BY MARK FITTON
With the state facing a June 9 court-imposed deadline to put some form of legal concealed carry on the books, are Southern Illinoisans filling up firearms training courses?
“The answer is an unqualified yes,” said NRA-certified instructor Larry Morse.
Mike Corkran and Morse run the Marion-based Heartland Training team, and they also teach courses through John A. Logan College. Morse estimated business this spring has been up at least 50 percent.
Corkran said that 50 percent is, indeed, a minimum. Corkran, a retired state trooper, said a recent NRA advanced or defensive pistol course he led this spring filled four sections of 20 students each. Not only did the sections fill rapidly, he said, but students volunteered for standby lists.
The level of interest in classes is “of an order like I’ve never seen before,” said Morse, a former competitive shooter.
Corkran and Morse are National Rifle Association certified instructors, training counselors and chief range safety officers. They teach beginner-level courses through instructor candidates. Heartland offers everything from Refuse to Be a Victim, a non-shooting NRA course, through advanced classes.
Both said the order imposed by the federal appeals court, coupled with recent state and national attention on firearms, has in-credibly spurred the public’s interest.
A new training group based out of the Pinckneyville area, Trooper Trained LLC, is made up of three retired Illinois state troopers: Mike Hooks, J.J. Wittenborn and Steve Sweeney. The instructors intend to begin classes in early June at Wright’s Inc. in Pinckney-ville and have their range ready later in the month, said Hooks.
Hooks said the response to even a minimal amount of publicity has been astounding: “My phone has been ringing off the hook,” he said. “And a great number of those calls are from women interested in the courses.”
Hooks said he and his partners are looking forward to the endeavor.
“Not one of is doing this because he needs the income,” Hooks said. “We were blessed to have good careers.”
Instead, he said, they enjoy working with people and firmly believe in the Second Amendment and the right of an honest, lawful and sound-minded citizen to defend himself or herself.
Near Marion, David Kemp and Brian Chapman are preparing to open Tombstone Gun Range and Training Center on 30 acres of land. They hope to begin classes in early June, and there is already a waiting list, they’ve told The Southern Illinoisan.
“If we can send people from our classes competent and safe and able to defend themselves, we’ve done our job,” Hooks said of Trooper Trained LLC.
All of the instructors emphasized they are not attempting to turn out newly minted ninjas or junior police officers. Further, actually having to point a firearm at another human being should be one of the last things anyone ever wants to do.
That’s why they teach attitude and safety above all; skills and knowledge can be steadily increased.
“The NRA emphasizes three simple rules,” Morse said. “Making those rules part of your daily mindset will more than likely get you through life without shooting anyone — including yourself, your significant other, your dog, your cat, whatever, you name it.”
Instructors said they want people to be savvy in choosing courses. Among the tips they offered:
l Ask about the instructors’ qualifications and experience.
l Be sure to get the training promised. In some states, shady “instructors” have been known to post a target, see a student fire a couple of shots and issue a certificate. That’s not the kind of training a safe and sane person wants.
l Bring an open-minded, willing and teachable attitude. At their core, the courses are not about obtaining a certificate or permit; they are about learning how to safely and competently handle a firearm.
l Defensive or concealed carry courses should include information on how to avoid potentially harmful confrontations and how to de-escalate such encounters. A firearm is a tool of last resort.
l For now, don’t accept any promise that a particular course will fulfill Illinois’ training requirements for a carry permit. No bill has been passed and those requirements have not been finalized. No one is certain what they will be.
l The same holds true for reciprocity. No one knows how Illinois’ carry law — should the Legislature be able to pass one — will read, and no one is certain how other states will view Illinois’ permits. Nor is anyone yet sure how Illinois will view the permits of other states.
— Editor’s note: The writer is the managing editor of The Southern Illinoisan. He also is a certified NRA instructor and range safety officer. He serves in the latter roles only as an unpaid volunteer.