyers, he even invokes Spike Lee: How many of youbelieve in what we are doing? Well, then, I am going to ask you to do the rightthing.

Chris Fisher believes he did. He bought a lot and plansto someday move his family here. The executive consultant and father of threefrom Sacramento, Calif., likes to target shoot with his 10-year-old son.It’s a sport, he says, no different than a father-son golf tandem: I look at this as an opportunity to help (Piazza) perpetuate a very positivemessage about gun safety and gun ownership.

Mixing politics and profits

Dr, Ignatius Piazza
Developer and master marksman Ignatius Piazza aims to use his gun-resort community to improve the image of gun owners not only in this country, but the entire world.

Pacing in front of a small group of predominantly white middle-aged professional men Piazza dons a headset mike and evangelizes aboutthe glory and potential of Front Sight, its $275,000 one-acre lots and itsimpact on society. It soon becomes apparent his vision — or at least hisspiel — is as much about politics as profits.

If everyone was trained in guns there would be nodebate about gun control in this country, he says. It would be amoot point. Everyone would know how to handle a gun safely. Everyone would knowhow to be responsible with a gun. Everyone would know how to protect themselvesshould they be accosted. …Training is the one thing the government willnever be able to legislate away from you.

Front Sight, he says, is about changing the stereotypicalview of gun owners.

A membership with privileges

Despite construction snags and dueling lawsuits betweenPiazza and his initial contractor, three dozen home lots have sold, he says.They come with Front Sight’s Platinum membership, which includes, amongother things, unlimited use of shooting ranges and facilities, free guncleaning, a leather holster, a heavy-silver card to carry in a coat pocket(This way when you sweep your coat back to grab the pistol from your hip,the weighted garment swings further back), a free Uzi (if payment is madein full).

Uzi class member Bruce Baker isn’t buying it —the Front Sight membership, at least. An elementary school teacher from LosAngeles County, Baker, 38, likes to hunt wild boar, target shoot with his wife,and ride mountain bikes with his five sons. He’s not going to live in-atown built around a single activity, guns, golf or otherwise.

For balance, he says, I don’tthink you should over-invest in one thing like this … but for lawenforcement officers, hey, this place could be perfect.