News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 25, 2014

The right to carry

Change in Illinois law brings increase in firearms training, interest

TERRE HAUTE — Many residents of Illinois have been waiting a long time to exercise a right that citizens in 49 other states have claimed for years.

As of Jan. 5, Illinois residents could start applying for a license to carry a concealed firearm. The state’s ban on the public possession of concealed guns was the last in the nation. A federal judge ruled last year that the ban was unconstitutional and gave lawmakers a deadline to end it.

While Illinois residents could own firearms and purchase ammunition if they applied for and received a Firearms Owner ID card, they could not carry those firearms anywhere except on their private property or during transport to a firearms shooting range.

Now, Illinois residents who want to carry a concealed firearm will need a license, except for peace officers and eligible retired officers. People who carry firearms without a license can be arrested, and the law does not allow so-called “open carry” under the new law. Handguns must be concealed from public view.

Training required

At the Lost Creek Trading Post in Marshall, Ill., the law change has resulted in increase business and an increase in people wanting to enroll in the mandatory firearms training course that is required before the permit application.

John Van Sandt of Marshall is a certified pistol instructor and has been certified by the ISP to teach concealed carry courses for people who want to defend themselves in life-threatening situations.

“I’ve been interested in guns since I was 7 or 8 years old, since I got my first BB gun,” Van Sandt said recently, talking from behind the counter at Lost Creek Trading Post. After retiring from an engineering career, he started working at the trading post about three years ago. He took training for pistol shooting, then he became a certified instructor and now operates Van Sandt Small Arms Academy.

“I liked to teach people individually at that time,” he said, “but when I found it was likely that concealed carry would come along, it seemed natural to move on to groups”

At the end of last July, Van Sandt applied to the state to be an approved instructor, and by September, he was certified. When the first concealed carry classes began in the fall, his students were able to get a jump on their training so they could apply for the new license when the application process opened this month.

The course requires 16 hours of training. Van Sandt splits that into two eight-hour sessions. The amount of training may seem excessive, Van Sandt said, but it ensures that firearms owners know how to maintain their weapon, learn firearms safety, and practice shooting their guns to become familiar with weapon.

Van Sandt said it is amazing to him how many people own a gun but have never fired the gun or received training on how to use it for personal protection.

Joyce Behnke, co-owner of Lost Creek Training Post with her husband Bill, has done a lot of competitive pistol shooting.

“I think training is an excellent idea,” Behnke said of the Illinois law, “because first of all, you don’t know how to get enjoyment out of a gun if you don’t get training. Illinois law makes you learn to take a gun apart, clean it and put it back together.”

Steady business

Despite the long-time ban on carrying firearms in Illinois, the trading post has had steady business during its nine years.

“We do a lot of service and repairs, and we have a knowledgeable staff,” Behnke said.

Customer Greg Wilson of Paris, Ill., took a concealed carry holster, along with a pistol, to the gun shop last week.

Wilson said he is glad Illinois will finally allow concealed carry. He has a permit to carry from the State of Utah, which is recognized in 39 other states. Some people may have licenses for multiple states, he said, because some states have the reciprocal agreement to recognize permits from other jurisdictions, while other states may not.

“It would be best to have the gun licenses be like automobile licenses,” Bill Behnke said. “If you get licensed to drive in one state, you can drive in all of them. But it’s not like that with state gun laws.”

The state does not allow so-called “open carry” under the new law. Handguns must be concealed from public view. That is why Van Sandt said he requires students to bring a concealed carry holster to his classes, so they can practice getting their gun safely and smoothly from a holster to their hand.

The cost for his class is $125 per 8-hour session.

The cost for a permit is $150 for an Illinois resident and $300 for an out-of-state resident.

Add to that the cost of a firearm and ammunition, a holster and a gun safe, and a person can invest quite a bit into lawfully carrying a firearm.

There is also a charge for the electronic fingerprints that are recommended as part of the application process, and only certain vendors are certified by the state for the electronic fingerprinting.

“It’s an expensive venture to protect your life, but it’s worth it,” Van Sandt said.

Prohibited areas

The law bans concealed carry in places such as schools, child-care facilities, courthouses, public transportation, college and professional sports stadiums and in any establishment where alcohol sales make up more than 50 percent of the business’s receipts.

Owners of private property who want to prohibit the carrying of firearms must clearly and conspicuously post the Illinois State Police approved sign, in compliance with the law, at the entrance of the building, premises or property.

The signs – which measure 4 inches from top to bottom and 6 inches from side to side – depict a handgun in black ink with a red circle and diagonal slash across the firearm.

Since the Illinois legislator approved the concealed carry law in July 2013, the Illinois State Police have been at work to put the application process in place to receive an expected 300,000 to 400,000 permit requests this year.

Only online applications are being accepted through the ISP website at www.isp.state.il.us.

License processing

Through a beta testing process that began Dec. 18, early applications were accepted from select individuals, including firearms instructors. About 7,000 applications were received before Jan. 5, according to ISP, and on Jan. 5, the website received 4,525 concealed carry license applications.

ISP spokesperson Monique Bond told the Tribune-Star recently that more than 25,000 applications have been received through the website so far, and have reached the 30-day period for law enforcement objection and background checks.

She said she expects the first concealed carry cards to be issued in mid-March for the beta testers who applied. Those who applied Jan. 5 will likely get their licenses, if approved, in mid-May, she said.

The online system has had only a handful of glitches so far, Bond said, and those have been resolved.

“It has been a smooth process,” she said.

As of Jan. 13, statistics showed that among the thousands of applications received, about 2,000 came from women applicants. In a county breakdown, the online system had received 61 applications from both Clark and Crawford counties, and 39 applications from Edgar County.

The Illinois State Police has up to 90 days to approve or deny applicants, provided their applications are complete and fingerprints are submitted in an electronic format. If an applicant’s fingerprints aren’t submitted, the state police will have an additional 30 days to complete a manual background check. Law enforcement agencies also have 30 days from when an application is submitted to object to a license being issued.

Marshall Police Chief Richard L. Shutter said he is glad that the state is handling the application process.

“For what it’s worth, I think it’s a good thing,” he said of the new law. “I’m sorry Illinois had to be the last state to enact it, but somebody has to be the last.”

More information about the concealed carry law – as well as a list of approved firearms instructors and courses, and locations to receive electronic fingerprints – is available on the Illinois State Police website at www.isp.state.il.us/.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa

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