Inside A Concealed Carry Training Class

Jan 20, 2014

More than 11,000 people submitted applications for concealed carry permits on the first day possible in Illinois. To be eligible to apply, people must complete a 16 hour class. Instructors have been teaching those courses for months now.

Credit Charlie Schlenker / Illinois Public Radio

The Darnall Gun Range has a couple hundred people still signed up for concealed carry classes and a waiting list of hundreds more.

Sue Darnall is addressing a class of 17 people. She's a co-owner of Darnall's Gun Range west of Bloomington Normal.

"If we find you are not capable in some manner and we feel you do not meet the requirements to get a certificate, we will not give you one," Darnall said.

Darnall says they have made some of the hundreds of people that have taken their version of the course come back for more training because they couldn't qualify. This course lasts all day. And it's for people who already have eight hours of instruction in a gun safety course, a personal defense course, or some other class the state accepts. None of these people are new to guns.

Only two of these class members are under the age of 50. That's typical. Only two are women. That's below average. More women sign up for the full 16 hour course. The students have various calibers of guns, though more revolvers than usual. Sue Darnall urges people to avoid the big weapons and practice with and get used to something else.

"A lot of you have full size nines or full size forties, but those probably won't be a carry gun. Unless you have big pockets or big places to put these guns they're going to have to be small," Darnall said.

That's because the Concealed Carry law requires a handgun to be "carried on or about the person completely or mostly concealed from view of the public."

There are lots of technicalities. A holster with a flap on it is not concealed. But, a square pack so you don't know it's a gun is okay. People shouldn't be able to tell you have a pistol.

Joe Stidman is a police officer and range officer for the course. - See more at: Stidman is a police officer and range officer for the course. - See more at:

Joe Stidman is a police officer and range officer for the course.  Stidman drills them over and over including, two handed firing, one handed, transferring the gun to a non dominant hand. The class even works on putting the gun back in the holster. Out of a class of seventeen people, Stidman says about nine of them will probably use the barrel to hunt for the holster, or to sweep back the jacket. If they make the mistake of having a finger on the trigger, this can be a bad thing.

"Do not shoot yourself in the left knee going through the right hip. There's things in between that you probably don't want to shoot," Stidman says.

Even though this class has people who are very familiar with guns, they are not practiced in getting to them quickly, bringing the barrel forward and punching it out not up and then back to level.

Pamela Rice of Bloomington is the student Stidman was helping correct her draw. She had guns around the house growing up. In her 20s she shot in high powered rifle competitions. After some years away from shooting, she is getting back to the range more often now with a pistol. Rice says she is taking the class because she travels a lot with dog competitions.

"And if I get stranded on the highway with a broke down car, you don't know who's going to stop. You don't know what's going to happen, so I want to be able to defend myself," Rice said.

She also has a Florida permit. She says this course goes more in depth than the 16 hour class she had to take for Florida. She suspects the advent of concealed carry in Illinois will change the landscape.

"I hope that it might make the bad guys less likely to pick on people because they don't know if they're picking on somebody who might be carrying. I think it equalizes the situation somewhat," Rice said.

Range co-owner Sue Darnall suspects that in downstate Illinois below I-80 the ratio will be less than in areas with dense population and more crime. And, only a few hands go up when she asks the class whether they plan to carry every day. There are strict limits on where you can carry. Joe Stidman goes through the exceptions, anywhere there is alcohol served, or gambling, most everywhere large numbers of people gather, and places of education. So with all the exclusions for places where large numbers of people gather, is the law really going to add to personal safety?


So what's the point then?

"Personally I see it, it's a start. The way the law stands now, when you check back in two or three years, it won't be anywhere close. It will be a lot different," Stidman said.

Two years might seem short for that kind of change, but, Stidman says all the test cases and refinements should take less time because Illinois is the last state to have such a law and other states have already invented that wheel.

A propane heater roars in an attempt to fight the cold in the long low building that houses the target range. This section of the class is relatively brief. To qualify for the state permit, you have to prove you can hit a human silhouette target with 70% of your shots at a modest distance.

Aside from one student whose gun jams because he is using home reloads instead of factory ammunition, there are no difficulties. Instructors do spend a significant amount of time talking about how to avoid pulling a gun. Backing up, maintaining a safe distance, calling on someone to halt, create multiple chances to defuse a situation. Never fire a warning shot. You don't know where it will go.

The class has a thoughtful discussion of when it is justified to pull and fire. Student Stuart Brooke, a Navy guy talks about the deadly force triangle.

"You got capability, opportunity, the hardest one to prove is intent. You can see a person has a baseball bat. Well, he's got the capability. Then he gets within swingin' range, does he have the opportunity. But, does he have the intent to actually swing it at you. That's the hardest part you gotta be able to prove."

This is an issue that law enforcement groups had reservations about as the law was being written. They argued it is tough enough to have officers who face threatening situations regularly to be trained enough to make the correct call. How much more problematic is that for a civilian who has limited experience with threats? Tina Darnall is another instructor at the range.

"And that's why I am so heavy on practicing," Darnall said.

She teaches a section of the course on the fundamentals of marksmanship. Those are aiming, trigger control, breath control, hold control, and follow through. Tina Darnall says it takes a person shooting an average of three to four thousand rounds to develop the muscle memory to draw and fire a weapon automatically with skill.

"You want your body to just voluntarily go into that mode because you don't have the time."

She says motion studies show it takes only a second and a half for an adult to cover a 20 foot distance to you, or three seconds if it's an older person charging. Tina Darnall says having those physical habits allows you mental space to use critical thought about how to avoid a situation or accurately judge how threatening it is before you make the choice to draw."

"You give your command out. You see it happening. It's all in slow motion. You pull the trigger, and you hope that morally, when you are done, you can live with what you've done."

There are six Darnall instructors for 17 students, so there are lots of comments and attention to small details. That favorable ratio offers far more individual attention than in most concealed carry courses in the state. The Darnall family members say they believe it's important those taking the course know the things to work on later.

Tina Darnall says "Will they do it? Will they pull it out? Will they have ability to do it and the psychological ability to, and the knowhow? We have no idea. That is all an individual growth thing. All we can do is have 'em come out, have em practice, get em comfortable and give em the education so that when that moment comes, they feel like it's the right time."

Illinois State Police will be issuing the first concealed carry permits in less than ninety days from the time the first applications went in.