EAST SIDE — Tucked in a half-empty East Side strip mall between Big Pawn and Route 66 Pizza is a place called the Chicagoland Conceal Carry Institute, where you can take 16-hour classes to learn how to discreetly — and legally — pack heat in Illinois.
That seems like a long time to study a pretty straightforward concept. What’s to learn, really?
You get a pistol and hide it under your coat or in your boot — but never in your waistband for obvious reasons — and boom, so to speak, you’ve got a gun that’s concealed and being carried.
When I stopped by, the guy who owns the place, retired iron worker Anthony Burmistrz, said there’s a lot more to it — and not because the state requires 16 hours of certified gun training to get a permit.
Mark Konkol says the Burmistrz' wanted to serve the neighborhood and offer an affordable class:
“This is a dangerous thing, carrying a gun,” he said. “We teach people every inch of the law and more.”
Without prompting, Burmistrz quickly rattled off some of the things that his certified instructors drill into students who sign up to get concealed-carry permits:
• If you’re in danger, if have the chance to flee, you have to run from the situation. You can’t confront the situation just because you have a gun.
• Even when you’re faced with an imminent threat, you can’t pull your gun and start shooting if people are standing behind a bad guy.
• Firing your weapon in public can be expensive — and you’ll need a lawyer. So have one on speed dial. And be warned: Even a “good shooting” in self-defense can cost thousands of dollars in legal fees.
• Never tell anyone you’re carrying a pistol. “A gun can be worth $2,000 on the street, and bad people might try to steal it from you or from your car,” Burmistrz said.
• Get a small, lockable gun box, and have a mechanic mount it in your car to keep the gun secure.
• If you get pulled over, always tell the officer you have a concealed-carry permit and a gun in the car with both hands on the steering wheel — not while reaching in the glove box.
“There’s a lot of legalities to this, and things people don't think about that it take hours to go over, and our instructors really drill the facts into people because it’s such a dangerous thing we’re talking about,” he said.
Burmistrz and his son, Tony, a city building inspector, opened up the gun safety school in March to help neighbors who want to legally carry pistols learn more than just the basics about abiding by Illinois gun laws.
For the Burmistrzes, the school started out as a something of public service for people living in violence-plagued parts of the Southeast Side where his working-class family has lived since the early 1900s.
“We believe they have a right to have a permit. And we know that since concealed-carry became legal this year, crime has gone down,” Burmistrz said. “We’re neighborhood people. We’re here for them, and we’re in it with them, too.”
Most of his gun-safety students are older African-American and Hispanic women, retired military personnel, firefighters, nurses, teachers, city workers, blue-collar parents and middle-aged businessmen. A lot of folks tell him horror stories about near escapes from violent situations that brought them to the gun-safety school.
“I had a lady tell me that her son just got shot. And had a fire lieutenant come in, a skinny little lady, and say, 'I’ve been on this job for 18 years, and you can’t imagine what I’ve seen this last year' with tears coming out of her eyes,” the 62-year-old retired iron worker said.
“They show me scars on their necks and arms and tell me about their fear. Old ladies living alone say they're afraid. Fear is the main thing. And I can feel their fear. Thinking about it, just sent shivers up my spine.”
During my visit, FedEx courier Anthony Robinson showed up at the school to finalize paperwork to qualify for a concealed-carry permit and make plans to have his wife take the $225 class, too.
“I’m a law-abiding citizen, former military. I don’t want to be out here [without a gun] and have somebody attack me or my family,” the East Side resident said. “I’m a laid-back guy. I’m not looking to pull it out and say 'I got a gun' for no reason. But, hey, you got to watch out around here. I worry about me and my wife and family. You go to your garage and someone could be there waiting for you.”
Burmistrz says his team has helped 200 people through the gun-safety courses — spread out over the course of a weekend, 13 hours on Saturday and 3 hours on Sunday — but they’ve turned even more people away since the school opened in March.
The screening process starts as soon as you walk in the front door, where you’ll find Burmistrz waiting behind a plastic folding table most afternoons.
“You’ve got to be a responsible person. If I see visible gang tattoos you can’t take our class. Say anything negative about the police, we tell you to leave,” he said. “If people show immaturity during class, we throw them out and give their money back. We take this seriously … because it’s serious.”
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