By Greg Barrett
Gannett News Service
April 18, 2000
FRONT SIGHT, Nev. — Australian journalist Gerard Ryle looks nauseated as he retreats from the firing line cradling a 9 mm Uzi. In the background, there’s 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," Ryle mutters. "This is awful."
Outsiders might relate. But most folks locking and loading here on a remote desert shooting range are gun enthusiasts eager to drive 48 miles west from Las Vegas for a sure shot at trigger happiness in what’s being billed as the nation’s first gun-resort town.
"Every time they pass another gun-control law it drives more people to us," founder Ignatius Piazza says to a group of police officers, bellhops, lawyers, stockbrokers, schoolteachers and others lured here by the promise of firing an Uzi.
"Anti-gun people expect to see Bubba, his redneck buddies and a bunch of neo-Nazis, but they're not going to find that here," Piazza says." They can't say we're training militia or training terrorists when we have law enforcement officers in every class here."
Named for the part of the gun barrel used for aiming, Front Sight right now is a concept visible mostly in Piazza’s imagination and eight architectural renderings that are framed, matted and showcased on easels in a huge tent pitched alongside cactus.
Piazza promises a resort like no other, a gun-toting, gated community where home security systems will be strapped to hips (although you don't have to shoot a gun to live here) and crime rates will be zilch.
"Wouldn't it be nice to live in the safest town in America?" he asks the assembled shooters. "We won't have any crime at Front Sight, not with everyone trained in firearms and most everyone owning them."
When it’s finished, the community is projected to include 12 shooting ranges, an assault tower, 400 yards of training tunnels, 177 home lots, a convenience store and a private K-12 school. It will spill across 550 acres from Clark County into Nye County, a swatch of Nevada better known for its mobile-home bordellos
Initial approval has been given, and $3 million of infrastructure is in the ground. Plans call for a complete community by fall 2002.
Piazza alternately refers to Front Sight as a Disneyland or a Pebble Beach for the nation’s 80 million gun owners. Last year he moved most of his Front Sight Firearms Training Institute across the border from its base in Bakersfield, Calif., where automatic weapons such as the Uzi are outlawed for private citizens.
"The man is a visionary," says Tanya Metaksa, a senior adviser and former chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. She’s here for the free, one-day Uzi class. "I think the idea is great. I hope he succeeds."
The novelty of Front Sight has captured the news media’s fascination. Some reports make it sound as if honey already flows on this land dubbed Gun City, USA, by some foreign press.
That explains Ryle’s presence here and his reluctant grip on an Uzi. Like all journalists wishing to interview Piazza, Ryle, a reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald, must learn the finer points of shooting an assault rifle.
Piazza, 40, is a master marksman and marketer tan from shooting guns in the desert. He is also a former chiropractor who frequently commutes here from his $700,000 beach home near Santa Cruz, Calif., then makes a two-hour sales appeal that’s about as subtle as the Sunday collection plate.
To potential buyers, he even invokes Spike Lee: "How many of you believe in what we are doing? Well, then, I am going to ask you to do the right thing."
Chris Fisher believes he did. He bought a lot and plans to move his family here someday. The executive consultant and father of three from Sacramento 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 positive message about gun safety and gun ownership."
Pacing in front of a small group of predominantly white, middle-age professional men, Piazza dons a headset mike and evangelizes about the glory and potential of Front Sight, its $275,000 one-acre lots and its impact on society.
It soon becomes apparent that his vision is as much about politics as profits.
"If everyone was trained in guns there would be no debate about gun control in this country," he says. "It would be a moot point. Everyone would know how to handle a gun safely. Everyone would know how to be responsible with a gun. Everyone would know how to protect themselves should they be accosted … Training is the one thing the government will never be able to legislate away from you."
Despite construction snags and dueling lawsuits between Piazza and his initial contractor, three dozen home lots have sold, he says.
They come with Front Sight’s Platinum membership, which includes unlimited use of shooting ranges, free gun cleaning, 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"), an Uzi (if payment is made in full).
One person who’s not buying it — the Front Sight membership at least — is Uzi class member Bruce Baker. An elementary-school teacher from Los Angeles 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 a town built around a single activity, guns, golf, or otherwise.
"For balance," he says,
I don't think you should over invest in one thing like this … But for law enforcement officers, hey, this place could be perfect.