SPRINGFIELD -- The growing possibility that Illinois will enact a concealed-carry law has certified firearms instructors like Greg Powell busier than usual.
He taught two classes in Decatur on Saturday. Ninety-five people attended his morning class and 80 people were registered for his afternoon class.
"Usually our classes run 20 to 30 people," Powell said before Saturday's events.
Powell, of Marion, and his wife Patricia Snyder are National Rifle Association-certified instructors and Utah and Florida concealed-carry certified instructors. They offer courses in Illinois because Utah and Florida non-resident permits are valid in more than 30 states. A Utah or Florida permit allows an Illinois resident to legally carry a concealed weapon while traveling, even though he or she can't do so in Illinois.
Depending on how recently proposed legislation in Springfield pans out, Utah or Florida permits might allow Illinoisans to carry handguns for the first six months after an Illinois law takes effect — if one does.
"People can still get some initial training and be a step ahead," Powell said.
However, people with out-of-state permits eventually still would have to go through the Illinois concealed-carry process, under the legislation.
For Powell's class, Utah's non-resident permits cost $51 each. Illinois' permit fee would be $25 under House Bill 997, which was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg.
No longer a hobby
Most firearm-safety and concealed-carry classes cover similar topics, emphasizing safety, Powell said. Students learn about firearm safety inside and outside the home, places where they can and cannot carry weapons, and what happens if they shoot someone. Powell also teaches students how to conceal a weapon and how to avoid confrontation.
Another instructor, Casey Fuller, who teaches courses at Illinois community colleges and Gander Mountain stores, said he tells students to treat every weapon as if it were loaded and to never get too confident around a firearm.
"It no longer becomes a hobby when you have it on your side to protect yourself and your family," he said. "Therefore, it's something you need to take very seriously. Now it becomes a responsibility for you to learn how to use that firearm."
Fuller, who started his own business, Elmhurst-based Firearm Safety Group, in 2010, has more than 25 years of firearm-safety experience.
He said he also emphasizes to students that classes should be treated as introductory and that people should take it upon themselves to practice more. People should also join the class for the right reasons, he said.
"If people are getting into concealed-carry to make a political statement, or if people are getting into it just because they can, then they're doing it, in my opinion, for the wrong reasons," he said.
Page 2 of 3 - 'Mentally prepared'
Under Phelps' proposal, Illinois residents would have to undergo a "live fire exercise" — something Utah, Florida and a handful of other states do not require. Phelps said the requirement boil down to one thing: hands-on experience.
"If they're going to get this permit, we want them to know how to use (firearms)," Phelps said Wednesday.
The student would have to fire 20 rounds from a distance of 21 feet and 10 rounds from 45 feet at a silhouette target under the instructor's supervision. A student would fail if he or she fails to hit the silhouette target with 70 percent of the 30 rounds.
"It's a man-size target. It's a pretty big target," Powell said.
While the live firing requirement is a good idea, the exercise alone is not enough to prepare someone for real situations, Fuller said.
"What I mean by 'mentally prepared' is, 'Are they mentally ready to possibly end somebody else's life?' Ultimately, you have to think about that," he said. "Under a conceal-and-carry environment, you're under tremendous amounts of pressure. Your anxiety levels (aren't the same) as you just standing at a target."
A national gun debate was reignited in December after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings left 20 children and six adults dead. Just days before, a federal appeals court ruled Illinois' concealed-carry ban unconstitutional and gave lawmakers 180 days to enact a law permitting concealed weapons.
Gun-rights supporters think the ruling will stand even though Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is appealing it.
Lauren Leone-Cross is a Statehouse reporter for GateHouse News Service. She can be reached at (217) 782-6292.
Details of concealed-carry legislation
State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who has pushed for years for Illinois to allow qualified people to carry concealed firearms, already has introduced a concealed-carry bill — House Bill 997 — in the new session of the Illinois General Assembly.
While final provisions of any Illinois law remain to be determined, Phelps said he's confident the idea will become legalized because gun-rights supporters now have a federal appellate court ruling on their side.
Under Phelps' bill, a permit-holder could carry a gun, loaded or unloaded, openly or concealed on their person or in a vehicle. However, weapons would not be allowed in schools, college campuses, state and federal buildings, sporting events, residential mental health facilities, and police stations.
Business owners also would have discretion over whether to allow guns in their establishments. The proposal allows concealed-carry on school property with consent of school authorities.
Concealed-carry applicants would have to be 21 years old and have valid Firearm Owners Identification Cards. However, a person could take training courses while his or her FOID application was being processed.
Page 3 of 3 - Illinois residents who already have out-of-state permits would be allowed to carry handguns in Illinois for 6 months following the effective date of the law. After that, they would have to go through the process all over again to obtain their Illinois permits and to keep their out-of-state permits.
Illinois State Police would be required to issue a permit within 30 days of receiving an application. Licenses would have to be renewed every five years. The initial (and renewal) fees would be $25.
Each applicant would be required to undergo a four-hour concealed-carry and firearm safety course, including a live-fire exercise. The student would have to fire 20 rounds from a distance of 21 feet and 10 rounds from 45 feet at a silhouette target.
Law enforcement officials would have access to a state police database of all applicants and permit-holders.
Phelps' proposal would apply to the entire state, preempting Chicago's home rule authority. Home rule units would not be able to regulate how many handguns are issued to one individual or require people to register the handguns they own.