About 40,000 residents, just under 1,400 of them in McHenry County, have received the Illinois State Police permit to carry concealed weapons.
Four months into Illinois joining the other 49 states that allow some form of concealed carry to varying degrees, local instructors who are certified to teach the course see it as a business with years of growth potential.
Instructor Susan Parker said there was a big rush in January as the State Police started accepting applications, and she’s seeing another one as the brutally cold winter has ended. Many instructors began offering the course last fall after the State Police began giving credentials to instructors. Just under 2,900 instructors are now licensed, with 72 registered in McHenry County.
“It’s been steady since then,” Parker said. “It’s almost like, since the weather has broken, people are all, ‘OK, I want to get [concealed carry] and I want to book you now.’ ”
Illinois was the last state in the union to allow citizens some form of carrying handguns for personal protection in public. State lawmakers in the last days of the spring legislative session in May 2013 hashed out a bill legalizing concealed carry to comply with a 2012 federal court ruling that struck down Illinois’ total ban.
Illinois’ concealed-carry law is among the most stringent in the nation. Applicants must take a 16-hour course, which is the longest of any state but can be shortened depending on level of training – for example, the course is only eight hours for honorably discharged members of the Armed Forces. Upon completion of the class, applicants who want the license must pay a $150 fee for a permit good for five years.
The State Police last year predicted it could end up processing up to 400,000 applications in 2014. While it was able to provide the number of current active licenses at the county and state levels, it never returned phone calls as to how many applications are pending or how many have been objected to by local law enforcement.
State law allows local police to object to granting a license to someone they have credible reason to believe may hurt themselves or others.
Mickey Schuch, president of the McHenry County Right to Carry Association and a certified instructor, said the concealed-carry numbers he’s seen are consistent with other semi-urbanized counties. He could instruct more people than he does, but he said he is busy with his family construction business and is picky about whom he teaches.
Schuch said he anticipates some of the excitement for gun owners who finally have concealed carry is going to wear off. Some will put off going through the course, he said, while others will take the course and get the license but not carry.
“With most people, it ends up that one in 10 end up being the true believers who want to go through their day armed,” Schuch said.
Yet others don’t want to carry because they believe Illinois’ law, which contains a long list of restrictions, is too onerous.
Attorney Jim Bishop, a longtime gun owner who co-founded the county’s chapter of the pro-hunting conservation group Ducks Unlimited in 1976, said the state’s concealed-carry law is too burdensome to be worth it.
Among the places where concealed carry is banned are mass transit, schools and college campuses, government buildings and courthouses, parks, stadiums, hospitals, street festivals, and bars and restaurants where alcohol makes up more than half of total sales. Businesses have the right to forbid concealed weapons from their premises if they post a state-designed sign banning them.
“In Illinois, it’s so restrictive as to where you can and can’t take it,” Bishop said. “I want to wait, and there’s a fair amount of talk in Springfield that the bill will be amended to be comparable to other states. Illinois is so far behind in this subject, it’s unbelievable.”
But advancing gun rights legislation, and gun control legislation for that matter, is a dicey proposition in Springfield because of the state’s ideological divide over gun rights.
Lawmakers in Democrat-dominated Chicago advocate strict gun control. Downstate lawmakers, Democrat and Republican alike, support gun rights, and the suburbs are mixed, which means laws that tilt too heavily one way or the other usually do not have the votes to pass.
A number of bills have been filed since the start of spring session in January to change the concealed-carry law along those ideological lines, but odds are few or none of them will move forward.
Parker, who runs her own one-woman firearm training business, Artemis Protection Training, predicts that will change as Illinois becomes more accustomed to the new law.
“I think [concealed carry] will only increase, especially as Illinois gets more comfortable with concealed carry. The sky is not going to fall because the citizens are carrying guns. They do that in 49 other states,” Parker said.
The right to carry handguns in public varies by state. Some states, such as New York, Hawaii and New Jersey have concealed-carry provisions, but the laws are so strict that it is almost impossible for an ordinary citizen to get permission. California is one such state, and is fighting a recent federal court ruling striking down its restrictions as too strict. In other states, such as conservative Alaska and liberal Vermont, citizens do not require permits to carry a weapon, and can do so openly.
On the Web
You can learn more about the Illinois concealed0carry law and find a list of certified instructors on the Illinois State Police concealed-carry website at ccl4illinois.com.