Posted: Jan. 18, 2014 4:46 pm Updated: Feb. 2, 2014 12:15 am
By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Looking into the faces of people taking concealed-carry classes, instructors answer questions, crack an occasional joke, and deal with the serious subject of when deadly force is justified.
"We tell them about protection of life, defense of life and explain what happens afterwards," said James Bland, an instructor with Western Illinois Shooting Excellence Firearm Training.
Bland is a retired Chicago police officer who was directly involved in three shootings while on the force. He also was shot at in other cases where he did not return fire.
"It does change your life," Bland said of the shooting incidents.
Fellow WISE instructor Mike Schuttler nods his head. Schuttler was a military police officer who was involved in two shootings in a foreign country. Although both were ruled "good" shootings, Schuttler said people who carry a concealed weapon need to know what happens when that weapon is used.
WISE Firearm Training is one of several instruction groups that has offered concealed-carry certification classes in the wake of the new Illinois concealed-carry law.
Jon Capp of Hannibal has operated Northeast Missouri Firearm Training for several years and now operates Western Illinois Firearm Training, as well.
"I'm the only one from Missouri (in this area) who has been approved as an Illinois instructor," he said.
Capp said his courses offer something special because he can tell class members about Missouri law as well as the Illinois law that's required in classes.
"I think that's real important because so many people are going to St. Louis for shopping" or ballgames, Capp said.
Matt Courtney with Great River Firearms Training is a former Marine Corps range instructor who works in tandem with Phillip Alexander and Bob McClintock leading local classes.
"We're busy," Courtney said. "We've been holding a class roughly every three weeks. The weather is the only thing that keeps us from holding a class every week."
Class members are a varied lot.
Courtney said an all-woman class was held recently. About 20 class members "had a ball" and shot very well at a shooting range. Some of the graduates already are talking about coming back for more range time.
"That's important. You've got to go to the range and stay proficient with the firearm -- and the law," Courtney said.
Larry Moller, who retired from the Quincy Inspection Department several years ago, took the course and "enjoyed it immensely." He could have skipped part of the hands-on training because of his familiarity with firearms from his time in the National Guard, serving in Vietnam, but Moller wants to become better acquainted with handguns.
"I think everybody ought to take it. It's an eye-opener, whether you're going to carry or not," he said.
One thing that interested Moller was hearing from Bland and his perspective as a former police officer. Class members were asked about their feelings of apprehension when their vehicle is stopped by an officer on patrol.
"He told that you don't know what that officer's been told. Maybe you (and your car fit) the description of someone who robbed a bank," Moller said.
Quincy businesswoman Theresa Spear was apprehensive when she took the class because her husband, Jeff, was busy that weekend and she was there on her own.
"I hadn't shot firearms before and ... was at a table with people who were very seasoned firearms handlers," Spear said.
Those concerns eased a great deal when she began shooting at the range and learned that little instructions about holding her breath and squeezing the trigger helped her hit the target. She said the instructors helped her enjoy the experience.
"It didn't leave me feeling proficient because it was only the beginning," she said. "What it did was give me the confidence in need. I want to go shoot and become more acquainted with firearms."
According to the Illinois State Police, about 23,000 people applied for concealed-carry permits between Jan. 5 and Jan. 13. Cook County accounted for more than 5,300 applications. Numerically, that was by far the most application requests in any of Illinois' 102 counties, but on a per-capita basis, Cook County ranks last.
An analysis by the Chicago Sun-Times shows that Cumberland County in east-central Illinois had the state's highest per-capita application rate. Fifty-six people there have applied for permits out of about 11,000 residents.
Adams County had 189 applicants during the first eight days of concealed-carry sign-ups. Brown, Hancock and Pike counties reported 17, 25 and 26 applications, respectively.
Jason Klinner, an instructor with WISE Firearm Training, said the 16 hours of training required for Illinois concealed-carry applicants include instruction in the state's laws. Class members learn about storage and transport rules, federal laws, interaction with officers, and the justified use of force.
From a legal standpoint, the justified use of force is important. People carrying a concealed weapon can be charged with unlawful use of a weapon, or even assault, if they pull the weapon from its holster when it is not necessary. Weapons are to be drawn only when someone is fending off an attack or trying to give an attacker one last chance to stop.
"You become the offender if you pull your gun without cause," Bland said.
Klinner and his fellow instructors often mention the George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 to promote discussion in classes and drive home the point that people carrying firearms face close scrutiny of everything they do. They talk about criminal cases that might be filed against shooters and the civil lawsuits that can be brought even if a shooter is found not guilty in a criminal case.
Range training calls for each class member to fire at least 10 shots at three distances -- five, seven and 10 yards. But many of the training programs go well beyond the minimum 30 shots.
There's a lot of talk about safety. Instructors know some of their students haven't been around guns and need to understand that every gun must be treated as though it is loaded and ready to fire.
Quincy veterinarian Bob Reich recently completed his Illinois concealed-carry training. Reich started shooting handguns when he was in his early 20s, and he has concealed-carry permits under Florida and Utah training programs. Even after he gets his Illinois permit, Reich doesn't know how often he'll carry a firearm.
"If I'm coming down here (to the veterinary office) at 2 a.m. and have the doors open for an emergency ... that can be scary," he said, so a handgun in those situations would help him feel safer.
After a short pause, Reich said there's a lot of responsibility for people carrying weapons. He hopes he never has to find out whether he could take someone else's life with a gun.
PERMIT APPLICATIONS: COUNTY BY COUNTYA county-by-county list of concealed-carry permit applications made to Illinois State Police from Jan. 5, the day applications began being accepted, through Jan. 13:
Adams 143 Alexander 14 Bond 72 Boone 96 Brown 17 Bureau 88 Calhoun 17 Carroll 39 Cass 32 Champaign 305 Christian 129 Clark 61 Clay 48 Clinton 58 Coles 144 Cook 5,305 Crawford 61 Cumberland 56 DeKalb 189 DeWitt 55 Douglas 73 DuPage 1,589 Edgar 39 Edwards 26 Effingham 94 Fayette 77 Ford 43 Franklin 122 Fulton 101 Gallatin 10 Greene 21 Grundy 179 Hamilton 23 Hancock 25 Hardin 8 Henderson 17 Henry 91 Iroquois 66 Jackson 122 Jasper 36 Jefferson 117 Jersey 52 Jo Daviess 35 Johnson 50 Kane 761 Kankakee 243 Kendall 264 Knox 104 LaSalle 254 Lake 1,164 Lawrence 54 Lee 79 Livingston 77 Logan 84 Macon 432 Macoupin 147 Madison 748 Marion 110 Marshall 36 Mason 31 Massac 41 McDonough 86 McHenry 822 McLean 325 Menard 51 Mercer 45 Monroe 82 Montgomery 97 Morgan 79 Moultrie 48 Ogle 145 Peoria 502 Perry 69 Piatt 74 Pike 26 Pope 16 Pulaski 26 Putnam 21 Randolph 81 Richland 68 Rock Island 207 Saline 56 Sangamon 569 Schuyler 17 Scott 9 Shelby 73 St. Clair 553 Stark 17 Stephenson 87 Tazewell 534 Union 75 Vermilion 173 Wabash 52 Warren 34 Washington 31 Wayne 53 White 70 Whiteside 80 Will 1,759 Williamson 247 Winnebago 597 Woodford 154 Source:
Illinois State Police