National News

Illinois Prohibits Guns on Campuses. Teachers Are Training to Use Them Anyway.

Posted June 12, 2018 8:50 a.m. EDT

Illinois is one of 40 states that prohibit concealed weapons on school campuses. That hasn’t kept teachers there from turning out in droves for firearms training, spending hours in classrooms and on shooting ranges — receiving lessons, for a change.

Across the state, businesses have begun offering free concealed-carry training sessions to teachers and school staff members, a seemingly uncoordinated response to mass shootings in schools. Many of them are banking on a proposal to allow armed faculty that’s currently making the rounds in school board meetings.

In Godfrey, Illinois, Mark Maggos’ class at Trigger Talent reached capacity just two hours after he posted a notice for it. He has about 40 more people on a waiting list.

Tom Dorsch, director of On Target Range & Tactical Training Center in Crystal Lake, offered his first course on March 24 and now has free, educator-only courses planned throughout the summer. He estimates about 400 educators have signed up.

Mickey Schuch, owner and instructor at Carry Trainer in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, squeezes in teachers who have signed up in his regular courses (ordinarily $500, but many people have their fees covered by sponsorships).

On Sunday, Julie Smith, 54, joined a group of 50 that included teachers, secretaries and even a superintendent, for a training session in Farmer City led by a retired police officer. Smith, a third-grade teacher at Hudson Elementary, has spoken to her husband in the past about carrying a concealed weapon for her personal safety. A gunman at her school, she says, is a constant thought in her mind.

“None of us ever want to have to use our guns,” she said. “All of us want to protect our kids.”

Smith said she would like other measures, like funding and action for increasing mental health resources, to happen before changing the state law.

Illinois is relatively new to concealed-carry laws. In 2013, it became the latest state to adopt a law allowing residents to carry concealed firearms in public. Valinda Rowe, a spokeswoman for IllinoisCarry, a gun rights group that advocated the successful 2013 Firearm Concealed Carry Act, is spearheading what it is calling the “Student Safety and Protection” resolution.

The organization began working on the resolution about a year ago, when school board members began to ask about the legal restrictions on concealed weapons on school grounds, Rowe said. The resolution proposes to allow school board-approved “armed and trained administrators, staff and faculty” to “provide for the safety and protection of students and personnel” until law enforcement officials respond to a threat on campus.

Rowe said the organization proposes that applicants go through a rigorous screening process that includes obtaining a license to carry a concealed weapon, completing at least six background checks, learning emergency medical triage, completing three days of additional training that would be specific to schools and having an 83 percent shooting accuracy. (The requirement for Illinois police officers is 70 percent.) Applicants will also need to be individually approved by their school board members.

Pointing to the 10 years it took Illinois to adopt a concealed-carry law, Rowe said she didn’t expect the state law to change anytime soon. Still, she added, the conversation is restarted with every school shooting.

The free courses being offered are exciting, she said, because she views it as being prepared. “It’s kind of a grass-roots effort between parents and school boards that are driving the issue,” she said.

Schuch, the Carry Trainer owner and instructor, is also the president of the McHenry County Right to Carry Association, which supports the resolution.

“The idea isn’t that we want teachers to have guns,” he said. “The idea is that we want local school boards to be able to decide who is protecting students in schools.”

Elliot Fineman, chief executive of the National Gun Victims Action Council, said the response to the Parkland shooting by arming teachers is flawed.

“The way to stop the school shootings is to have sane gun laws like other developed countries,” he said. Arming teachers is a defensive measure, Fineman said, but preventive measures need to be taken. On Feb. 14, the day Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Rick Noble, the retired police officer in Farmer City, Illinois, made up his mind to help his community. As owner of Adventure Tactical Training, which specializes in concealed-carry weapons training, he wanted to make sure local educators are prepared.

On Sunday afternoon, with a tornado warning in effect, he guided his trainees in groups of eight out from his garage to have them practice at a shooting range in a steady downpour.

“They all really want this training,” Noble, 57, said. He estimates that he received 75 to 100 requests after he advertised the free training the night of the Parkland shooting, but had to keep it to just 50.

In addition to conducting training events, Noble has presented the “Student Safety and Protection” document to seven school boards.

“We just want to be a step ahead of the resolution,” he said.

“Unless we get some quality trained people in there,” he added, “we’re not going to be able to stop it.”