by John Boch
House Representative Ed Sullivan, Jr. (R) called me in recent days and explained his new House Bill 4290.
In a nutshell, it’s more or less a single-paragraph in length (why couldn’t more bills be like this one?) and says if you fraudulently certify someone has completed firearms training as required by Illinois law, you shall be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor and it’s non-probational. In other words, commit instructor fraud and you’re going to spend time in jail – up to 364 days, in fact.
You’ll also never again be an Illinois State Police-approved instructor. Ever.
Representative Sullivan said the bill was a pretty close to a sure thing to pass both chambers and be signed into law. Brandon Phelps, the downstate Democrat who introduced Michael Madigan’s authored Firearms Concealed Carry Act last year, was added to as a co-sponsor yesterday.
Guns Save Life supports this bill as lazy, inept or crooked instructors offering non-compliant training for personal financial gain should not be covered-up, but instead dismissed, prosecuted and shunned. We think a guarantee of jail time *might* the incentive enough for some of these crooked instructors to shape up and do it right or give up training.
Amends the Firearm Concealed Carry Act. Provides that a certified firearms instructor who knowingly provides or offers to provide a false certification that an applicant has completed firearms training as required under the Act is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. Provides that a person guilty of this violation is not eligible for court supervision. Provides that the Department of State Police shall permanently revoke the firearms instructor certification of a person convicted of this violation. Amends the Unified Code of Corrections to make a conforming change. Effective immediately.
We’ve heard a myriad of reports of unethical instructors – mostly some of the brand new instructors – typically ending classes hour(s) early, in part because they abbreviate legal lectures and weapons handling in particular. Both of these subject areas were required to be four hours in length, although rulemaking changes adopted December 31, 2013 reduces these to one hour for weapons handling and two hours for legal lectures.
Did you take an NRA Basic Pistol class that was dismissed shortly after noon-time or mid-afternoon? You weren’t alone. If you didn’t spend eight hours in an eight hour class, you were robbed of learning time and your certificate might not be accepted by the Illinois State Police if your instructor is stripped of his or her credentials. If your training certificates aren’t accepted by the ISP, you’ll forfeit your $153.xx concealed carry license application fee as it’s non-refundable.
We’ve heard of classes where students as little as twenty minutes handling their guns, and most of that time is spent shooting exactly 30 rounds for the qualification. Ironically, one of many of these so-called “instructors” (who also runs a gun shop of sorts) touts a ten-question checklist you should ask your prospective instructor before signing up for a class. Nowhere on the checklist is “Does your instructor actually meet the ISP’s requirements in his or her class?” He does ask students to ask their prospective instructor if they’ve ever declared bankruptcy. We’re not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China.
We suppose those offerings are a step up from classes using laser simulator guns or Airsoft guns to shoot the supposedly “live fire” qualification. We suspect that’s not what the Illinois General Assembly had in mind when they passed the FCCA last summer. We agree that range space in and near Chicagoland is very expensive and hard to come by. We agree that it’s been a very cold winter and spending hours shooting outdoors when the windchill is hovering around zero degrees is unpleasant. We also agree that folks at Holiday Inn get surly when you start popping off real rounds in their conference rooms. None of these excuse shooting the qualification with a laser simulator gun (be it LaserShot, or SIRT) or Airsoft.
But even any of those non-compliant classes are a step up from classes where students don’t even step into a classroom or onto a range – where the instructor signs off on a training certificate with a wink-wink, nod-nod in exchange for a check.
Illinois’ largest gun rights groups lined up together in opposition to fraudulent trainers
Some instructors have been teaching firearms for a decade or more now, while others new to training are putting forth a good-faith effort to deliver the best possible product to their students. There are good trainers out there for people seeking training as opposed to diploma mills.
The Illinois State Rifle Association has joined Guns Save Life in condemning fraudulent instructors, with ISRA Executive Director giving the matter a front-page headline on the ISRA’s latest issue of their quarterly journal, The Illinois Shooter, which landed in members’ mailboxes last week.
Rich Pearson, ISRA’s Executive Director, told us this morning that ISRA is supporting the bill as well. He mentioned the NRA and ISP catching up in recent days to a guy showing the NRA Basic Pistol video on his website and having people qualify with laser guns.
Illinois Carry, Illinois’ largest firearm forum, also announced an “IllinoisCarry Instructor Oversight Panel” to field complaints about instructors and work to correct deficiencies. From their press release:
IllinoisCarry wants to be sure our members are getting the correct, full measure of training required by law. We have launched the IllinoisCarry Instructor Oversight Panel (IIOP) to help insure instructors follow rules set by the ISP and meet the requirements of the law. It is our concern that having Instructors whose courses do not meet state requirements could lead to the Illinois State Police and the IL General Assembly seeking stricter rules and regulations for everyone.
IllinoisCarry’s President Tim Bowyer has gotten back with us and said his organization’s position on the bill is “under review” and there’s a thread in their Illinois Politics subforum where members are debating the bill’s merits.
Good training is available.
Here’s a link to an article we penned a couple of years ago on how to find yourself a good training program. It’s somewhat dated, but the things to look for and the red flags are both as germane today as they were fifty years ago.
In fact, we’ll reprint the generic things to look for and things to avoid from that piece.
Look for experienced instructors. While everyone has to start somewhere, previous instructional experience measured in years, not months, will usually lead to a better end result for you, the consumer / student. If they try to razzle-dazzle you with experience in the Boy Scouts, ROTC, or “personal interest”, or a long list of certifications without offering how much experience they have actually teaching real students, look out.
Look for instructors who have been to some of the nationally-known schools. Instructors who have continued their education at top-tier national schools will bring lessons and teaching techniques they’ve learned from the nationally-respected masters to your local class.
“Team teaching” is always a good thing, as instructors can teach to their strengths and students enjoy hearing a more diverse set of perspectives. Sure, the instructors make a lot less individually when utilizing “team teaching”, but end result is a better educational experience for the students.
A “team” of instructors also offers greater opportunities for the student to get more one-on-one help as needed, particularly on the firing line during live fire.
Previous law enforcement or military instructional experience is a bonus, especially if it is in the arena of training the elites of military or law-enforcement. Again, it’s about bringing applicable aspects of the latest tactics to the local students.
High instructor to student ratios. We can’t stress this one enough, especially for range exercises. If you have one or two instructors trying to run a range with ten or twelve entry-level students on the firing line at once, you’re getting badly short-changed as a student and it’s not as safe as it could be.
Courses that offer more than the minimum. Good instructors won’t cut corners, but in fact will supplement the required material with valuable and useful information they have learned from other schools or instructors.
Referrals, testimonials, and word of mouth are all things to look for in reputable, experienced instructors. Ask your friends who have been to a class what they thought of it. Visit your local gun club or gun rights organization and ask those present for recommendations on instructors and/or classes.
There are a number of red flags one should look for in entry level training to help you avoid a disappointing experience.
Airsoft: Do instructors attempt to replace live-fire with airsoft guns for the class?
Internet classes: Do instructors attempt to “teach” the classroom segments of the class on the internet?
Charging for permit application packets: One firearms training group charges students $20 each for Florida and Arizona license application packets, even when those respective states promptly send them out for free.
Unsafe gun handling: Do instructors demonstrate safe gun handling or do they routinely put their booger picker on the bang switch inappropriately? Are they careless about muzzle control?
Cutting corners to do less than even the minimum requirements. If it is supposed to be a four-hour class and the instructor finishes in three and a half hours? That’s not good.
Instructors teaching flawed, out-of-date or just plain unsafe information that could get students killed or injured needlessly, either from tactics or a safety perspective.
Example you ask? Recently: “You should carry with an empty chamber” and “you should rack the slide of your empty-chambered handgun on your pants.”
Do a little research. There’s no need to settle to spend money for a course that will disappoint you. Use the information contained here to help guide you in course selection.
Make sure the class you enroll in will provide training that meets and exceeds your needs instead of a marginal offering that falls short in one or more areas.
Remember, training is inexpensive compared to your life and it is not a place to cut corners.
Good training that allows you to come out on top is priceless in the long run.