By Robert M. Hausman
An unprecedented opportunity is now available to SAR readers. If you are reading this magazine, you must have an interest in fully-automatic firearms, and the nation’s newest and soon-to-be finest firearms training facility wants you to experience its training at the highest level first-hand. You are offered free tuition at an introductory submachine gun class. Formerly available only to graduates of its other training courses, Front Sight Firearms Training Institute, located just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, is now extending the opportunity of attending its one day sub-gun class free!
Is the free submachine gun course really free-of-charge? Having already attended the class, this author can answer that question with an unequivocal,”Yes!” And there are no strings attached. Even the food and beverages available throughout the day-a continental breakfast and a late lunch are gratis, as is the ammunition used.
All you have to do is get to Las Vegas. Lodging expense is your responsibility. If you stay in Las Vegas you will pay more than if you lodge in the town of Pahrump, Nevada, which is closer to the school. You will need to rent a car to get to Front Sight which is about 40 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip.
The Training Experience
I decided to have a look-see of Front Sight after attending the 2000 SHOT Show, held in Las Vegas last January. Arising early from the comfort of my very reasonably-priced Jacuzzi tub-equipped hotel room in Pahrump, I headed out early in the morning to the Front Sight facility, a short 20 minute ride away. Once there, I walked into the huge tent in use as a temporary classroom where I got signed in and noted the welcome sight of an array of foods including hot coffee, bagels, rolls, and chilled juices.
After the 20 or so students in the class had filed in, school founder Dr. Ignatius Piazza gave a short welcome and overview of the day’s program, as well as the history and future of the Front Sight school. We were also given an operational lecture on the UZI submachine guns we would be using that day. Students in the class came from a variety of backgrounds, with a couple of M.D.’s, and a dentist in attendance. All, with the exception of this author, shared one common trait, they had never fired a fully-automatic firearm before.
We soon headed out to the range and spent the rest of the morning receiving lectures on the UZI’s operational characteristics, doing dry-fire, clearing, practicing mounting in the high and low ready positions, magazine loading exercises and learning range etiquette from several instructors.
Front Sight’s teaching philosophy requires there be one instructor for every four to five students, one of the highest student-instructor ratios in the industry. A school policy requires all instructors to be able to perform, on demand, anything they ask their students to do. This keeps the instructors’ skill level high and yields the best level of instruction for the student.
The first shots were fired in the semi-auto mode, at increasingly greater distances from the target. Several different gun mounting positions were practiced. When all students were able to handle their guns adequately, and follow and respond to range commands, we moved on to full-auto fire.
Proper stance to control full-auto fire involves standing bent forward at the waist, with the strong side foot slightly to the rear. The feet are placed at a 30- to 40-degree angle to the body with knees bent, while the elbows are tucked down with the right elbow close to the body as the gun is mounted with its butt high in the natural pocket of the shoulder and the facial cheek contacting the stock.
Shooting at first in two and three round bursts, our groups grew tighter the more we practiced the all-important technique of trigger control, one of the three secrets of shooting success. The instructors were always there to provide guidance while stressing one of the reasons to learn to shoot well is, “It is better to give, than to receive, in a gunfight.”
One aspect that particularly impressed me was their method of teaching did not demean students for making mistakes, but rather the instructors’ role was to provide encouragement and patient guidance to help each student shoot better. This is an important consideration making the school ideal for the new shooter as well as for women. While I have attended several of the “big name” schools in the past, I was particularly impressed by how well I and the other students were treated at Front Sight, we were even provided with one of my favorite foods, bagels and cream cheese! Seriously, student respect constitutes a vital component of the school’s plan of attracting affluent clients who will likely not tolerate a “boot camp” atmosphere.
The instructors also went to great lengths to ensure each student was able to grasp every concept and lesson as it was presented so that no student was left behind. While we started out as a group of disorganized, unpracticed would-be subgunners, by the end of the day, we were all able to mount, fire and achieve good hits on command, and in unison.
My class, which was held on a Monday, was rather small with only 10 students. Classes held on weekends usually contain many more participants and thus shooters step up to the firing line in volleys. While one group is shooting, the other reloads their magazines. Since my class contained so few students, we were able to do a lot more shooting and work on perfecting technique, including failure to stop drills entailing delivering head shots on command.
The targets used are of Piazza’s own design, having been developed utilizing his medical background. The silhouette-style targets are an accurate representation of human dimensions taken from medical cadaver and x-ray studies.
Finally, just before the end of the day, we got to empty an entire magazine at the target. Actually, we were able to do this twice. Once, for practice to get a feel for what it is like to unleash a full 30 rounds non-stop. And a second time, on a clean target, to produce a remembrance of the day to take home. My target now proudly hands on the wall of my office.
We then retired to the headquarters tent, where we were treated with a meal of pizza and soda, as well as a sales presentation on the various levels of membership offered in the facility, along with the opportunity to sign up for additional training. Quite a few students did so. In fact, the school has a 95% student return rate.
It goes without saying there is a lot more to learn about submachine gun shooting than can be taught in one day. Since this was just an introductory course, no certificate is awarded at its conclusion. For those who want to pursue study of the submachine gun, a separate four day course is given (contact the school for details).
The basics of subgun deployment, safety, and how to hit consistently are provided in this free introductory lesson, and, as mentioned, all of the students in my class (none of whom aside from myself had ever fired a fully-automatic firearm before), did surprisingly well due to the high quality of instruction. This was not an informal “fun shoot,” but rather real training that produced visible results.
A chiropractor by training, Dr. Piazza, a native Californian, developed his avid interest in arms not through law enforcement or military experience, but rather after, “a group of anti-socials drove through (his) quiet neighborhood and blasted away at everything representing the fruits of a decent work ethic,” in 1988.
“During this random drive-by shooting spree, I was struck by a sudden and frightening realization. Although I owned firearms and shot them regularly at the range, I was never taught the skills required to use a gun when it is needed most – to defend one’s life,” Piazza admits.
The vision that became the Front Sight concept occurred the following year when Dr. Piazza attended a firearms training course under the tutelage of the famed Col. Jeff Cooper, founder of the Gunsite Training Center in Paulden, Arizona. Dr. Piazza understood the value of such training and anticipated the demand he could create for world-class firearms training coupled with a resort-style, first class facility.
“After thirteen week-long courses and thousands of hours of practice over a three year period, I held Jeff Cooper’s signature on Expert certificates in Special Pistol, Shotgun, Carbine and Rifle courses,” Dr. Piazza recalls. He then went through a period of years when he took a wide range of firearms training courses, at virtually every shooting school.
“Among them was Massad Ayoob’s Lethal Force Institute and Clint Smith’s Thunder Ranch,” Piazza says. “As I continued to evolve my plans for the ultimate firearms training facility, I looked for submachine gun training. My search turned up Chuck Taylor, who at the time, was the only Four Weapons Combat Master in existence. I then began a six month, daily training regimen in preparation for the Four Weapons Combat Master Test.
“My routine included dry practicing with the handgun, shotgun, rifle and submachine gun for three-to-four hours each day, weekdays, and then renting a shooting range all day Saturday to practice live-fire drills. When I felt I was ready, I began testing for certification. I failed many times, often just by a few points right at the very end of the test,” Dr Piazza admits.
“But, with each failed attempt, I improved and learned more about what it takes to really train to the highest level possible. In the end, perseverance was the key to success and I am proud that on August 28, 1993, I became the second man in the world to secure a Four Weapons Combat Master certificate,” Dr.Piazza says.
After several years of frustrating attempts to secure a use permit to open Front Sight on a 1500-acre ranch in California, he secured a lease on an existing, outdoor shooting range in Bakersfield, California. Front Sight officially opened in Bakersfield in April, 1996. But Piazza continued to search for a permanent location he could purchase in the Las Vegas area (partly due to Nevada’s more favorable tax and firearms laws which allowed possession of full-auto arms). In January, 1997, Front Sight closed the escrow on their 550-acre Las Vegas site and began designing the facility, securing use permits, water rights and construction permits.
World Class Facility
Construction started on Phase One in November 1998. Approximately 2 million dollars in earth moving work was performed before an oversight by those hired to secure the Grading Permit resulted in a five month construction delay. The permit has now been issued and construction has resumed. Expected to be completed by the end of 2000, Phase One will include nine training ranges from 25 yards to 400 yards; eight, 360 degree, live-fire simulator ranges; five story SWAT tower; 500-square-foot indoor video training simulator building; defensive driving track; 7,200-square-foot armory and gunsmithing shop; pro shop; 7,200-square-foot classroom; administration and maintenance buildings, five on-site residential buildings; and RV parking area. All training will be conducted in a resort-style, first class facility.
Phase Two, due to open in April or May of 2001, will include a 1000 yard rifle range, 4,200 foot airstrip; four private training ranges; 7,200-square-foot martial arts gymnasium; and a 900-square-yard secure training facility to allow professional actors from stage and screen, as well as the world of politics, to train privately.
Phase Three, due to open by the end of 2001, will feature a complete residential community with commercial retail center; community center; private K- 12 school; 350 condominiums and 177 one-acre luxury home sites. Similar in concept to a golf resort community, instead of rolling green fairways, Front Sight will cater to the interests of shooters. When completed, the facility will actually compose a new town – Front Sight, Nevada – with its own zip code.
“This is strictly high end,” stressed Dr. Piazza. “Many of our clients are law enforcement personnel, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals.” He believes the first class nature of Front Sight will work to help build a positive image for the concept of firearms ownership and use, including submachine guns. “If Harley-Davidson could change the image of the users of their motorcycles in the public eye, than certainly I can help the firearms industry polish their image by building the finest firearms training facility in the world which will serve as a showplace for the shooting sports and tactical, as well as self-defense training,” he says.
Harley-Davidson has very effectively changed the public perception of the users of their products from that of outlaw motorcycle gangs to the choice of celebrities. The motorcycles have gone from a product connected with criminals to that of a revered status symbol associated with personal success in a span of only about 20 years.
Aside from submachine gun training, other course offerings include two and four day defensive handgun; two day handgun skill builder and advanced tactical handgun; handgun combat master prep; two and four day tactical shotgun; two and four day practical rifle classes. After taking the free introductory submachine gun class, most students progress to signing up for a two-day handgun, rifle or shotgun class. Though construction has not been completed, the school is fully operational and all course curriculum is currently being offered by a staff of 75 instructors.
The development is located about 10 miles east of the small town of Pahrump (whose name was derived from a native American word meaning “water stone” due to the presence of hot, underground springs in the area). Pahrump contains a couple of hotel/gaming establishments, an Albertson’s supermarket, a pharmacy and other basic service businesses. Front Sight’s property is buttressed on all sides by Bureau of Land Management property. Pahrump has welcomed the school’s construction.
“We were impressed with the magnitude of the project,” commented Donna Lamb, Pahrump Regional Planning Commission secretary. “And it seems pretty safe out there in the desert.”
“It’s the perfect place for this kind of thing,” said David Dwyer, the Front Sight project engineer. “People in Nevada are pro-development and pro-state’s rights. We’re rebels here. It’s the Wild West.”
Though one may attend courses on a one-time basis, Front Sight is not planned as a facility one visits once and then forgets about. Rather, it is intended as a world-class resort to which shooters will return time and time again. Some may even want to live there! Read on.
Since construction is being financed with operating revenues, the “First Family” Program has been instituted to generate cash to cover construction costs by offering high-value charter memberships to those with the vision to see what the facility will become once it is completed. There are four levels of participation in Front Sight’s “First Family” Program.
The first is the “Copper” in which participants may attend two and four day courses, in Defensive Handgun, Tactical Shotgun and Practical Rifle as often as one desires. Also included are six certificates for attendance at firearms courses that may be sold or transferred to anyone who has not previously attended a course at the school. Other benefits encompass 10% discounts on tuition, gunsmithing, shooting supplies and the etching of the participant’s name in a First Family monument. The cost of Copper First Family membership is presently $8,500.
Bronze membership includes free attendance at the courses listed above in the Copper section, plus two day Handgun Skill Builder, Advanced Tactical Handgun, Handgun Instructor’s Course and the four day Handgun Combat Master Prep class. Twelve First Family course certificates are provided, along with 20% savings on other courses, products and services, in addition to other amenities. The cost is presently $22,000.
Silver First Family Membership allows attendance at any Front Sight firearms course free-of-charge. A total of 24 course certificates are included, which may be sold to others. Plus free use of the school’s private ranges free locker rental, priority placement in courses, and other benefits are given. The current cost for this level is $85,000.
The highest tier, Platinum First Family, includes a one-acre luxury home site on the premises. It also allows free attendance at any course, as many times as one desires. A stack of 24 course certificates which may be sold are provided the first year and up to twelve additional course certificates are provided each year thereafter for a lifetime. Platinum members are even relieved from the necessity of having to clean their guns, as this service is provided free by the gunsmithing staff.
When completed, there will be no other place in the world like the safe, secure, upscale community of Front Sight, Nevada. The first 16 Platinum memberships rapidly sold out. Another 10 were offered at $200,000 and sold out. Six more were presented at $240,000 and $250,000 and these too – you guessed it, sold out. Presently six additional Platinum memberships are available at $275,000. Once these are gone, the next offering is expected to be priced even higher.
“In some circles, if I say something at the dinner table about cleaning my shotgun, I’m not going to be real popular,” disclosed Mike Meacher, a country-club development investor from Southern California who purchased a Platinum membership. “I view this as a vacation home. These are not a bunch of rednecks. They are doctors, attorneys and software people, and some retired guys who just like the community.
“People will pay $200,000 to become a member of a golf country club, then buy a $250,000 chunk of land to live across from the golf course. But the firearms facilities, with a few exceptions, are all rudimentary and remote. If you look at the draw of Las Vegas, you’ll understand there is nothing else like this. Las Vegas is a destination resort. There is a tremendous tourism draw already, and there’s a lot of reasons why if Joe is a shooter and Mary and the kids are not, Joe can come to Front Sight while Mary and the kids enjoy the Strip. This is the same way the golf resorts pull golfers onto the course,” Meacher observed.
Since not everyone may have these amounts of cash available, Front Sight has made arrangements for everyone attending its classes to finance their First Family memberships, regardless of their past credit history. And the interest rate will surprise you – prime! The prime rate is the interest rate banks offer only to their best customers. At the time of this writing, the prime rate was 8.5%. Financing can be as short as 12 months, or stretched out over five years. For example, a Copper First Family membership only involves a $173 monthly payment over a 60-month period.
Those who are in a position to make one payment of the membership and do not need financing, can enjoy significant savings. For instance, $3,000 is deducted from the cost of Copper First Family membership, bringing it down to a total of $5,500, if paid in one lump sum. Similarly, the highest level, Platinum First Family, can be had at a savings of $80,000 from the financed rate of $275,000, if paid with one payment of $195,000.
The amount paid for a Copper, Bronze or Silver First Family program may be applied directly toward upgrading to a higher level of membership and to the purchase of a homesite within the development in the future.
Silver and Platinum first family memberships may be transferred to one’s heirs to ensure the next generation of a family continues in the firearms tradition. Silver and Platinum members may choose a deserving son or daughter, or grandchild, niece or nephew and begin training the relative at Front Sight immediately. Upon the member’s passing, the Silver or Platinum First Family Program may be granted to an heir.
On July 4, 2000, a special First Family reunion will be held for First Family members and their immediate families. The special celebrations will include a machine gun demonstration by SAR’s technical editor Dan Shea.
If you are not in a position to make a long term commitment to the school, don’t let that bother you. As mentioned, you can take individual courses on a paid tuition basis without making a further commitment. In any event, a must attend course is the free introductory submachine gun class. As a further incentive, a 50% discount off the cost of the first tuition course is offered to those who attend the free sub-gun class.
If you are worried that your current skill level might not be appropriate to attend a course at Front Sight, you needn’t be. Instructors will give you the personal one-on-one attention you need to perfect your accuracy, speed and gun handling. Whether you are new to gun ownership and want to save time and money by learning it right the first time from world recognized experts, or an advanced student reaching for the highest levels of perfection, your skills will be dramatically improved with the first course.
To Dr. Piazza and his staff, -you are the weapon and your firearm is just a tool. Upon graduation, you will fully understand why Front Sight’s motto is: “Any gun will do-if you will do!”
For more information:
Front Sight Firearms
P.O. Box 2619
Aptos, CA 95001
Web site: http://www.frontsight.com
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V3N9 (June 2000)|