Buffalo Range Shooting Park safety officer Andrea Dudek simulates a concealed carry training exercise with Peru police officer and Buffalo Range chief instructor Jeremiah Brown. “I definitely believe in the right to bear arms and I feel more confident walking down the street with a gun,” Dudek said. “I have three different guns I can carry, depending on what I wear.” Area ranges initially saw heavy demand for training classes when concealed carry was passed two years ago, but traffic has dropped off considerably.
Two years ago Illinois became the last state in the union to allow citizens to carry a concealed firearm.
Was the anticipated boon for the state a misfire?
“It hasn’t been the numbers the state was anticipating,” said Jay Irizarry, a firearms instructor in Bureau County. “As a matter of fact, Cook County outside of Chicago had the lowest per capita number of permits.”
La Salle, Bureau, and Putnam County residents haven’t been rushing to get their licenses, either.
“Everyone who wanted one already got it,” said John Atkins, an instructor at Down Range Tactical in Spring Valley. When the law first passed, he said they were giving six courses a week. “Now we can barely fill classes.”
According to the state police, La Salle County residents had been issued a total of 1,560 concealed carry licenses as of September. Bureau only had 388 and Putnam 109.
Area firearm instructors, however, have been able to benefit from the law. The law requires that each concealed carry applicant complete a concealed carry course. Applicants with previous military or law enforcement experience need an eight-hour course, while those with no experience need a 16-hour course.
“We noted a decline earlier this year, but it’s picking up again,” said Jeremiah Brown, chief instructor at Final Defense at Buffalo Range Shooting Park in Ottawa.
“A lot of people come in because they see what’s going on and they want to defend themselves,” Brown said. “It’s a sense of security. They see what’s happening on the news. It’s not in their backyard, but it is still occurring.”
“We have an unusually high percentage of students that do it just because they can. They get it but they don’t intend to ever carry,” said Irizarry.
Brown said his courses place a heavy emphasis on the responsibilities of carrying a concealed firearm.
“You have to dress differently, carry yourself differently,” he said. “Your responsibility is to protect your family and others.”
But with 3,000 licensed instructors in the state, he says, there are 3,000 different ways to teach the information required.
“We can excuse people from the class,” Atkins said, especially if they don’t have the right mentality.
He thinks the 16 hours is a proper amount of classroom time, but cautions that, as with anything else, it’s not a one-time thing.
“If you don’t practice, you’ll lose your skill,” he said.
The apathy shouldn’t be surprising. Despite passing the law, Illinois has one the strictest policies in the country.
The cost for the license is $150, not including the courses.
Brown at Final Defense said about 85 percent of their business is not from locals, but from people coming from the Chicago area. He said instructors up there could charge as much as $300 for the concealed carry classes, while Final Defense is about half that for a full 16 hour course.
The application process can be difficult as well.
An applicant for a concealed carry license must first have a firearm owner identification card from the state before they can apply for a concealed carry license.
During the application process, any law enforcement agency can file an objection. Fourteen such objections have been filed by policing bodies in La Salle County.
For some, it might be too much hassle for too little in return.
“You can’t carry it anywhere anyways,” Atkins said.
Even with a license, carrying a concealed weapon is banned in schools, libraries, public transportation, state property, public gatherings, bars, and nearly a dozen other designated areas.
Public not already off-limits can print and post state-designated signage to prohibit guns as well.
Those signs were not well-received in rural areas.
“Out here (stores) that posted ‘No Guns’ get tons and tons of calls. They had to take the signs down,” Irizarry said.
Law enforcement doesn’t object
One group that hasn’t seen problems with the concealed carry laws is law enforcement.
Earlville police chief Joe Plumlee said it hasn’t changed how law enforcement responds to a situation.
“Any officer, when approaching a situation, should know there could be a weapon involved,” he said. “I think out here guns have always been pretty common.
Taking them away from the good people isn’t the answer. I really do believe the bad guys are going to get them.”