BELMONT-CRAGIN — A legal change that will allow Illinois citizens to carry concealed weapons in public next year is resulting in increased enrollment in gun classes in the city, some instructors say.
Andre Queen, owner of Fidelity Investigative Training at 4424 W. Belmont Ave., said hundreds of people — including doctors, lawyers, nurses and small business owners — have already gone through his 16-hour concealed-carry course.
"I think it's part of the solution to providing a safer society by allowing people to protect themselves as they go about their daily lives," said Queen.
Illinois residents wanting a concealed-carry permit must complete 16 hours of firearms training.
As of Tuesday, more than 1,349 instructors have been approved by the state to teach concealed-carry classes, according to the Illinois State Police. Some 248, or nearly one-fifth, of the instructors are located in Cook County.
Queen, 47, said that "a significant portion" of his students have already been victims of violent crime, while others "watch news and see their neighborhoods change — from being relatively safe into places where danger is increasing."
This summer, Illinois became the 50th state to allow citizens who are already authorized to own guns to carry concealed weapons in public. On Jan. 5, the state will begin taking applications for concealed-carry permits, which cost $150.
In September, the Illinois State Police, which oversees the license applications for firearm owner's ID cards, began approving concealed-carry instructors such as Queen, who launched his concealed-carry classes Oct. 1.
State police require concealed-carry instructors to either be a certified instructor by a policing agency or a graduate of National Rifle Association training.
Students who don't have any firearm training are required to take a 16-hour concealed-carry course, while those who've had previous training or are military veterans can get eight hours credit.
The classes use a state-approved curriculum to teach students the state's "use of force" laws, what kind of holster they should select, what type of handguns should be used, what to do if they have to draw a firearm, and what to expect police response to be when they arrive, Queen said.
Queen, who is certified by the NRA to teach students how to use guns, said he recommended a "small semiautomatic" or "hammer-less revolver," which is a revolver that doesn't have the cocking mechanism that can get "snagged in purses."
Anyone wishing to take the concealed-carry classes must already have an Illinois FOID card.
At the end of Queen's classes, which range in cost between $150 and $249, students spend an average of 90 minutes shooting guns at a Des Plaines shooting range. However, the training time "depends on the individual student," Queen said.
"If we see a student with challenges or issues handling a gun, we will spend more time with them," Queen said.
Don Haworth, owner of Chicagoland Firearm Training, is offering his first concealed-carry class from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 4425 W. Irving Park Road.
Haworth, who was teaching out of a storefront at 1903 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Bucktown until relocating to Old Irving Park last month, said there are 15 people registered so far for the class, which costs $200.
Haworth, who has estimated he's taught 4,000 people to use firearms since 2007, described the upcoming's weekend's pupils as "grandmothers, professionals, former students."
Queen believes concealed carry will "cause violent crime to drop because in crimes where attacker and victim don't know each other, the criminal has to worry if whether or not the person they are attacking is armed or not."
Paula Brandish, a Calumet City-based veterinarian who organized a Conceal and Carry rally in Logan Square in 2012, is happy citizens will now be able to carry guns in public.
"This has been a fight we've been fighting for a long time. It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or Democratic, I'm glad to see it's finally happening," Brandish said.
Saul Osacky, 62, who owns the Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie Blvd., and donated the venue for the 2012 rally, said he intended to apply for an FOID card, get concealed-carry training and buy a gun.
"I've always wanted [a gun] for self-protection," said Osacky, who, six years ago, "had to use my knuckles" to fight off a mugger in Humboldt Park.
Osacky said he was unsure what kind of gun he would buy. "Maybe a Glock."
In September, Todd Vandermyde, the National Rifle Association's lobbyist in Illinois, told the Associated Press he believed the state would need 1,200 instructors to carry out the training.
Monique Bond, an Illinois State Police spokeswoman, said Tuesday the agency "believes there will be a sufficient number of instructors that will be able to train citizens once Jan. 5 comes."