MORRIS – Now that the concealed-carry law has passed in Illinois, Devon McKeown may quit his day job.
The certified National Rifle Association instructor, Iraq war veteran and recently certified Illinois concealed-carry instructor wants to turn his passion for firearms into a prospering business by teaching concealed-carry courses.
“I want to teach these classes to ensure that people understand how serious it is to carry a firearm,” McKeown said. “I’m hoping to develop this into a full-time business, especially if the concealed-carry demand is worth it.”
The Concealed Carry Act became state law in July, allowing those with the proper license to carry a concealed handgun on their person. While firearm owners can receive the training needed to obtain a concealed-carry license, they cannot apply for them until January, when the law goes into effect.
Three months ago, concealed-carry instructor applications were made available. Currently, 1,822 instructors are certified and teaching classes throughout the state – a figure that is increasing every week.
In Grundy County, there are six instructors registered with the state, including McKeown, who is based in Diamond.
The boom in instructor certification is because of the high demand expected come January, when firearm owners can apply for their concealed-carry licenses.
According to the Illinois State Police, there were more than 1.4 million Firearm Owner Identification, or FOID, cardholders in Illinois as of January 2013. FOID cards allow someone to own a firearm, but does not give them the authority to carry it.
“That number is probably a lot higher now,” Illinois State Police Spokeswoman Monique Bond said. “We’ll see how many of those [cardholders] actually apply for a concealed-carry permit in January.”
Becoming an instructor requires taking a fingerprint-based background check and having a pre-existing, valid firearm instructor certification from the NRA, a law enforcement agency or another pre-approved entity.
Each instructor must provide students with 16 hours of training, but instructors are free to design course curriculums, set course fees and determine class sizes at their own discretion.
“The state is giving instructors a lot of leeway to run a class how they deem fit,” said Brian McNichols, a concealed-carry instructor based in Minooka.
State police already have approved hundreds of curriculums. Each curriculum must meet a checklist indicating how many hours should be spent on each subject.
Topics covered include basic gun care and safety, understanding firearm and concealed-carry laws and marksmenship practice at a gun range.
Despite the checklist, classes and course policies vary based on the instructor.
“My classes, I keep down to about 10 to 15 people,” McNichols said. “I’ve heard of some places running classes as large as 100 people. To me, that seems ridiculous. Those instructors are just out for the money.”
Course fees can range anywhere from $150 to $300 and many instructors already are registering their training ventures as businesses. Doug Martin of Minooka registered Guardian Training LLC before teaching his first class.
“If you don’t form a limited liability entity then you’re potentially putting all of your personal assets on the line,” Martin said.
Classes typically are broken up into two, eight-hour sessions with the second day focusing on live target practice at a gun range. Those with previous firearm training, including military veterans, only need eight hours of training. Those who have completed various hunter safety courses only need 12 hours.
“As much as it covers the basics, once you get to the range, it doesn’t involve a tremendous amount of shooting,” McNichols said of the course requirements. “To pick up a gun, shoot it for the first time and expect yourself to qualify for a concealed carry permit would, I think, be very difficult to do.”
McNichols said he has turned away students who had never fired a gun, advising them to get more practice before attending his class.
McKeown said 16 hours of training is enough to prepare someone to carry a weapon, but only if they are receptive, attentive and ready to learn.
“I designed this class to teach everyone, including first-time gun owners,” McKeown said. “But I don’t mind failing somebody. This is a serious thing so I’d rather fail people than give somebody a certificate that isn’t ready for it.”
Aside from providing a curriculum checklist and approving an instructor, the state police have no regulatory system in place to ensure a student is properly trained – that burden is entirely on the instructor.
“This is the first time we are implementing this program,” Bond said. “We’ll get a better idea within the next three months.”
Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan said he thinks the new law will have little effect on the operations of local police officers but hopes that those carrying weapons will be well-trained.
“Police are trained to expect danger. Bad guys are going to have guns and we’re not always going to know about it,” Callahan said. “But I would hope [those carrying a firearm legally] are proficient with their firearm and have spent more than just a few hours on the range.”