Training Major Part Of Concealed Carry
By Peter Gray
Illinois lawmakers approved a measure to legalize and regulate the carrying of concealed handguns. Groups on both sides of the debate say hands-on training is an important part of the bill.
Most days, Ron Darnall hosts sportsmen at his gun range west of Bloomington. Teams blast clay disks out of the sky or pop holes through paper targets for points:
“We have quite a club here,” Darnall said. “We do retail sales, both in firearms and ammunition, and a lot of repairs."
During a recent visit, Darnall closed the gun range early because a group of uniformed officers booked the range for the rest of the day. They are armed guards hired by the government to protect U.S. courthouses and other federal buildings.
Their target practice is for public safety, not for sport. They regularly prove their skill and reaction time with service pistols, just as police officers do.
Ron Darnall said many people he sells guns to have a lot to learn about their care and the law. He said they would benefit from the training and testing law enforcement have to undergo.
“We're seeing an awful lot of new shooters in the game, and they really need some instructions, some training and some legal aspects covered,” Darnall said. “So when they do have to make a decision - which is a big one - to use a firearm for protection, they'll know the laws and what they'll be involved in after the altercation happens."
Legalizing concealed carry in Illinois will likely mean a flood of new customers for range owners like Darnall.
That is because lawmakers wrote 8 hours of mandatory training into the legislation, a number that later doubled as House Speaker Michael Madigan threw his political weight behind it. Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, called 16 hours rather than 8 hours “a common sense approach”:
"We looked at all the states and I think this number will be the largest amount of training in the nation,” Brown said. “A police officer goes through at least 40 hours of firearms training. Some people thought that would be a good number, but then thought, well that may be an unrealistic goal to try and achieve. Clearly the more training a person has with something as dangerous as a loaded firearm makes sense for the whole population."
In addition to the initial 16 hours of training, gun owners wanting to renew a permit after five years will have to return to the range for a refresher course.
When it comes to hours, Illinois went above and beyond standards set by other states.
But lawmakers chose to ignore something else other states do - make shooters test, or “qualify,” with the same gun they plan to carry in public.
Greg Sullivan, the head of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, said that would have made sense for Illinois:
“If you're going to carry a weapon, and ever have to use it, you want something you're familiar with, that you've qualified with,” Sullivan said.
The Illinois Sheriffs’ Association is the first law enforcement group in the state to back concealed carry.
Some of the sheriffs Sullivan has heard from wanted the full 40 hours of police-style training for new permit holders. But he said the general public doesn’t need tactical training police receive.
For Sullivan, ensuring that people carrying in public are doing so safely is less about quantity of time, and more about the quality of the instructor administering the test.
"I don't think any firearm instructor in his right mind is going to give anyone a certificate who they don't think can handle a weapon safely,” Sullivan said. “You can flunk this course… yes. I think these instructors will be very cognizant of the fact that they want people out there that are carrying safely, responsibly, and if that's not the case, they're not going to pass them."
Back at Darnall's Gun Range near Bloomington, armed security officer Frank Whitmore guards a federal building in the Quad Cities. He recently got a side job.
“About a year ago I became a NRA basic pistol instructor,” Whitmore said. “A lot of guys are doing this now.”
It is people like Whitmore who the state is counting on to take on the likely flood of concealed-carry applicants.
People who are already qualified to carry a gun while on duty in public, and certified to teach others how to carry, clean and store a weapon.
Whitmore said a big part of training is getting misinformation out of people’s heads.
“A lot of people who don't know about guns don't know how to handle them safely don't know what they can and can't do,” Whitmore said. “Unfortunately, so much of what we learn today comes from television.”
People on both sides of the debate over guns in Illinois agree that hands-on,
“live fire” training is important for those who plan to carry a loaded weapon in public.
Those seeking a permit will first have to find a state certified instructor.
The Illinois State Police is responsible for finding, screening and certifying trainers within six months of concealed carry becoming law.
State Police, with an understaffed office, is already struggling to process record numbers of firearm owner ID card applications. The agency has asked for additional money to fund the rollout of concealed carry.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s office says he’s now “carefully reviewing” the measure.