Security at Front Sight

Posted: Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Reaching the vast majority of the gun-owning population that does not know how to use them is one of the missions of Front Sight, and gun safety is the paramount goal of instructors at the new resort in Nikiski.

Opened in July, the regional Front Sight facility is a seasonal arm of the Las Vegas base, where training is offered in defensive handgun, tactical shotgun, practical rifle and Uzi submachine gun handling.

Because desert temperatures prohibit weapons training in July and August in Nevada, the company, founded by former chiropractor Ignatius Piazza, decided to build a resort in Alaska, and chose the 160-acre Nikiski site to take advantage of cool summer temperatures and the proximity to hunting and fishing opportunities.

The resort is near the end of Sunset Avenue, about two miles northeast of Nikiski Fire Station No. 2.

Front Sight is open to resort members, who pay between $5,000 and $400,000 for a family membership with benefits ranging from handgun, rifle and shotgun training for the lower-level "Iron" membership to a full regimen of training, ammunition and equipment discounts and a one-acre homesite in Nevada for the "Platinum" members.

In addition to weapons training, members are offered guided fishing and hunting excursions, planned hiking and camping outings and training in rope, rappel and climbing, the use of edged weapons, empty-hand defense and children and youth safety.


Front Sight Operations Manager Brad Ackman stands in front of the resort's log building classroom in Nikiski.

Photo by Phil Hermanek

Front Sight targets what it calls the "unconsciously incompetent" weapon owners, according to Nikiski facility manager Brad Ackman.

"The UI is incompetent but does not know that he or she is incompetent because he has had no training or poor training," Ackman said.

A second part of Front Sight's mission is to improve the image of gun ownership and to protect people's Second Amendment rights to bear arms.

"We encourage everyone to be members of (the National Rifle Association), but their plan is defensive," Ackman said.

"We need a more proactive stance on bolstering people's Second Amendment rights."

The third element of Front Sight's mission is to provide members with world-class outdoor activities, including hunting and fishing.

With that in mind, the Nikiski facility was opened, the first of several regional sites planned for population centers in the Southeast and Northeast areas of the United States.

At first, the Nikiski resort will offer weapons training in July and August only, cease training this year after Sept. 10. Eventually the company may operate the Nikiski facility from May through October, according to Ackman.

Front Sight Alaska was not welcomed by all in Nikiski with open arms, however.

One woman, who lives a few hundred yards from the edge of the Front Sight property, has voiced opposition to the operation through a letter to the editor of the Peninsula Clarion.

"They're shooting all day and all night," said Laura Faeo, who lives on Chickadee Avenue, one of the streets that abuts the Front Sight property.

"From my house it's really loud, even with the doors and windows shut," she said.

Faeo said she has expressed her complaints to Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member Gary Superman and to Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, but was told by Superman that because there is no zoning restriction in Nikiski, Front Sight is doing nothing illegal.

Chenault told Faeo the matter was a borough issue, not a state issue, she said.

Another Chickadee Avenue resident, Cindy Felton, said when the shooting begins, neighborhood dogs start barking.

"It sounds like loud shotgun blasts or high-powered rifle fire. I can hear it with the doors and windows open or closed," she said.

During a defensive handgun class at Front Sight on Saturday, two students were asked to shoot at targets on the practice range about 200 yards from Ackman's house, also on the property.

With the front door closed, no gunfire could be heard. When Ackman radioed the students and asked them to begin shooting, they replied that they already had shot.

Ackman then opened the front door to his house and had the students fire again. Now, the shots could be heard, pinging off metal silhouette targets.

Though Front Sight is a private establishment, people need not become members to receive weapons training there. But classes are not cheap. Firearms training costs $300 per day, and classes are either two or four days in length.

Currently training is done on one 140-yard long range protected by earthen barriers with a gravel berm at the end, covered with wood chips to absorb sound; and a simulator built on a site originally cleared as a homesite.

A simulator is a type of gun range on which steel, human silhouette targets are placed in a setting replicating a real-life situation in which someone might be confronted by armed assailants.

"We will have a total of six structured square ranges and simulators with individual scenarios such as home, ATV, vehicles, etc.," Ackman said.

Before live fire training begins, students meet in a 6,000 square-foot classroom building for instruction on firearms and gun range safety.

Students learn to treat every weapon as if it were loaded; never let the gun muzzle cover anything they are not willing to destroy; keep fingers off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot; and be certain of the target and what's in line with it, both in front of and beyond it.

The next session involves range safety rules in which students constantly are reminded to keep weapons in their holsters except during live fire exercises.

Weapon familiarization comes next with students learning to safely load and unload, checking to see if a round is in the weapon's chamber and checking to be sure the weapon's magazine is fully loaded before beginning an exercise.

Shooting begins with controlled pairs, meaning students, being asked to carefully place two rounds into the chest area of the silhouette target, adhering to the Front Sight philosophy that, "The standard response with a handgun is two shots delivered as quickly as possible."

Front Sight does not agree with gun magazine boasts that large-caliber guns can stop an advancing assailant with one shot.

Training does include shooting at the head portion of a target, but only based on the the belief that if the two shots to the center of the would-be assailant do not eliminate the threat, one round to the brain vault will.

Throughout the training, students are coached to take "after-action" measures, moving them out of the path of an assailant's bullet or weapon, checking to see if other assailants might be present, and ensuring that the threat from the advancing assailant has been removed.

Training is done by highly trained firearms instructors such as Ackman, who is one of only 30 handgun combat masters in the country.

Front Sight employs a total of 25 full-time instructors and 140 part-time instructors at its Alaska and Nevada facilities.

Ackman, who has a graduate degree in geology, worked as a hydrologist for Ecology and Environment in Anchorage for seven years before joining Front Sight and is a rappel master and designs all the weapons training curricula for the company. He also is a certified emergency medical technician.

During the summer, he lives at Front Sight Alaska with his wife and 13-year-old daughter.

He said the business eventually hopes to have six straight gun ranges with shade structures and restroom facilities, a day-use lodge with a pro shop and an instructors' dormitory.

Ackman said all the building done in Nikiski is being done with professional surveyors and engineers from Soldotna, local labor and materials purchased in the Nikiski area.

Front Sight students stay in lodges and hotels in the community and dine off-sight at area restaurants.

Ackman said Front Sight has a large investment in the Nikiski community, giving the company the incentive to be a good neighbor.

When asked about a report from Faeo that one of her neighbors was treated rudely and thrown off the property, Ackman said, "That's total fiction."

Front Sight's property has numerous "No trespassing" signs posted at its road entrances, but Ackman said the purpose is to stop trespassers from possibly getting hurt by inadvertently wandering onto a live-fire range.

He said after gun classes end for the summer, a security guard and caretaker will manage the property through the winter until next summer when training will resume.

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