He's been called "a showman with a circus he's parading around," but that is not how Ignatius Piazza sees his mission. He has loftier aims, he said,
than merely making a profit by building the world's first resort and community exclusively for gun enthusiasts.
He wants Front Sight to be his vehicle for swaying public opinion against what he views as an elitist move to rid America of guns. The best way to do that, he figures, is to reshape the public's image of the typical American gun owner as a red-necked militia member, a myth he says is perpetuated by ignorant media.
"When people visit Front Sight and see law enforcement officers, doctors, lawyers and business owners with their families training together in a resort- quality setting, it tends to change the stereotype the media and others have of the average gun owner," he says. "The whole notion of a bunch of rednecks out playing GI Joe or survivalist goes away."
Piazza was a "typical gun collector" when his upscale Santa Cruz County neighborhood was raked by a random drive-by shooting 12 years ago.
So began the concept of Front Sight.
"It brought me to the realization that you can own all types of guns, but if you don't know how to use them, they're not worth anything to you at the moment of truth when you need to defend your life," he says.
Piazza, a former chiropractor, opened a firearms training center outside Bakersfield in 1996. A year later, he bought the patch of desert which has become Front Sight.
Setting himself apart from the typical two-in-the-chest, one-in-the-head firearms instructor, Piazza has opened Front Sight to reporters. But before they can do a story on Front Sight, they must attend a weapons training class.
The way Piazza sees it, invite reporters, who may not know a carbine from a pistol, to shoot side-by-side with students at his gun range, and they'll spread the word that the majority of gun owners are not fringe lunatics. "We need to let more people know what we're doing here," he says.
But he's not stopping with the media. Piazza is also throwing out the welcome mat to celebrities, business executives and politicians, even left- leaning ones. He's even building an exclusive "celebrity" firing range.
Piazza believes the more "opinion leaders" he can bring to Front Sight to whiff gun smoke and squeeze the trigger of a submachine gun, shotgun, rifle or pistol, the more those "leaders" will sway public opinion in favor of gun owners.
Among the politicians he'd like to convince is U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a champion of gun-control legislation, to whom he has extended an invitation.
Asked to comment, Feinstein said in a statement, "I have long believed that our nation needs more sensible gun control laws to ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of children, criminals and the mentally unstable. This has been my goal and will continue to be for as long as I am in public life.
"And as for my next vacation," she added, "I doubt that I would ever spend it at a place such as this."
E-mail Marshall Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.