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A New Home on the Range
Written by Tom Gorman Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2000
PAHRUMP, Nev. - Californians seeking a place to stash their assault weapons to avoid a Dec. 31 registration deadline can send them to Second Amendment Drive, here in the Nevada desert. It's the main drag through Front Sight, a planned 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 gun practice. One recent day, more than 50 people - including a schoolteacher, a grandmother, a minister, a software engineer, and a Hollywood actor - showed up for training. By day's end, they were blazing away with Uzi's at targets depicting human torsos.
The founder of Front Sight, Ignatius Piazza, hopes to build a private $25-million residential community anchored 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.
The site is 50 miles west of Las Vegas, near Pahrump, a fast-growing desert community of subdivisions and legal brothels.
A Dodge City with Uzi's? 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 teacher from the San Jose, Calif., area. She 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 a 200-home development. In the meantime, there is a new law in neighboring California requiring all assault weapons to be registered by Jan. 1. 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 Senator Don Perata. He wrote the 1999 legislation requiring that assault weapons left out of a 1989 law be registered.
''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.''
No one knows how many assault weapons are in California; as of early December the state attorney general's office had received more than 5,000 new registration cards, officials said.
Also unknown is how many owners of assault guns 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.
Piazza started promoting his offer on 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 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, and recreational shooters.
A big share of them, too, are people - 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.''
For more information Front Sight is on the Web at URL: http://www.frontsight.com
This story ran on page A02 of the Boston Globe on 12/22/2000.
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